Schubert's life

Franz Schubert was born in Vienna in 1797. When he was very young his father and his older brother taught him to play the violin and the piano. In a couple of months he had learnt more about playing the piano than his brother knew. So when the family realized Franz's abilities they did everything they could with their little income to procure a good education for the boy. He was therefore sent to the Stadtkonvikt in Vienna. Here he met Antonio Salieri who was very impressed by him: "He must be taught by God himself", he said.

Schubert left the Stadtkonvikt in 1813 and studied to be a teacher for a year. During the three years that followed he taught in his father's school. But he did not forget the music he loved. At this time he wrote a great amount of music. He wrote music nobody ordered. He wrote just for fun! During a couple years he composed two symphonies and between 200 and 300 songs, including the masterpiece "Gretchen am Spinnrade", written at the age of 17. His songs first brought Schubert fame. He could virtually write songs without thinking.

Schubert was never good at earning money. In 1815 he met Franz von Schober, a law student of good family and free of economic worries. Schober liked Schubert's music. He persuaded Schubert to leave the teaching position, which was affecting his composing in a bad way, and come and live with him instead. Schubert left his old job and was now a free musician, without a secure income.

It was at the home of Schober where Schubert met the great singer Johann Michael Vogl. Together they started the Schubertiads, a group of friends who met for the sole purpose of having fun. They amused themselves, and together they listened to Schubert at the piano and Vogl singing Schubert's songs. Even if these were happy days for Schubert, he was anxious. He had no paid work and no home of his own. In the summer of 1818 he took a position as music tutor to the daughters of a Hungarian nobleman, Count Esterhazy. The only object in Hungary to inspire Schubert's own composing was one of the good-looking daughters he was teaching. Therefore much of the music we have from Schubert from this time is written for piano four hands. But he felt homesick and with summer's end, he returned to his friends in Vienna.

Picture of Franz Schubert

The next summer, 1819, was a happy time for Schubert. He made his first tour together with the singer Vogl. They played only Schubertworks and the concerts drew large audiences. In 1821 Schubert managed to publish his first works: 3 songs and 36 dances. Slowly things improved for Schubert although he wrote an opera which was never produced in his lifetime. Also the year 1823 began well. Schubert now declared that he was a full-grown composer and that he now had complete mastery of not only songwriting, but also the use of a full orchestra. This year he wrote perhaps his most famous work, the Rosamunde theme.

But before the year was at end he felt the first signs of a venereal infection, an infection which would take his life. He said: "My peace is gone [...] and I will never find it again." He continued writing music, as often as he could. It was the only meaning of his life now, he declared. The music from his last years sounds a bit more sad than before. It is often characterized by his thoughts of death, the thoughts that dominated his mind.

In October 1828 his health improved enough that he embarked upon a walking tour and visited Eisenstadt and Franz Joseph Haydn's grave. But the trip was too much for him. He died a month later, the 19th of November 1828.

We are not sure what caused Schuberts death. During the early 20th century german doctors were sure that he died of typhoid fever, a disease of the poor. Today some doctors think he died of late stage syphilis. You can argue that Schubert seemed sure he was sick with a incurable deadly disease already in 1823. Also, he had little fever during his last days. Typhoid is a feverdisease. Lastly, some doctors have proposed that he died of syphilis but because of the professional secrecy of his doctor, we have no record of it.
Personally, I think we must consider the fact that Schubert lived in unsanitary conditions, and that he during his last days ate and drank very little. This is typical of a gastrointestinal disease. I believe Schubert's syphilis made him weak, so that he was more prone to other infectious diseases such as tyhpoid or Salmonella.
Today both syphilis and typhoid are no big threats to our lives. In the west. In the east and in the South it is different. Please give the poverty of the world a thought. I am convinced that Schubert's spiritual brothers and sisters are still alive in different parts of the world. Preventing them from typhoid and syphilis means working for a fair globalization. The diseases are mostly easily cured today

Kristofer Andréasson 1997-2003
I thank Carl William Thiel for helping me with the English grammar
Resources: Naxos booklet CD 8.550476, CD 8.550555, CD 8.550259,
Decca booklet CD 430 425-2 and Linz booklet CD 48087
Kerner, Dieter: Grosse Musiker - Leben und Leiden. 5. Auflage.
Marcheron, Annamaria, and others: De stora kompositörerna. Kungälv 1991
Please feel free to contact if any questions or suggestions kristofer
With reservations for any faults or errors in the texts.