“Der Tod und das Madchen” D. 531 and “The Death and the Maiden” D. 810 by Franz Schubert
Franz Peter Schubert was born on the 31st of January 1797 in Lichtental, Austria which is near Vienna. He has fifteen brothers and sisters, but only five of them live to see their first birthday. The father, Franz Teodor is the Principal in a local school. The mother, Elizabeth Viets was a cook in a Viennese family. When Franz Schubert was just five-year-old he started playing the violin and his teacher was his own father. Three years later, Michael Holzer, who was the parish priest in the town, started to teach the eight-year-old composer how to play the organ. Franz Schubert composed his first piece at the age of just ten. In 1808, he started singing in the courtier choir. Not only he was a soloist in the choir but did he play in the section of second violins in the orchestra. This way, he came to know the music of Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. At this time, Shubert was taught by Antonio Salieri. After graduating from a teaching seminary in 1814, Schubert worked as a teacher alongside his father until 1818. The three year period between 1818 and 1821 is probably the toughest test in the composer’s life. Shubert was trying to earn enough giving private lessons but the money was really insufficient. He was not able to find a full-time job either, so he had to live with some of his friends – other composers and poets. In 1818 and 1820 as a musical teacher of count Esterhazy’s daughters, the young composer had the chance to visit Hungary. Schubert learnt a lot about the Hungarian national music and the Gypsy music during these visits. Suddenly and unexpectedly, his songs become very popular in Hungary and Austria after 1821 when he managed to publish some of his works with his friends’ help. Franz Schubert is the composer of some of the greatest classical master pieces ever written such as “The Unfinished Symphony” No. 8 D 759, the piano quintet “The Trout” D. 667, the string quartet “The Death and the Maiden” D 810 and of course his more than 600 songs. Schubert is also the pioneer of the song cycle genre, composing pieces such as Die Winterreise D.911, and Die Schone Mullerin D. 795. The composer died on November the 19th 1928 in Vienna.
This essay has been prepared to examine several different aspects of Franz Schubert’s chamber music by mainly giving examples from the string quartet “Death and the Maiden” D. 810 and the song “Der Tod und Das Madchen” D. 531. Analyses and connection between the poem “Der Tod und Das Madchen” by Matthias Claudius, the song and the string quartet “The Death and the Maiden” by Franz Schubert will also be included. Also, the extent to which Schubert has taken the vocal melody and made it idiomatic for the string instruments will be explored.
Most of the Schubert’s songs are really connected with poetry. He used to work with poets such as Goethe and Schiller, who had a huge impact onto the composer’s works. Christoph Wolff suggests that the things which Shubert mostly liked in the Matthias Claudius’ poems were the purity and simplicity of the poetic language. (Bandura-Skoda, Branscombe, 1982, 144). The song “The Death and The Maiden” D. 531, which was composed by Franz Schubert in 1815 is based on the poem “Der Tod und Das Madchen” by Matthias Claudius which was written in 1775. The poem consists of two stanzas as example one shows.
Voruber! Ach, voruber!
Gib deine Hand, du schon und zart Gebild! Geh, wilder Knochenmann!
Bin Freund, und komme nicht, zu strafen. Ich bin noch jung! Geh lieber,
Sei gutes Muts! Ich bin nicht wild, Und ruhre mich nicht an.
Sollst sanft in meinen Armen schalfen!
Pass me by! Oh, pass me by!
Give me your hand, you beautiful and tender form! Go, fierce man of bones!
I am a friend, and come no to punish. I am still young! Go, rather,
Be of good...
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