The Lamentably Short Life of Franz Schubert

Among all the great composers who made Vienna the musical capital of Europe, Schubert was one of the few who were actually born there – in 1797, to be exact.

His father was a teacher, and he instructed little Franz in the art of the violin; an elder brother provided piano lessons. As a young lad, Franz’s exceptionally beautiful voice earned him a place in the imperial court chapel’s choir, the predecessor of the famous Vienna Boys’ Choir. Living in the choir’s boarding school, he received a thorough musical education in addition to regular lessons, for instance by court chapel master Antonio Salieri. It was during these years that Schubert discovered his passion for composition.

After his voice changed, he took an assistant teacher’s position in his father’s school. He nonetheless remained dedicated to music, and in the years 1814 and 1815 he penned a spectacular number of compositions: four Singspiele, three masses, two symphonies, two string quartets, two piano sonatas and – give or take – a hundred and fifty songs, several of which remain among his most famous works today, such as Gretchen am Spinnrade and Der Erlkönig

About his life

In 1816, Schubert resigned from his job as a teacher to focus entirely on composing. It was not an easy path: without a permanent job or patron, he had difficulty making ends meet. Compounding his financial problems was his health, which began to deteriorate in the 1820s. He contracted syphilis in 1822, and this chronic venereal disease took a heavy toll on his physical and mental health in subsequent years. But even illness could not prevent Schubert from composing masterwork after masterwork, year after year, until his death of typhoid fever on 19 November 1828, at the age of 31.

Despite his short life, he left behind an impressive oeuvre of original and, in many cases, ground-breaking compositions, a large number of which were only discovered, published and performed after his death. He was buried near Beethoven’s grave, with an epitaph by the Viennese poet Franz Grillparzer: “The art of music has here interred a precious treasure, but yet far fairer hopes.”