Franz Schubert by Wilhelm August Rieder 1875
He was the first of the true Romantic composers and possessed an effortless melodic gift that has stirred lovers of music for 200 years. Within Franz Schubert’s unique sense of harmony, secrets of Romantic expression are unveiled, achieving an intimacy unknown to the great composers who preceded him.
Schubert was one of the major contributors to the classical repertoire of chamber music, solo piano, and symphony while remaining unsurpassed among composers of song. He accomplished these things in the tragically short life span of 31 years (1797–1828), living in Vienna at the time of Beethoven and in a state of relative obscurity and destitution.
Today it is Schubert that Vienna proudly (and belatedly) celebrates as their true native-born son. Classical music and opera expert Saul Lilienstein shares his abiding love for this composer as he provides a chronological overview of Schubert’s life and great achievements in lectures highlighted by musical recordings and film clips. The course concludes with an examination of Schubert’s last masterworks, all written between 1826 and 1828, but never performed during his lifetime—a fitting tribute to the precious legacy of his music.
January 10 The Precocious Teenager, 1814–1817
Schubert wrote like a young man in love for the first time and the music itself was the object of his adoration. These were the most prolific years of all, with more than 300 songs composed, including “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel,” “Death and the Maiden,” and the “Erlkönig” (The Elf King). Yet there was more: The early Mass in G is a beautiful tribute to Mozart, and the ebullient Symphony No. 5, which showed his developing instrumental style.
January 17 On His Own in Vienna, 1817–1821
During this period, Schubert shared friendships, poverty, and the bohemian life. Lilienstein includes excerpts from the Quintet in A (the “Trout”), the Rosamunde Overture, the Wanderer Fantasy for Piano, Marches Militaires for piano, and duet songs from those years—"An die Musik,” “Die Forelle,” and “Ave Maria.”
January 24 The Race Against Time Begins, 1822–1825
In 1822 Schubert contracted syphilis, then an incurable disease. Perhaps his Symphony No. 8 (the “Unfinished”) and the String Quartets in A minor and D minor are expressions of his tragic knowledge, yet his Octet for Winds and Strings is filled with joy. Major songs from this period include “Wanderer’s Nachtlied,” “Du bist die Ruh”, and the song cycle, “Die schöne Müllerin.”
January 31 The Days Grow Short, 1826–1827
Lilienstein examines Schubert’s instrumental masterworks, including his final symphony, (No. 9, in C Major), the String Quartet in G, two sets of Impromptus for Piano, excerpts from the song cycle “Winterreise” (Winter’s Journey) and his setting of Shakespeare’s text, “Who is Sylvia?”
February 7 A Final Year, 1828
No composer has ever created music of a higher quality in so short a time. Lilienstein presents excerpts from Piano Trios Bb and Eb, the F Minor Fantasy for piano duet, Schubert’s last three piano sonatas, and from his final song collection “Schwanengesang,” the Serenade (“Ständchen”) and “Der Doppelgänger.” The program ends with the composer’s last two compositions—the immortal String Quintet in C Major and the song “The Shepherd on the Rock.”