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Taking musical stock of the year 1815 is rather awe-inspiring, for it was one of the most productive in Schubert’s life. He wrote about 150 songs, four operas, two symphonies, two Masses and various pieces of liturgical music, as well as dances and sonata movements for piano, and a string quartet. A fuller account of the creative chronology is given in the opening essays of Volumes 7 and 10 of the Schubert Edition which like this disc and the forthcoming Volume 22 are devoted to the songs of this celebrated annus mirabilis. The actual documents relating to the year are rather scanty, however, and when one pages through both Deutsch’s Documentary Biography and Thematic Catalogue one has the impression that the composer was almost too busy composing to have a life of his own.
Not even a genius is spared the normal traumas of being eighteen – old enough to have one’s own ideas (something of an understatement in this case!) yet lacking the financial independence to live alone and in the manner of one’s choosing. An eighteen-year-old boy often lacks the experience of life to make mature decisions (this was obviously Schubert’s father’s viewpoint) and the domestic conflict about whether young Franz should pursue music as his career must have been heated and, knowing something of the father’s temper, uncomfortable. Not that the home in the Säulengasse lacked music. Far from it. Since 1814 there had been weekly music practices in the Schubert household with dances and orchestral music arranged for strings. Schubert senior was an enthusiastic amateur musician and the young composer’s self-discipline, indeed the fact that he had been trained in music at all, owed much to the father’s efforts in Franz’s formative years. The young composer had had an astonishing success the year before with the F major Mass performed on 16 October 1814 (two days before Gretchen am Spinnrade was written) in the Lichtental church. On that auspicious occasion the great Antonio Salieri, Schubert’s teacher, sat proudly in the audience, but despite all the praise which Franz had received it seems that the father was by no means convinced that his son could make a living out of music. As far as Schubert senior was concerned, ambitions to be a full-time composer were pure fantasy; he thought that Franz should temper his musical ambitions to the harsh exigencies of reality. In any case the aspiring composer was needed in the school; it was expensive to hire assistant teachers from outside.
With this background of hack routine work in the schoolroom it is astonishing that the year yielded so much music. It is hardly surprising that some of the most productive days for songs fell in the period of the summer holidays, though we may never know which works were written actually in the classroom (surely some of them?) while the children were working away at tasks rather less sublime, rendered worse by the stilted teaching techniques of the age and no doubt by the composer’s lack of enthusiasm. Despite this handicap, or perhaps because of it, Schubert seems to have been driven by a need to express himself in this year more than in any other. Perhaps he was trying to show his father that he was destined to be a musician after all, but it is rather more likely that he was merely responding to The Muse who expected far more of him than of those less favoured by her gifts. The models of Mozart and Beethoven, one a legend from the past, the other no less legendary but living proof that one man could master all musical mediums, were fixed as lodestars in his aspiring gaze. The composer was actually flexing his muscles and testing his powers: he was in the process of discovering who Schubert really was. The successes of 1814, including Gretchen am Spinnrade and many other fine songs (see Volume 12), were far more than flashes in the pan. They were a prelude to a sequence of on-going musical fireworks. Here was a young man greeting his destiny, and (despite his modesty) glorying in his power to render his epoch immortal. The volcano of music which erupted in the Säulengasse poured the lava of inspiration on top of the citizens of Vienna (who were as unconcerned and unsuspecting as those of Pompeii) and fixed the numbers 1815 in letters of fire in the annals of musical history. Much of this blazing heat was to do with the natural phenomenon of adolescence. Schubert was a teenager in love. We are told that Therese Grob, soprano in the church choir and baker’s daughter, was the object of his affections, but however deeply he felt for Therese it is certain that Schubert was in love with Love, a state of mind that was to last throughout his life. Even when there was no special recipient (or at least no one known to us) for the feelings which some of his friends disapprovingly tell us were turbulently sexual and somewhat ungovernable, Schubert seems to have been forever in a state of heightened amorous sensibility. The urges which are unquenchable in a lively eighteen-year-old were strictly restrained by religious and social conventions. This left only Schubert’s mind free to roam where it would. And roam it did, aided and abetted by poets great and small, and using music as the most potent means to press a passionate suit in which he became a spokesman for lovers of all time, and of both sexes. To steal Shakespeare’s description of Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale, the composer ‘hath songs for man, or woman, of all sizes; no milliner can so fit his customers with gloves’.
Much has been written about Schubert’s private circumstances and his relationship with his father and his friends. Because of the paucity of documentary evidence in this year much remains speculation. But there is something about Vienna in 1815 which is incontrovertible and which has to be taken into account when listening to the music recorded on this disc. War was still very much on everybody’s mind; the city was on a war footing for a part of the year at least, military marches (and thus the music for them) were commonplace in public areas, and it was the last time for many decades that everyone was an unquestioning patriot. Most people knew, or knew of, someone who had been part of the fray. As we shall see, Schubert was no exception. As a twelve-year-old in 1809 he had experienced the panic of his home city’s being occupied by the French. In 1813 the citizens greeted the news of the victory against Napoleon in Leipzig (known as ‘The Battle of the Nations’) with delirious rapture. In 1814 Napoleon’s abdication and exile to Elba prompted the Congress of Vienna and a false sense of security. Between 20 March and 28 June 1815 however (the so-called ‘Hundred Days’ leading up to Napoleon’s final rout at Waterloo) the whole of Europe was once again on tenterhooks fearing that Boney was capable of returning successfully, as it were, from the dead.
The spirit of the poet Theodor Körner, who died of war wounds at a skirmish in 1813 (biography and portrait on page 9 of the booklet accompanying Volume 4) animates all the warlike and drinking songs on this disc. However romantic and brave a soldier young Körner actually was, the posthumous publication of his collection of poems Leyer und Schwert in 1814 made him, in John Reed’s words, the Rupert Brooke of his generation. Schubert certainly treated him as a real hero, one might almost say of the picture-book variety, when setting his words to music. But Körner’s significance in the composer’s life was greater than hero-worship at a distance: he had played an important part in Schubert’s own battle to be a composer by encouraging him, on a memorable evening in 1811, following an opera performance in Vienna, to ‘live for art’ as Josef von Spaun put it in his memoirs. Thus Körner was not only someone to admire but someone who could be counted, even if only in the most distant way, a friend. It is hardly surprising, given this combination of patriotic fellow-feeling and the romance of personal contact, that the composer was inspired to play the part of purveyor of music for heroes. The Körner war songs and choruses seem designed for popular appeal and mass performance. They often contain scarcely any trace of Schubert the sensitive tone-poet and master of modulation, and we should try to understand why. They were written in response to that side of the composer’s nature which aspired to the ultra-masculine and hearty, signs of a desire to embrace the popular and rabble-rousing which emerged from time to time in Schubert’s work right until the end of his life. The composer’s admirers of today who may attempt to define what is quintessentially ‘Schubertian’ about his music would hardly nominate the Körner choruses as typical or worthy of praise. But it is a failure to understand Schubert if one cannot accept his debt to Beethoven (the tub-thumping Beethoven of Wellingtons Sieg, as well as the glories of the symphonies and Fidelio) as much as Mozart. We should also not underestimate the pressures put on him by other people, his father chief among them, to conform to the standard masculine ideals. He was too short to qualify for military service, and too rotund to be happy with physical exercise, much less feats of bravery; his military music written when he was still young enough not to be able to see through the illusions of war may represent a type of wish-fulfilment fantasy – as if the composer had been born as tall, brave and handsome as Franz von Schober for example, whom Schubert first met in 1815. The unlikely friendship between great composer and dilettante poet (perhaps the most intense of all Schubert’s relationships for which the brief friendship with Körner may have been a prototype) has always puzzled Schubertians. I believe it is hardly surprising that the composer, patronised by many people because he was short and tubby, must have wished at times to modulate out of his body and exchange it for a well-toned and athletic one with sharp definition and a flat stomach – the key to all that he might have been if he had looked like a Shelley or Byron rather than a mushroom (Schubert’s friends nicknamed him ‘Schwämmerl’ or ‘little mushroom’ because of his shape). The aggressive soldier-boy of the Leyer und Schwert settings is Schubert himself as an adolescent Walter Mitty. Such stereotypes give rise to the music which suits them best, which may explain why Schubert’s patriotic songs and choruses of 1815 lack originality and the stamp of his own well-rounded greatness.
The war music which is wonderful however is that at one remove, inspired by bereavement and loss. Many fine young men, apart from Theodor Körner, had died during those dreadful years of war, and Schubert’s respect for the fallen and grief for the slain produced a number of elegies of simple but grave beauty. It also seems likely that he was first attracted to the work of the Gaelic bard Ossian by three grandiose laments for dead heroes (Kolmas Klage, Ossians Lied nach dem Falle Nathos and Das Mädchen von Inistore) with sentiments which had a special significance for the bereaved victors of the Napoleonic wars.
After 1815 the music rehearsals which had regularly taken place in the Schubert schoolhouse moved to the home of Franz Frischling in the Dorotheagasse. The musical gatherings which had been part of the Schubert family life were beginning to outgrow their humble beginnings. As the composer became ever more determined to leave home, so did he wean himself from music-making at home under the parental eye. There is no documentary evidence that his father and stepmother attended the great Schubertiads of the 1820s, and it is likely that they would have felt out of place in the ever-growing and increasingly elevated social scope of their son’s circle of friendship. Times were changing and Schubert’s music with them. Once the danger of Napoleon was over, the government of Austria looked within the state (and at student intellectuals in particular) for its enemies. The spectre of the French Revolution haunted the conservative rulers of Europe and the younger generations paid the price. Although Schubert was fortunate enough to pass the years of his manhood at a time of general European peace, it was peace bought at the price of stultification and repression. There is everything of the shiny-eyed political innocent about the composer in 1815 before Metternich created the police state which was to attempt to fetter the intellectual development of Schubert’s generation. The composer belonged to a group of young men who were intellectually curious and healthily anti-establishment, and along with his friends he had to struggle to hold his tongue and hide his heart during a particularly vicious backlash against freedom of behaviour and expression. Once he had become an intimate of the poet and reluctant book censor Mayrhofer, we find no more war songs about the Fatherland, no more glorying in the bravery of the sword. Only two years later, in 1817, we find in the texts Schubert set a nostalgia for the civilization of the ancient Greeks which became an emblematic contrast to the political and philosophical crudities of the Austrian present. The songs of that period (see Volume 14) show us a composer of a very different set of values. Schubert grew out of Körner’s Leyer und Schwert with its mixture of patriotism and religion; the strong connection between church and state at the time made both these things problematic for him and many of his contemporaries. Körner wrote these poems as a man defending his homeland against aggression, but such stirring sentiments are all too easily invoked by aggressors of another age for their own less noble purposes. This is why such revivals of the nationalism of the past (and 20th-century history makes German jingoism resound more ominously than most) make for a feeling of unease among many people. It is very likely that invited to the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ the mature Schubert would not have cared much for the words of Land of Hope and Glory, but had he heard them in 1815 he would certainly have been on the side of Austria’s most powerful ally.
Graham Johnson © 1994