Thursday, January 19, 2012

Franz Schubert's Summer Holiday: 1825

Schubert in 1825
This weekend, pianist Michael Brown performs a little-known piano sonata by Franz Schubert on his program with Market Square Concerts - Saturday 8pm, Whitaker Center - along with the "Pastoral" Sonata by Beethoven and an early work by Chopin.

You can listen to both the Beethoven and Schubert sonatas here, take a "walking tour" of Beethoven's sonata here, and read about Schubert's changing attitudes toward Beethoven's music here.

This post presents more detail about the busy summer during which Schubert composed that sonata and another work he may have been writing simultaneously.

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Franz Schubert, one of the few great composers from Vienna who could actually call this great Imperial capital his hometown, very rarely ever left Vienna. He was not a concertizing performer or conductor frequently on tour nor did he have the financial means to enjoy traveling for its own sake. He grew up as the son of a poor elementary school teacher and was trained to follow in that profession (which he did, briefly). He was unable to get an opera successfully produced – the most likely way to assured recognition in Vienna at the time – and the only time he ever gave a concert in Vienna that could have produced anything close to public recognition turned out to conflict with a concert by visiting violinist Nicolo Paganini, then all the rage. While the recital hall was full of his friends and people who knew his songs, the room was decidedly lacking in critics who were all covering the Paganini concert.

Schubert had one champion, a well-known if not by then over-the-hill opera singer named Michael Vogl who performed many of Schubert’s many songs (often with the composer at the piano) in the homes of friends and arts patrons in and around Vienna. He introduced Schubert’s music to a wider audience not through concerts as we know them but in informal musicales or musical evenings in private homes – events that, among Schubert’s friends, became known as “Schubertiads.” In this famous drawing by one of Schubert's close friends, the composer is at the piano while Vogl, looking rapturously upwards, sits in the foreground next to him.
A Schubertiad in 1826
Vogl was a towering figure both physically and personally. Given Schubert’s short stature and meek nature, this famous caricature attributed to Schubert’s close friend, Franz von Schober, is probably more accurate than an official portrait might have been. The caption reads “Vogl and Schubert go out for battle and victory.”
Vogl & Schubert, c.1825

Most of the times Schubert was away from Vienna, he was employed as a summer holiday music-staff-of-one for Count Esterhazy (poorer relations of the princes who earlier had employed Haydn) and his job description included giving the two daughters music lessons and being a live-in entertainment center. While there, he wrote a great deal of piano duet music written for various combinations of Esterhazys to perform as well as part songs when the family and their guests would gather ‘round the parlor piano after dinner to sing and entertain themselves.

One of these summers was in 1824 when Schubert was 27 years old. Earlier that year, he had completed the great Octet in F and the “Rosamunda” String Quartet (A Minor, D.804) before beginning the next quartet, the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet (D Minor, D.810) which he didn’t actually finish until January of 1826. In June, 1824, he wrote a Sonata in C for Piano Duet at Zseliz, the Esterhazy summer estate, plus six other collections of dances for piano duet. Back in Vienna, the next work in Otto Deutsch’s catalogue (which supplies those D. numbers appended to most of Schubert’s works) is the sonata he composed for that hybrid instrument which never caught on, the Arpeggione. There are also several wonderful songs – less well-known but exquisite, like “Nacht und Träume” and “Die junge Nonne” – that could’ve been written around this same time.

In the spring of 1825, Schubert set three texts from Sir Walter Scott’s “Lady of the Lake,” the third of which became one of his greatest hits (even in his lifetime). Originally called “Ellen’s Third Song,” we know it as the “Ave Maria.”

In April, Schubert began a sonata in C Major for solo piano but never finished it. The next month, he wrote a new sonata in A Minor which was published within a year with a dedication to the Archduke Rudolf (now a Cardinal of the Catholic Church) who had been a friend, student and, most significantly for the future, patron of Beethoven’s. One wonders what Schubert’s future might have been if the Archduke had shown a similar financial interest in young Schubert.

Keep in mind, in May of 1825, Beethoven – then 54 years old – was working on his String Quartet, Op.130.

That month, Vogl intended to take Schubert on a “tour” of Upper Austria (we would think of it as the area west of Vienna, toward Salzburg).

Before they left, Schubert gathered up some of his songs setting texts by the greatest German poet alive, Goethe, and sent them to him. They arrived on June 16th, the same day Goethe received some new piano quartets by his young protégé, the 16-year-old Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn received a lengthy letter full of praise. Schubert’s manuscripts were returned without comment.

The travelers arrived in Steyr on May 20th and, aside from a side-trip to Linz and a day-trip to the monastery of St. Florian (future employer of Anton Bruckner, organist), they spent two weeks there before leaving for Gmunden where they spent six weeks.

In these various locations, they stayed at hotels or with friends of Vogl’s. Schubert performed his own music and accompanied Vogl in his songs. A week later, Schubert described his life there, writing home to a close friend, “living there was so pleasant and free-and-easy. At Councillor von Schiller’s [a local aristocrat he referred to as ‘the monarch’ of the whole region] we had much music, among other things some of my new songs, from Walter Scott’s ‘Lady of the Lake,’ of which especially the ‘Hymn to the Virgin Mary’ [the Ave Maria] appealed to everyone.” To his parents, he described Gmunden where “the landscape is truly heavenly and [it] deeply moved and benefited me, as did its inhabitants.”

Returning to Linz and Steyr for perhaps three weeks, total – where Schubert found the summer heat oppressive – their next stop was Salzburg for a few days and then the spa at Gastein (Bad Gastein, officially) where they stayed between August 14th and September 4th.

Salzburg, the heavy rain aside, was a disappointment. No longer the city that was considered a vital metropolis, even though Mozart despised it, the government had been secularized (no doubt, Mozart would’ve approved of losing the Prince-Archbishop or at least the one who’d employed him) and, after losing a localized war, ceded to Bavaria between 1809 and 1816. It was now part of the province of Upper Austria where the center of government and economy was Linz. Schubert saw signs of neglect and poverty everywhere, four- and five-storey buildings once filled with families now largely empty.

A valley near Bad Gastein
On their first day, Vogl and Schubert performed for some local aristocrats (Schubert snidely referred to this as an audition) and, on that success, asked to perform the next night at an important social soiree. On the third day, the sun came out and they left for Gastein where, aside from the elation of such a sunny day, he felt “imprisoned” by “the incredibly high rocky walls… and fearful depths below” of a narrow pass where, in 1809, there had been a fierce battle between Bavarian and Tyrolese soldiers.

Vogl, meanwhile, was dealing with an attack of gout and a stay at a spa was probably as much for his benefit as it was to meet a poet-friend of his who was staying there, Johann Ladislaus Pyrker, who, since 1820, had been the Archbishop of Venice. Another guest at that time was Konstanze von Nissen, better known for being Mozart’s widow.

Bad Gastein, Austria
While there, Schubert set two of Pyrker’s poems – Das Heimweh (Homesickness) D.851 and Die Allmacht (The Almighty or Omnipotence) D.852.The plan was to go with Pyrker back to Venice but things changed when Pyrker decided to leave before Vogl’s cure was completed.

Whether he ever met – or even saw – the Widow Mozart is not recorded.

Vogl, imperious as ever – he was, after all, covering all the expenses and whatever we may think of Schubert’s genius, Vogl was doing him a favor by allowing him to accompany his performances as well as travels, meeting possibly influential people – decided at the last minute not to return to Salzburg but to go back to Gmunden and then there, after barely a week, announced they would leave the next day for Steyr.

By this time, Vogl’s attitude was getting on Schubert’s nerves and, no doubt, vice-versa. It would be the beginning of their unfortunate falling-out. Though Vogl would continue to perform some of Schubert’s songs, fewer were now written for him. Vogl took certain liberties with his performances, too, that irritated the composer and as Schubert began looking for other singers to sing his songs, Vogl looked for other accompanists.

Rather than arriving as planned in late-October, Schubert returned to Vienna around October 5th, happy to be back among his party-loving friends. Little was composed during the following months until, at the end of the following January, he completed (or finished revising and copying) the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet which was given its first performance at a music-lover’s home on February 1st.

So, in the midst of this holiday, Schubert composed the D Major Piano Sonata on this program sometime in mid-to-late August while staying at Gastein, waiting for Vogl to get over his latest attack of gout.

However, there’s something else from this summer that isn’t mentioned with any clarity. Apparently, Schubert was also working on a new symphony but said very little about it, in fact nothing one could go on to identify it. Friends wrote back to him, commenting about his new symphony, hoping it might be ready for a performance that winter.

But since the score has never been found, it has been considered “missing” and, since both the “Unfinished” and “Great” C Major Symphonies surfaced only years later, a place was held when later editors were finally publishing Schubert’s works years after his death. His Symphony No. 7 was thus a nonexistent work, this missing symphony of 1825, long known as the “Gastein” or the “Gmunden-Gastein” Symphony.

Ever since Schubert had finished his 6th Symphony – also in C Major – he had been trying to expand the structure of his large-scale works. The two extant movements of the B Minor Symphony (one of several “unfinished” symphonies in his catalogue) were already as long as his earlier complete symphonies. When the “Great” C Major surfaced (sometimes considered “great” in comparison to the earlier “little” 6th Symphony; more accurately a translation of “Grosses Symphonie” which really, in those days, only meant a grander-sized orchestra that included trombones), musicians were scrambling to find this “Gmunden-Gastein” Symphony. Joseph Joachim went so far as to orchestrate the Grand Duo Sonata in C Major written the previous summer convinced it was a piano-draft for an orchestral work and, being on a grand scale, seemed appropriate to become a like-wise grand symphony.

It is now assumed – judging from the watermarks on the paper Schubert used for the “Great” C Major dating it earlier than 1828 when it was thought to be one of his last works – he either composed or at least sketched out much of the Great C Major on this same vacation during the weeks he wrote the Piano Sonata D.850.

Imagine puttering around a spa-hotel (shades of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain) with nothing to do, so you write a sonata and a symphony – especially a symphony like that and then you don’t tell anyone about it!

Yes, the symphony's manuscript is dated 1828, not 1825. It’s probably not a mistake. After all, he had not finished the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet in 1824: he completed it (or revised it or copied the score) and dated it January, 1826.

It’s rare for Schubert to put a work aside and actually come back to it. His catalogue is full of half-finished songs, symphonies, even operas, and for whatever reasons he just stopped writing them. But he did come back and finish this string quartet. Maybe he thought enough of this new symphony to, eventually, do the same?

Anyway, something to ponder while listening to this sonata – what was he doing when he wrote this piece? What else was he working on at the same time? Who knows…

- Dick Strawser

1 comment:

  1. Thank you greatly for your very informative post!