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.
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
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
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
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.