Happy Birthday, Franz Schubert!

Franz Peter SchubertFranz Peter Schubert lived between 1797 and 1828. He is considered to be a romantic composer. He was an Austrian composer who was one of the greatest creators of melody and foremost writer of ‘lieder’ (German songs).

Although he only lived for 31 years, Schubert composed more than 600 songs, 22 piano sonatas and many short piano pieces. This melodic output has never been equaled either in quantity of quality. He was one of the first musicians to earn a living from the sale of his music.

Schubert’s Ave Maria was featured in the Walt Disney movie Fantasia.


This is from Amazon.com’s Get Started in Classical.

Schubert’s musical genius went well beyond his incomparable gift for melody

During Beethoven’s funeral in 1827, one of the torchbearers was a young composer who would himself die the following year. There’s a poignant irony in this image of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) paying homage to the master, for the extent of Schubert’s own accomplishment was to remain one of music’s best-kept secrets for decades after his death. He had indeed struck out on a uniquely personal creative path, however intense his hero worship of Beethoven was. As often happens in such periods of transition–in this case, the evolution in style and attitude from classical balance toward romantic experimentation–Schubert simply slipped through the cracks, not easily fitting into his contemporaries’ sense of the direction music was taking.

Yet the fact that the only recognition that came his way was mostly confined to a tight-knit circle of musical friends didn’t deter Schubert from pursuing his inspiration. Even though an astonishing number of compositions were never performed during his short lifetime, the prolific composer produced a wide body of material, all with a seemingly effortless swiftness reminiscent of Mozart (another of the composer’s idols). His style is most frequently associated with an uncanny gift for melody, but that’s a shortsighted view of the true nature of Schubert’s genius.

The selections on our featured disc represent two key but divergent aspects of his music: the gemlike miniaturism of his songwriting and his preoccupation with large-scale forms from the classical period. “Die Forelle” (“The Trout”)–sung here with a silvery, seductive grace by Barbara Bonney–is an example of how Schubert elevated the art of song to an opera in miniature, rich in evocative scene-painting. Pay attention not just to the beguiling melody but to how perfectly Schubert mirrors the text’s images in the details of the burbling piano accompaniment.

The cheerful quintet that takes its name from the song makes an excellent introduction to the composer’s longer works. Most of these belong to the realm of “chamber music”; that is, pieces written for small groups of musicians to be performed in people’s homes. From the high-spirited interplay of the ensemble gathered here–all virtuosos on their respective instruments but clearly merging their voices into a common goal–it’s easy to imagine a typical evening of Schubert making music with his friends. There’s a flowing sense of conversation in the music, and just as you think you’ve heard one untoppable melody, Schubert obliges with another, taking it down an unexpected course with a sudden harmonic surprise–another of the composer’s trademarks–and spinning it out as it suits his fancy. Schumann once characterized the composer’s tendency to make us want the music to last, following its multiple digressions, as Schubert’s “heavenly lengths.”

Much of the pleasure here can also be heard in the way Schubert plays sonorities off each other, above all in the fourth movement. It offers a set of variations on the melody from the “Trout” song, presaging how Mahler would later incorporate material from his own songs into vast symphonic structures. You can notice this both in the interwoven yet contrasting timbres from the keyboard against four strings and in the opposition between double bass and sparkling passages high in the register. And within the spontaneity of the moment, there’s something else: emerging within all the joie de vivre are ambivalent shadows hinting at Schubert’s darker side, particularly in the intensity of the slow movement’s middle core. This is also apparent in the opening of the “Arpeggione” Sonata (nicknamed after a short-lived invention that was a sort of cross between a guitar and a cello), which unfolds a kind of aching, spun-out lyricism that could belong to no one but Schubert.

In his final decade, when intense poverty and a debilitating case of syphilis began to take their toll, Schubert would mine this vein of profound self-expression. His last quartets and piano sonatas, the String Quintet, and his despairing song cycle Winterreise, he touches in his own way on the inwardness probed by Beethoven’s late-period creations. Thomas May, Classical Editor

More Schubert can be found in Musical Information and Recommendations for Adults.

Schubert’s birthday

Schubert’s works were played in an Grammy Winning performance, Forty-Second Annual Awards

Listen to Schubert’s music.

     Read quotes by and about Schubert

     Guess what my li’l Chopin played today

     Information about Schubert’s Symphony in D

     Schubert MIDI Section

     Read Amazon.com’s Get Started in Classical feature

January 31 in Music History

today

. 1759 ~ François Devienne, French composer and professor of flute

. 1797 ~ Franz Peter Schubert, Austrian composer
Read quotes by and about Schubert
More information about Schubert

. 1798 ~ Carl Gottlieb Reissiger, German Kapellmeister and composer

. 1882 ~ Anna Pavlova, Russian ballerina and choreographer

. 1892 ~ Eddie Cantor (Iskowitz), Entertainer, ‘banjo eyes’ Some of his hits were: If You Knew Susie like I Know Susie, Alabamy Bound, Dinah, Ida, Makin’ Whoopee and Ma He’s Makin’ Eyes at Me

. 1906 ~ Benjamin Frankel, British composer

. 1921 ~ Mario Lanza, Opera singer. Some of his non-operatic songs were Be My Love, The Loveliest Night of the Year and Because You’re Mine

. 1923 ~ Carol Channing, Broadway entertainer and Tony Award-winning actress in shows such as Hello, Dolly! (1964) and Thoroughly Modern Millie

. 1936 ~ “The Green Hornet” was introduced by its famous theme song, The Flight of the Bumble Bee, originally by Rachmaninoff. The radio show was first heard on WXYZ radio in Detroit, MI on this day. The show stayed on the air for 16 years. “The Green Hornet” originated from the same radio station where “The Lone Ranger” was performed.

. 1937 ~ Phillip Glass, American composer of minimalist music
More information about Glass

. 1946 ~ Terry Kath, Guitarist with Chicago

. 1951 ~ Harry Wayne Casey, Keyboards, singer with KC and the Sunshine Band

. 1951 ~ Phil Collins, British rock drummer, songwriter and singer

. 1951 ~ Phil Manzanera (Targett-Adams), Guitarist with Roxy Music

. 1955 ~ Electronics pioneer RCA demonstrated the first music synthesizer that could electronically play musical sounds.

. 1960 ~ Julie Andrews, Henry Fonda, Rex Harrison and Jackie Gleason, appeared in a two-hour TV special titled, The Fabulous ’50s. 1961 ~ Lloyd Cole, Guitarist, singer with Lloyd Cole and The Commotions Dial Records founder Ross Russell died. He released 78-rpm recordings of Charlie Parker on his small jazz label and wrote a biography of Parker in 1973 called “Bird Lives! The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker”.

. 1976 ~ ABBA knocked Queen from the UK No.1 position on the UK singles chart with ‘Mamma Mia.’ Queen’s single ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ had enjoyed a nine week run at the top of the charts, by coincidence, Queen’s single contains the famous “mamma mia, mamma mia, mamma mia let me go” line.

. 1981~ Justin Timberlake, singer with *NSYNC who had the 2000 US No.1 single ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’ and the 1999 UK No.5 single ‘I Want You Back’. As a solo artist scored the 2003 UK No.2 & US No.3 single ‘Cry Me A River’. His second solo album ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’ was released in 2006 with the US No.1 hit singles ‘SexyBack’, ‘My Love’ and ‘What Goes Around… Comes Around.’ With his first two albums, Timberlake has sold over fourteen million albums worldwide. Timberlake has his own record label called Tennman Records. He also has an acting career, having starred in films such as The Social Network, Bad Teacher and Friends with Benefits.

. 1982 ~ Sandy Duncan of Tyler, Texas gave her final performance as Peter Pan in Los Angeles, CA. The actress completed 956 performances without missing a show. She flew a total of 261.5 miles while on stage.

. 1985 ~ John Fogerty, former leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival, returned to the A&M recording studios in Hollywood, CA to give his first ‘live’ performance in 14 years. Actually, Fogerty performed in a video called Rock and Roll Girls.

. 1987 ~ Madonna’s record, Open Your Heart, moved to the #2 spot on the pop charts (right behind At This Moment by Billy Vera and The Beaters). A week later,Open Your Heart became Madonna’s fifth #1 hit since 1983. She had 11 consecutive singles in the Top 10, the most for any female artist of the rock era.

. 1995 ~ George Abbott, Director, passed away.

. 2002 ~ Evelyn Scott, the city’s first female disc jockey who later played a tough- talking tavern keeper on the television soap opera “Peyton Place,” died at the age of 86. Born in Brockton, Mass., Scott moved to Los Angeles and landed a job as a disc jockey on radio station KMPC. She later was hired as a singing DJ on KHJ’s “Rise and Shine” morning show. She began acting in theater companies and eventually landed small roles in films such as “Wicked Woman,” “The Green-Eyed Blonde” and “I Want to Live.” She may be best remembered as saloon keeper Ada Jacks in the soap “Peyton Place,” which showed the extramarital affairs and other dark secrets of the residents of a small New England town. Scott played the role from 1965 to 1969, and then reprised the role on “Return to Peyton Place” from 1972 to 1974. She also came back for the 1985 television movie “Peyton Place: The Next Generation.” Scott appeared in episodes of other TV shows including “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke” and “Perry Mason.” After she retired from acting, she dedicated her time to helping the homeless and served as a board member of Portals House Inc., a center for mentally ill people.

. 2004 ~ Roberto Ocasio, a versatile musician and band leader of Latin Jazz Project, died in a car accident. He was 49. Ocasio performed more than 250 times last year, mostly in Cleveland. He has shared stages with such other Latino musicians as Eddie Palmieri and Nestor Torres. His band played venues from street festivals to Cleveland’s Severance Hall. Ocasio played the piano and six other instruments. He earned a degree in composition and arranging from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He formed Latin Jazz Project in 1997. Ocasio composed and arranged the band’s music, a repertoire ranging from original pieces to rock tunes and American standards with his own twist. He performed songs in Spanish and English.