Page:EB1911 - Volume 24.djvu/399

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331
SCHUBERT


the fact that in this year two of Schubert's operas appeared at the Kärnthnerthor theatre, Die Zwillingsbrüder on June 14, and Die Zauberharfe on August 19. Hitherto his larger compositions (apart from Masses) had been restricted to the amateur orchestra at the Gundelhof, a society which grew out of the quartet-parties at his home. Now he began to assume a more prominent position and address a wider public. Still, however, publishers held obstinately aloof, and it was not until his friend Vogl had sung Erlkönig at a concert in the Kärnthnerthor (Feb. 8, 1821) that Diabelli hesitatingly agreed to print some of his works on commission. The first seven opus-numbers (all songs) appeared on these terms; then the commission ceased, and he began to receive the meagre pittances which were all that the great publishing houses ever accorded to him. Much has been written about the neglect from which he suffered during his lifetime. It was not the fault of his friends, it was only indirectly the fault of the Viennese public; the persons most to blame were the cautious intermediaries who stinted and hindered him from publication.

The production of his two dramatic pieces turned Schubert's attention more firmly than ever in the direction of the stage; and towards the end of 1821 he set himself on a course which for nearly three years brought him continuous mortification and disappointment. Alfonso und Estrella was refused, so was Fierrabras; Die Verschworenen was prohibited by the censor (apparently on the ground of its title); Rosamunde was withdrawn after two nights, owing to the badness of its libretto. Of these works the two former are written on a scale which would make their performances exceedingly difficult (Fierrabras, for instance, contains over 1000 pages of manuscript score), but Die Verschworenen is a bright attractive comedy, and Rosamunde contains some of the most charming music that Schubert ever composed. In 1822 he made the acquaintance both of Weber and of Beethoven, but little came of it in either case, though Beethoven cordially acknowledged his genius. Von Schober was away from Vienna; new friends appeared of a less desirable character; on the whole these were the darkest years of his life.

In the spring of 1824 he wrote the magnificent octet, “A Sketch for a Grand Symphony”; and in the summer went back to Zelesz, when he became attracted by Hungarian idiom, and wrote the Divertissement à l'Hongroise and the string quartet in A minor. Most of his biographers insert here a story of his hopeless passion for his pupil Countess Caroline Esterhazy; but whatever may be said as to the general likelihood of the romance, the details by which it is illustrated are apocryphal, and the song l'Addio, placed at its climax, is undoubtedly spurious. A more debatable problem is raised by the grand duo in C major (op. 140) which is dated from Zelesz in the summer of this year. It bears no relation to the style of Schubert's pianoforte music, it is wholly orchestral in character, and it may well be a transcript or sketch of the “grand symphony” for which the octet was a preparation. If so, it settles the question, raised by Sir George Grove, of a “Symphony in C major” which is not to be found among Schubert's orchestral scores.

Despite his preoccupation with the stage and later with his official duties he found time during these years for a good deal of miscellaneous composition. The Mass in Ab was completed and the exquisite “Unfinished Symphony” begun in 1822. The Müllerlieder, and several other of his best songs, were written in 1825; to 1824, beside the works mentioned above, belong the variations on Trockne Blumen and the two string quartets in E and Eb. There is also a sonata, for piano and “Arpeggione,” an interesting attempt to encourage a cumbersome and now obsolete instrument.

The mishaps of the recent years were compensated by the prosperity and happiness of 1825. Publication had been moving more rapidly; the stress of poverty was for a time lightened; in the summer there was a pleasant holiday in Upper Austria, where Schubert was welcomed with enthusiasm. It was during this tour that he produced his “Songs from Sir Walter Scott,” and his piano sonata in A minor (op. 42), the former of which he sold to Artaria for £20, the largest sum which he had yet received for any composition. Sir George Grove, on the authority of Randhartinger, attributes to this summer a lost “Gastein” symphony which is possibly the same work as that already mentioned under the record of the preceding year.

From 1826 to 1828 Schubert resided continuously in Vienna, except for a brief visit to Graz in 1827. The history of his life during these three years is little more than a record of his compositions. The only events worth notice are that in 1826 he dedicated a symphony to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, which voted him in return an honorarium of £10, that in the same year he applied for a conductorship at the opera, and lost it by refusing to alter one of his songs at rehearsal, and that in the spring of 1828 he gave, for the first and only time in his career, a public concert of his own works. But the compositions themselves are a sufficient biography. The string quartet in D minor, with the variations on “Death and the Maiden,” was written during the winter of 1825-1826, and first played on Jan. 25. Later in the year came the string quartet in G major, the “Rondeau brilliant,” for piano and violin, and the fine sonata in G which, by some pedantry of the publisher's, is printed without its proper title. To these should be added the three Shakespearian songs, of which “Hark! Hark! the Lark” and “Who is Sylvia?” were written on the same day, the former at a tavern where he broke his afternoon's walk, the latter on his return to his lodging in the evening. In 1827 he wrote the Winterreise, the fantasia for piano and violin, and the two piano trios: in 1828 the Song of Miriam, the C major symphony, the Mass in Eb, and the exceedingly beautiful Tantum Ergo in the same key, the string quintet, the second Benedictus to the Mass in C, the last three piano sonatas, and the collection of songs known as Schwanengesang. Six of these are to words by Heine, whose Buch der Lieder appeared in the autumn. Everything pointed to the renewal of an activity which should equal that of his greatest abundance, when he was suddenly attacked by typhus fever, and after a fortnight's illness died on Nov. 19 at the house of his brother Ferdinand. He had not completed his thirty-second year.

Some of his smaller pieces were printed shortly after his death, but the more valuable seem to have been regarded by the publishers as waste paper. In 1838 Schumann, on a visit to Vienna, found the dusty manuscript of the C major symphony and took it back to Leipzig, where it was performed by Mendelssohn and celebrated in the Neue Zeitschrift. The most important step towards the recovery of the neglected works was the journey to Vienna which Sir George Grove and Sir Arthur Sullivan made in the autumn of 1867. The account of it is given in Grove's appendix to the English translation of Kreissle von Hellborn; the travellers rescued from oblivion seven symphonies, the Rosamunde music, some of the Masses and operas, some of the chamber works, and a vast quantity of miscellaneous pieces and songs. Their success gave impetus to a widespread public interest and finally resulted in the definitive edition of Breitkopf and Härtel.

Schubert is best summed up in the well-known phrase of

Liszt, that he was “le musicien le plus poète qui fut jamais.” In clarity of style he was inferior to Mozart, in power of musical construction he was far inferior to Beethoven, but in poetic impulse and suggestion he is unsurpassed. He wrote always at headlong speed, he seldom blotted a line, and the greater part of his work bears, in consequence, the essential mark of improvisation: it is fresh, vivid, spontaneous, impatient of restraint, full of rich colour and of warm imaginative feeling. He was the greatest songwriter who ever lived, and almost everything in his hand turned to song. In his Masses, for instance, he seems to chafe at the contrapuntal numbers and pours out his whole soul on those which he found suitable for lyrical treatment. In his symphonies the lyric and elegiac passages are usually the best, and the most beautiful of them all is, throughout its two movements, lyric in character. The standpoint from which to judge him is that of a singer who ranged over the whole field of musical composition and everywhere carried with him the artistic form which he loved best.