Franz Schubert (1797-1828), the earliest master of the romantic art song, was unlike any great composer before him: he never held an official musical position and was neither a conductor nor a virtuoso; his income came entirely form composition. "I have come into the world for no other purpose than to compose," he said. The full measure of his genius was recognized only years after his tragically early death.
Schubert was born in Vienna, the son of a schoolmaster. Even as a child he had astounding musical gifts. "If I wanted to instruct him in anything new," recalled his amazed teacher, "he knew it already." At eleven, he became a choirboy in the court chapel and won a scholarship to the Imperial Seminary.
Schubert managed to compose an extraordinary number of masterpieces in his late teens while teaching at this father's school, a job he hated. His love of poetry led him to the art song; he composed his first great song Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel), when he was seventeen, and the next year he composed 143 songs , including The Erlking.
When he was nineteen, Schubert's productivity rose to a peak; he composed 179 works, including two symphonies, an opera, and a mass. At twenty-one, he gave up teaching school to devote himself to music. He associated with a group of Viennese poets and artist who led a bohemian existence; often, he lived with friends because he had no money to rent a room of his own. Working incredibly fast, from seven in the morning until early afternoon, he turned out one piece after another. He spent his afternoons in cafes and many of his evenings at "Schubertiads," parties where performances in the homes of Vienna's cultivated middle class; unlike Beethoven, he did not mingle with the aristocracy. The publication and performance of his songs brought him some recognition, but his two most important symphonies--the Unfinished and the Great C Major--were not performed in public during his lifetime.
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