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Theodor Körner

born: 23 November 1791
died: 26 August 1813
country: Germany

Theodor Körner has often been called the Rupert Brooke of his generation. He was only six years older than Schubert; young enough still to appear something of a contemporary, precocious and daredevil enough to inspire the teenage composer to a type of hero worship. Körner came from a literary family in Dresden; his father was an intimate friend of Schiller, no less. The young hothead was sent down from Leipzig University in 1811 for fighting in a duel. He moved to Vienna where one of his tragedies was put on at the Theater an der Wien and he became at nineteen the house dramatist of the Burgtheater. At this time, Josef von Spaun took Schubert (very much his protégé in those early years) to the opera to see Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride:

As we left the theatre we met the poet Körner with whom I was on very friendly terms. I presented the little composer to him, of whom he had already heard a certain amount from me. He was glad to make his acquaintance and encouraged Schubert to live for art, which would make him happy.

Later that evening in a restaurant K”rner and Schubert almost got involved in a brawl in defence of the singers Milder and Vogl who were being insultingly discussed at the next table. Like the young Schumann's one encounter with Heine, this evening together was sufficient to make the composer fall under the spell of the poet. On that night in Spaun's and K”rner's company, Schubert must have felt very much an artist, part of a community with shared ideals. His determination to resist parental pressure to stay in schoolteaching was strengthened by the youg poet's advice. K”rner was killed in action at Gadebusch, a skirmish in the Wars of Liberation against Napoleon, in August 1813. He left five tragedies, five comedies, short stories and much poetry including the patriotic poems Leyer und Schwert, the impact and popularity of which were much enhanced by the manner of his death.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989


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