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Franz von Schober

born: 17 May 1796
died: 13 September 1882
country: Germany

Franz von Schober was born in Sweden (in Torup Castle, near Malmö) where his father was manager of Baron Alexius Sterbald’s estate. On the death of Franz von Schober senior in 1802, the family left Sweden and, after a spell in Germany, eventually returned to Vienna. There was a reverse in their fortunes which left Frau von Schober less wealthy than she had once been. Nevertheless there always seemed to be enough money for the Schobers (and young Franz particularly) to live comfortably. He went to school first at the Akademisches Gymnasium in that city, and then in Kremsmünster (1808-1815) where he would have been in close contact with the whole Linz contingent of the Schubert circle – the Spaun brothers, Mayrhofer, Kenner and Ottenwalt. It is through them that he met Schubert, but it is not clear exactly when. It may have been as early as 1813, but they certainly knew each other by 1815.

From the outset it seemed that the two men had a special relationship. Schober was good-looking and a superb talker, he was well-read and lively, he had personal charisma. In short Schubert seems to have adored being in his company. In material terms the Schober family helped Schubert immeasurably. He was their guest at the family apartment in the Tuchlauben from the autumn of 1816 to August 1817. During this time Schober engineered a meeting between the composer and Johann Michael Vogl who was to become Schubert’s chief interpreter. In 1822 Schubert again shared rooms in the Spiegelgasse with Schober, an arrangement that lasted on and off for eighteen months. In this period a number of Schubertiads were organised, as well as reading parties which contributed to the composer’s already considerable knowledge of literature. Schubert’s Op 14, which included the great Goethe love-songs Geheimes and Suleika, was dedicated to Schober at this time. In the autumn of 1826 Schober and Schubert shared once again, this time an apartment in the Bäckerstrasse; and then, after a period on his own, Schubert moved back to the inner city, from March 1827 until August 1828, to live once again in the Tuchlauben at the Schober’s family apartment. It was there that Schubert housed his scores, and it is there that most of his manuscripts were to be found at his death. These fairly long-term arrangements were supplemented by other visits where Schober called on his family connections to arrange hospitality for him and his talented friend: during the three summers of 1820, 1821 and 1822 periods of great conviviality were spent by the Schubertians at Atzenbrugg Castle (just outside Vienna) which was owned by the poet’s uncle, Josef Derfell. In September and October 1821, when Schubert and Schober were working on Alfonso und Estrella, they spent time together at St Pölten where Schober’s uncle was the bishop; in the summers of 1826 and possibly of 1828 Schubert stayed in Währing, once again at the invitation of the Schobers.

Like many people who are the life and soul of the party, Schober was a charming dilettante with a lazy streak and a belief that he could always get away with murder. His writing was never important enough to be taken really seriously in Vienna, and he left the city in August 1823 in an apparently do-or-die attempt to make a career in Breslau as an actor (he assumed the name ‘Torupson’ during this phase of his life). During this period Schober had been secretly planning to marry Justina von Bruchmann, sister of Franz von Bruchmann, another Schubert poet. This whole plan fell by the wayside when Bruchmann found out about the plot, and apparently thought so little of Schober as to scotch all the lover’s plans without further ado. ‘[Schober] had the outrageous temerity’, Bruchmann later wrote, ‘to seek to sully one of the most precious jewels of my family’. It is notable that some years earlier the Spaun family had similarly put an end to Schober’s relationship with Marie, the daughter of the house. The plan to be an actor was predictably disastrous, and Schober returned to Vienna, taking up where he had left off with Schubert.

There were always those who fell for Schober’s charm (the young Moritz von Schwind for example) and those who did not (the more sceptical and perceptive Eduard von Bauernfeld). There were many others like Mayrhofer, Bruchmann and Josef Kenner who seem to have been Schober’s friends at one time, but who turned against him. Posterity has largely blamed Schober for the dissolute lifestyle into which the composer fell in 1821/22, and which resulted in his illness. One feels that the truth, whatever that might be, is bound to be rather more complicated. The composer himself seems to have remained steadfastly loyal, apart from signs of a small schism during the period when he was struggling with his syphilis, exactly the period when Schober took himself off on his fool’s errand to Breslau.

In 1826 Schober eventually decided to try his hand as a businessman. He took over the Lithographisches Institut in Vienna, a publishing house for music among other things, and Schubert’s Opp 96 and 106 were issued under that imprimatur. Shortly after Schubert’s death Schober sold the Institut, which was close to bankruptcy. His later life seems to have been equally chaotic and improvised. He visited Hungary and Bavaria (where his younger friend Moritz von Schwind was making a great name for himself) and after his mother’s death in 1833 travelled to Italy, France and Belgium, presumably on the proceeds of the family estate near Vienna which was sold up. He became friendly with Liszt in 1840, and attached himself to that composer – though never proving as indispensable to him as he had to Schubert. In 1842 he published his Gedichte, a slim volume which includes almost all the texts which Schubert set, the exceptions being Der Hochzeitsbraten and, strangely enough, An die Musik.

Schober moved to Weimar and became chamberlain and legation councillor at the court, persuading Liszt to mount a production of Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella. Although this eventually came about in 1854, Schober, the librettist of this opera, could not have been flattered by Liszt’s verdict that ‘Schubert’s delicate and interesting music is virtually crushed by the weight of the text’. The limited success of this project was followed by a move to Dresden and marriage in 1856 (the poet was sixty) to the writer Thekla von Gumpert, a union which lasted only four years.

Schober resided for the rest of his life in Hungary, Munich and Dresden. To his discredit he could never be persuaded to write down his memories of Schubert – a document which might have been of the greatest importance to all students of the composer’s life. Whether this was sheer laziness or whether his relationship with the composer seemed too complicated, or perhaps too precious, to explain to the world many years later, is a moot point. He died with many secrets intact about a man whom he never seems to have realised was to be the sole reason for his own immortality.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000


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