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.