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Anselm Hüttenbrenner

born: 13 October 1794
died: 5 June 1868
country: Austria

Hüttenbrenner, three years older than Schubert, was also a student of Salieri. He was less shy of approaching and befriending Beethoven than Schubert himself; in fact Hüttenbrenner was with Beethoven at the very moment that great composer breathed his last. He was probably a more fluent pianist than Schubert (he often accompanied Schubert’s songs in public), and he was certainly better looking, as well as charming when he wished to be. From the beginning of his life he was given to believe that he was one of the elite, and that he deserved to succeed; certainly his sense of self-worth was much more developed than Schubert’s. Hüttenbrenner was closest to his great contemporary on a daily basis in the years up to 1819 when Schubert wrote a nostalgic letter concerning the many happy hours they had spent together. A mark of Schubert’s affection was the 13 Variationen über ein Thema von Anselm Hüttenbrenner, D576, dedicated by Schubert to ‘his friend and schoolfellow’. This theme in A minor has a Schubertian charm of its own, as has much of Hüttenbrenner’s music—there are passages which really sound as if they might have been composed by Schubert himself.

Hüttenbrenner’s career was, in many ways, a disappointment. Not nearly as prolific, or hard-working, as his unassuming friend, he had to leave Vienna for family reasons in 1824 and from then on his artistic life, such as it was, was largely confined to the provincial precincts of Graz and the Steiermark—a pleasant existence, but one in which he was distinctly marginalized. His letters give the impression of someone touchy and aware of his own importance, and at the same time depressed. In 1823, as a sign of thanks for his (no doubt Hüttenbrenner-engineered) election as a member of the Graz Musikverein, Schubert sent the manuscript of the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony, care of Hüttenbrenner. This incident also concerns Hüttenbrenner’s brother Josef (1796–1882) who was Schubert’s secretary and quasi business manager (1822–1823). The mystery concerning the symphony’s so-called ‘disappearance’ has never been solved; speculation has been manifold—from outright accusations of stupidity and jealousy to rationalizations that Hüttenbrenner never pushed his own music forward, thus it was natural for him not to push Schubert’s either. In a harsh light he might be accused of working on Schubert’s behalf only when there was a performance, or some other self-centred advantage, in the offing.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2006


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