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Schubert’s Romantic Era

During the period of 1800- 1850, many well- known composers and musicians have been thought to be the most prominent persons of their time. Franz Schubert and his work came to be known following his death. This paper will explain how Franz Schubert was the most influential musician in transit from the Classical Era to the Romantic Era. Schubert’s development of Lieder and cyclic form makes him the most influential musician of the Romantic Era. Franz Peter Schubert was born in 1797 in a city just outside of Vienna, Austria. He was one of five (surviving) children.

His father, Franz Theodore Schubert, a schoolmaster who taught (Franz Peter) Schubert to play the violin and the piano at a young age. His older brother Ignaz also helped him learn the fundamentals of music education. Schubert later played the viola in his family’s home based string quartet. However, it was his gifted voice that got him a scholarship to the Imperial Court Chapel Choir, and an education at the Stadtkonvikt boarding school in Vienna. Schubert played the violin in the student orchestra, and was promptly promoted to leader.

He even conducted in the absences of his teacher, and also cultivated chamber music with his peers during his time there. By the time Schubert was eighteen, he had already written a number of compositions, but his shy, introvert nature kept him from showing them to anyone but his close friends. Schubert slowly eased into the life of a freelance musician. Though his work was stellar, he was not yet acknowledged as a composer outside of his friends. In fact, his friends enjoyed it so much that one of the families began to host evening parties that were entitled Schubertiades, where Schubert’s music was played and admired.

However, the rest of society hadn’t caught up to his genius just yet. Schubert was poverty stricken, and forced to sell his masterpieces for just enough money to survive. The continued encouragement of his friends helped him to overcome his insecurities, and he brought his work to the Italian composer and teacher Antonio Salieri. Schubert began studying privately under Salieri. After three years of this, Schubert returned home. He soon became an assistant at his father’s school in 1814, after being rejected by the military due to his short stature.

In 1822, Schubert contracted syphilis and his health began to deteriorate. He continued to write, but now it was obsessively. Unsuccessful and fruitless, he returned to teaching privately for a family he had taught once before. After being denied time and time again, he had the opportunity to visit Ludwig Van Beethoven whom he idolized, just before he died. Schubert seemed to become revived and his health began to improve. He was finally able to hold a public concert on March 26th, 1828 at Vienna’s Musikverein. It was a success financially, and was well received by critics.

Shortly after, Schubert became ill and died at age 31. The Revolution I order to identify the changes and contributions made by Schubert during the transition from Classical to Romantic, we must first explore the transit itself. During Schubert’s time, the most influential movement in history was taking place- The French Revolution. During the French revolution, everything in society was shifting- politics, social classes, culture and religion, literature, visual art, and music. This movement evolved from emotion, and favored imagination over reason.

It was named the Romantic Era. During the Romantic Era, music became more expressive, artistic, philosophical, and emotional. Music was played with unresolved dissonance, lied, increased number of sections and instruments in an orchestra, vivid contrasts, or an extensive use of chromaticism. These characteristic were appalling to those who supported classicism. Schubert was on the cusp of this change. Schubert’s Transition to Romanticism Schubert’s musical compositions have proven to be a crucial part in the development of Romantic music.

Beginning with the composition of Classical pieces, his bold experimenting led him to become the most prominent of the great composers from the Romantic Era. Schubert’s compositions from beginning to end show his evolving creativity as the Romantic Era progressed. “Schubert’s musical style contains a mixture of the traditional, and the forward looking” (Gordon pg214). His major contributions that make him outstanding in comparison to other composers of his time mostly pertain to harmonics, lyrical melodies, Lieder, and cyclic form.

When comparing Schubert’s early sonatas to those created in his later life, it is easy to hear his progression in experimentation with harmonics. “The exposition of Schubert’s late A-Major Sonata written in September 1828…. show him in the process of executing an experiment unique in Sonata construction…” (Waldbauer pg. 64). This is the area that he most separates himself from his admired superior, Beethoven. Schubert’s lyrical style and melodies A Lied is simply a song more typically for a solo voice with a piano accompanying.

Being one of the first musicians to institute lieder, Schubert has written approximately 600 throughout his short life time. This is more than any other composer had done, making him the greastest successor in Lieder. Rockstro comments on Schubert’s methods and how they “…differed entirely from Mozart’s and Beethoven’s… He never prepared a perfect mental copy, like the former… (Schubert) wrote almost always in the spur of the moment, committing themselves on paper, as fast as the pen could trace them. ” Two of his famous Lieder include Der Erlkonig, and Nacht und Traume.

Der Erlkonig was originally a poem written by Johann Wolfgang van Goethe in 1782, and is probably the most famous Lieder composed by Schubert. Beethoven, who was Shubert’s greatest influence, originally attempted the conversion but failed. The poem is a based on a Scandinavian folktale of a boy riding on a horse in his father’s arms. The boy is frightened by a supernatural creature that only he can see and hear; the Erlkonig. The father insists that it is the boy’s imagination, and the sounds and sights he is encountering are from nature.

The Erlkonig grabs the boy and hurts him while still in his father’s arms. The father frantically hurry’s home on horseback, but when he arrives, his son is dead. The song has four characters: Narrator, Father, Son, and The Erlkonig. The voices are sung as solo pieces accompanied by the piano. Each character is represented by singing in a different range. The Narrator sings in the middle register, in a minor key. The Father sings in low register, in minor key. The son sings in high register and minor key. The Erlkonig sings in middle register, in major key.

The rhythm is almost constant triplets on the piano and duple meter. The harmony shifts from minor (narrator, father, and son) to major (the Erlkonig) with dissonance to portray the boy’s fear. Schubert created the piano piece to run parallel to the motion of the poem making it through- composed. The triplets heard throughout the poem represent the galloping horse. It is also suggested that the triplets could have also been a representation of the child’s rapid heartbeat. The dynamic of the triplets go from soft to loud when the boy is singing.

The symbolism in this lied is what is most attractive to the romantics; It contains love, death, and the supernatural. The story begins with a frantic father, racing home with his sick child. The boy, approaching the end of his life, begins to hallucinate and visual see death before him. Before he could reach his home, death (the Erlkonig) takes his soul. His lifeless body is what remains in his father’s arms. Another well-known Lied of Schubert’s is Nacht und Traume. Schubert created this lied by combining two different poems by Matthaus von Collin.

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