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Steven H Propp
- Published on Amazon.com
Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828) was perhaps the first truly "Romantic" composer. McKay paints a darker portrait of the man than one normally hears.
He was virtually a prodigy as a youth. His "productivity over the next few years was astonishing ... in the period from November 1814 to September 1816 while he was working as his father's assistant, Schubert composed in the time left to him after school-teaching some 360 of his total of around 1,000 works. These included four symphonies, four works for the theatre, three Church masses and many shorter sacred works, two string quartets, and some 250 songs." She also notes that "Throughout his early years he based his music on classical forms and structures, with classical textures and instrumentation." In 1819, he began setting more complex and philosophical texts (e.g., by Goethe) to music, with mixed results.
A friend of Schubert's reported that "Anyone who knew Schubert knows how he was made of two natures, foreign to each other, how powerfully the craving for pleasure dragged his soul down to the slough of moral degradation." In 1922, "His personal life, however, was moving incerasingly in a socially less admirable direction." McKay suggests that "it is possible that he enjoyed smoking opium, although it is likely he was never addicted to it," and "he was not averse to the sexual favours for sale in brothels or meeting-places for prostitutes, where syphilis was endemic." But ultimately, "A period of capricious sensuality and irresponsibility ceased abruptly at the end of 1822 when he developed the first symptoms of venereal disease." He later became seriously ill "with a recurrence of secondary and infectious syphilis."
She reports that "After he contracted syphilis, Schubert was often in pain and distress and lost the capacity for uninhibited joy. His music was frequently born out of suffering..." "His drinking habits became more serious after the onset of syphilis, when he was seeking relief from his worsening depressions..." Unfortunately, "it is probable that some of his friends were unable to tolerate his unpredictable behavior, embarrassed by his abusive outbursts or rages under the influence of alcohol, irritated by his unreliability and ill manners, dismayed or disgusted by some of his sexual activities." In fact, his famous "Unfinished" Symphony was unfinished precisely due to his syphilis.
Concerning the suggestion that he was gay, "The possibility that Schubert was homosexual, even a pederast seeking young male partners under the cover of a secret society in Vienna, has been exhaustively aired and argued since the idea was first mooted in 1989. As there is no definitive evidence for or against Schubert's homosexual or bisexual tendencies, the possibility must remain unless or until such evidence emerges. However, whatever his persuasion, his sexual extravagances were an embarrassment to his family and many of his friends; and they were responsible after his death for the suppression or destruction of evidence for the dark side of his character."
Although he composed much sacred music, McKay points out that his Masses always omitted the words from the text, "I believe in one catholic and apostolic church."
Observing that "He rarely opened his heart to other than closest friends," she suggests that "On the evidence from Schubert's life over the following years it becomes a virtual certainty that he suffered from cyclothymia" (a mild form of manic depression).
This is a stark portrait of the composer, yet a fascinating one, that will be of interest to many.
- Published on Amazon.com
F. P. Schubert: A Reassessment…
Talented critics writing for The New Yorker--Adam Gopnik and Alex Ross--both have noted that Schubert’s character remains something of an enigmatic mystery. The reasons being that there is not a great deal of historical documentation on Schubert’s relatively brief life lived in the shadows of Haydn and Beethoven--well, even in the contemporaneous shadows of Rossini and Paganini, not to mention other lesser composers and musicians who were perhaps more canny businessmen in the bourgeois marketplace.
During his lifetime Schubert had published approximately 100 individual works, thusly achieving something of a notoriety in the major European publishing cities of Leipzig, London, and of course, Vienna.
After his premature death (aetat 31) there was nothing left but the music, and there was a small rush to print further of his works while details of his biography were virtually suppressed in a tacit conspiracy of silence because he had died of a venereal disease (viz., syphilis).
In the second half of the XIXth Century admiring composers (such as Brahms) undertook to edit remaining MSs for publication, and thus began the Schubert ‘renaissance’; but this too was not without its complications vis-à-vis dates of composition and corresponding archaeology of artistic development. (Deutsch’s numerical listing--Schubert: Thematic Catalogue of all his Works in Chronological Order--was first published as recently as 1951.)
This question of man vs. artist is the subject of Sullivan’s groundbreaking study of <ASIN: 0394701003>Beethoven’s Spiritual Development--which Reed attempts to pursue regarding Schubert’s artistic development in <ASIN: 0571098428>Schubert: The Final Years--which brings us back to the position as asserted by Gopnik and Ross: namely, that Schubert remains unexplained.
It is this question we address here with a view towards reorienting an appreciation of Schubert’s art via a better understanding of his biographical data.
Besides the aforementioned 1972 study by Reed, there are currently three major critical biographies of Schubert: those of <ASIN: 0198164947>Reed, <ASIN: 0198165234>McKay, and <ASIN: 0520210654>Newbould--all published in the late-XXth Century. What follows is a synthesis.
The crucial biographical point is that Schubert contracted syphilis (aetat 25) ca. November, 1822; and while there have been suggestions that the arc of his artistic development can be divided into three periods (like Beethoven’s), a sober reassessment may most accurately see rather two periods: pre-1823 and post-1823--the reason being the syphilis: the psychoanalytical-chronological effects on Schubert and his art both before and after contraction of the deadly bacteriological infection.
Moreover, this is not merely a question of Schubert’s emotional states pre- and post-1823: no, for Reed suggests that Schubert, conscious and perfectly aware of a probable early-death, intentionally developed a strategy post-1823 for his art vis-à-vis, the expansion of rhythm, harmony, and time-scale far beyond any heretofore composer--even Beethoven.
(It may bear mentioning here that is an unquestionable fact that Schubert was one of the most fluently natural music-writers who ever lived: music did literally flow from his mind via his pen onto the page with immense celerity and with an accuracy which had little need for later revision. He undoubtedly possessed perfect pitch and a photographic memory.)
(Also, was Schubert homosexual? Probably not--despite Solomon’s far-fetched assertions which don’t stand up to critical analysis; no, Schubert’s sexual aberrations probably involved the immature man’s penchant for under-aged or pubescent females.)
With these considerations, there follows two points to note: (1) the compositions with pre-1823 Deutsch listing numbers (e.g., 100 thru 799) deserve enthusiastic consideration for their brilliance of ebullience and tenderness of healthy sentiment; and (2) the post-1823 compositions (D. 800 thru 970) may largely be viewed as avant-garde experimental art which Schubert produced for posterity.
This bifurcation puts a different perspective on Schubert’s art, which is largely represented now by the post-1823 works, while the pre-1823 works are erroneously viewed as ‘juvenilia’ and not given the appreciation which is their due as fine art.
From this point we would simply like to list some masterpieces of the pre-1823 period: enjoy!
1) <ASIN: B000002ZF6>Andenken, D. 99
2) <ASIN: B000002S1Y>Nähe des Geliebten, D. 162
3) <ASIN: B000002ZF1>An den Mond, D. 193
4) <ASIN: B000002ZEV>Meers Stille, D. 216
5) <ASIN: B000AYQCIK>Erster Verlust, D. 226
6) <ASIN: B000002ZF4>Harfenspieler, D. 325
7) <ASIN: B000001GYH>Wiegenlied, D. 498
8) <ASIN: B000002ZEW>Fahrt zum Hades, D. 526
9) <ASIN: B000028AWF>Der Schiffer, D. 536
10) <ASIN: B00803EXHK>Trost im Liebe, D. 546
11) <ASIN: B00000E560>An die Musik, D. 547
12) <ASIN: B00000E4S6>Die Forelle, D. 550
13) <ASIN: B001BLP64W>Auf der Donau, D. 553
14) <ASIN: B000SNUKCW>Abschied von einem Freunde, D. 578
15) <ASIN: B000002ZFF>Erlafsee, D. 586
16) <ASIN: B0000059EH>Der Fluß, D. 693
17) <ASIN: B000002ZFD>Suleika I, D. 720
18) <ASIN: B001UL40AY>Selige Welt, D. 743
19) <ASIN: B000002ZFM>Der Musensohn, D. 764
20) <ASIN: B000002ZEZ>Wehmut, D. 772
21) <ASIN: B000002ZF5>Auf dem Waßer zu singen, D. 774
22) <ASIN: B000002ZFK>Der Einsame, D. 800
23) <ASIN: B000002ZF0>Abendstern, D. 806
24) <ASIN: B002MUQAH8>Auflösung, D. 807
25) <ASIN: B00000JGX9>Gebet, D. 815
26) <ASIN: B006CAXOC8>Sonata in a, D. 537
27) <ASIN: B000BVEKKE>Sonata in Ab, D. 557
28) <ASIN: B00J587KHO>Sonata in e, D. 566
29) <ASIN: B0001N9ZDE>Sonata in Db, D. 567
30) <ASIN: B005BLYSQK>Sonata in f#, D. 571
31) <ASIN: B00004SA8A>Sonata in B, D. 575
32) <ASIN: B00JGE6EM4>Rondo in D, D. 608
33) <ASIN: B000002BZF>Sonata Bb, D. 617
34) <ASIN: B002OC9ZZI>Variations in e, D. 624
35) <ASIN: B00000DHTQ>Marches Militaires, D. 733
36) <ASIN: B0085AXUOK>12 Deutsche, D. 790
37) <ASIN: B008XQ4MS4>Symphony in c, D. 417
38) <ASIN: B0002XV2YS>Symphony in Bb, D. 485
39) <ASIN: B003W16T9K>Symphony in C, D. 589
40) <ASIN: B00DY9X29A>Symphony in b, D. 759
41) <ASIN: B00000596L>Lazarus, D. 689
42) <ASIN: B0000035QE>Alfonso und Estrella, D. 732
43) <ASIN: B00005KBJM>Fierabras, D. 796
44) <ASIN: B000001GEP>Rosamunde, D. 797