FRANZ PETER SCHUBERT
(1797-1828)

Portrait of Franz Peter Schubert.

FRANZ PETER SCHUBERT

 

(Hark, Hark! the Lark.)

Music: Hark, hark! the lark at Heav'n's gate sings, And Phœbus 'gins to rise.

 

 

God sent his singers upon earth
With songs of gladness and of mirth,
That they might touch the hearts of men
And bring them back to heaven again.

—Longfellow.

One winter's night in 1797 a little child was born in Vienna. He was called Franz Peter, and his father was Schubert the schoolmaster. The home into which the child came was one of poverty. There was a large family of children to be cared for, and there was but little money with which to feed and clothe them.

On the day that Franz Schubert was born in that humble home, Haydn was sixty-five years of age, and the great Beethoven was a young man of twenty-seven. Mozart had passed away six years before. Little did Schoolmaster Schubert and his good wife dream that their little son would one day make the name Schubert as famous as any of these.

Famous, indeed, did the family name become through Franz Peter. And to-day, if you were tovisit Vienna, you would find his first home marked with a gray stone tablet. Carved into the marble are words meaning Birthplace of Franz Schubert.

Franz started to school when he was six years old. A year or two later he began the study of music. His teacher soon found that the boy already knew a great deal. At the close of a lesson one day, he said to the child, "Who has been your music teacher?"

"May it please you, I have had none but yourself."

"How, then, have you learned so much about music?"

Then the boy told his story. He said that a playmate of his was an apprentice in a piano factory. Franz often begged to be allowed to go to the shop. At last his friend said, "You may go with me just this once." When he was ready to go home, Franz could not be found in the workshop. The apprentice hurried from one room to another. At last he found the little lad in the room where the pianos stood. He had been having a delightful time, picking out exercises on the white keys. Many times after that he went to the piano factory. Soon he had taught himself all that most children learn in a great many lessons.

The boy's singing teacher often said to the schoolmaster, "I have never before had such a pupil."One day he came to the father with tears in his eyes, saying, "Whenever I want to teach Franz anything, I find he knows it already."

The boy's father was anxious that Franz should become a member of the choir in the emperor's chapel. Those who sang in the choir first passed an examination in music. Then they were allowed to enter a school where music and other studies were taught.

Franz often saw the choir boys in their uniforms trimmed with bands of gold, and studied harder that he might one day enter the choir. When he was eleven years old, he passed the examination. The chapel master said, "You sing well, indeed, my boy."

When Franz arose to sing for the chapel masters, some of the boys began to point their fingers at his poor clothes. Franz could hear them whispering among themselves, "He must be a miller's son." When he began to sing, the whispering ceased. The sweet, pure tones filled the great room and the silence was unbroken.

One day the chapel master saw some music that Franz had composed. He said to himself "Franz Schubert is no ordinary child. He must study composition in earnest. He shall have the finest harmony teacher."

Franz and his new teacher became fast friends. The lad was eager to learn, but the master found little to teach. He used to say, "He has already learned everything, and God has been his teacher."

During the years that Franz attended the choir school it was his custom to visit his parents on Sunday afternoon. The schoolmaster and three of his sons had formed a quartet. The father played the violoncello, Franz the viola, and the others the first and second violins.

Although Franz was the youngest, he was the first to notice a mistake. If it was one of his brothers who made the mistake, Franz would frown. If it was the father who played a wrong note, no notice of it was taken the first time. If he played incorrectly the second time, Franz would smile and say modestly, "There must be something wrong, father."

THE WRITER OF SWEET SONGS

It was in 1813, when Franz Schubert was sixteen years old, that a great change came into his life. His voice lost its purity and sweetness. He could no longer reach the high notes with ease. For these reasons he was obliged to leave the chapel choir.

The boy knew that he must earn his own living.He became an assistant in his father's school. There, day after day, for three years, he taught the little children their A B C's. He did not enjoy his work, and the moment school was over he busied himself with something far dearer to him than teaching. Composition was his heart's delight, and he spent all his leisure time in writing music.

One of the best compositions of his early years was a mass in F. It was given in a large church, where Franz went to hear it. It so happened that his old teacher was there and heard the young man's music with great pleasure. At the close of the mass, he came hurrying to his friend, exclaiming, "Franz, you are my pupil—one who will do me much honor!"

Teaching and being taught—that was the way in which young Schubert spent a year or two after he left the emperor's chapel. Teaching the primer class in his father's school and being taught the science of writing music was the work which filled his hours.

Many of Franz Peter's friends spent their leisure time in outdoor games. Should you not think that young Schubert would have been glad to join them when school was over? He often wished that he might join his comrades, but he would say: "No, I can not go. There is much work to be done."

Few composers ever spent so busy a year as did Schubert in 1815. Indeed, it was the busiest year of his life. In those twelve months he composed church music, operas, symphonies, and a hundred songs. He never wrote songs more tender or sweet than those written at that period.

Often, when Schubert read a poem that pleased him, he set it to music. The words of many of his songs are the poems of some of the best German writers. He was particularly fond of Goethe's works and set many of his poems to music. The words of two of Schubert's most beautiful songs, The Erl King and Gretchen at her Spinning Wheel, were written by Goethe.

Although Schubert wrote so many beautiful songs, the German people knew little about them. Perhaps they might never have known them well, had it not been for a good friend of Schubert's. This man was a singer. He admired Schubert's songs and sang them well. In fact, he sang them at almost every concert in which he appeared. He it was who first gave The Erl King in public.

There is a story telling how Schubert chanced to write the well-known song, Hark, Hark, the Lark. Returning one evening in July from a long walk, he strolled into the park to rest. On one of thebenches he found a friend reading Shakespeare. When his friend had finished reading, Schubert picked up the volume. Idly turning the pages, his eye fell upon the verses beginning, "Hark, hark, the lark at heaven's gate sings."

As he read, music fitting the words passed through his mind. Hastily taking pencil and paper, he drew the staves, and, without once glancing up, he wrote every note of the music.

Schubert had only a few friends, but these were near and dear to him. The "King of Song," as we sometimes call him, was a man unselfish and true. To the last days of his life he was poor. He never complained, nor was he sad on this account.

In many respects, Franz Peter Schubert had a different life from most other great composers. He never played at the courts of queens and emperors. He was never given diamonds or other costly presents. He seldom played at concerts. He never had the joy of hearing his compositions cheered again and again. He never saw an audience sit silent under the charm of his music.

Many songs that Schubert wrote have never been published. Among his best-known works are The Wanderer, Hedge Roses, The Wanderer's Night Song, The Pilgrim, Prayer before the Battle, and the Slumber Song. He also set to music Scott's Lady of the Lake.

We must not forget that, although Schubert is best known as a song writer, he also wrote much exquisite instrumental music. One of the loveliest compositions for the piano is the Serenade. Many serenades have been written, but no other is so lovely as Schubert's Serenade.

Although Schubert and Beethoven lived at the same time, they seldom saw each other. It was during Beethoven's last illness that he first came to know Schubert's compositions. A friend brought him a number of Schubert's songs to read, and the master was delighted. In the procession of friends at Beethoven's funeral, Schubert was one of the torch-bearers.

Scarcely a year had passed before Schubert, too, had passed away. He was buried in Vienna, near the graves of Mozart and Beethoven. A stately monument marks the last resting place of "The Writer of Sweet Songs."

(The Erl King.)

Music: Who rides there so late thro' night so wild? A loving father with his young child.

HEDGE ROSES

Once a boy a wild rose spied,
In the hedgerow growing;
Fresh in all her youthful pride,
When her beauties he descried,
Joy in his heart was glowing.
Little wild rose, wild rose red,
In the hedgerow growing.
Said the boy, "I'll gather thee,
In the hedgerow growing!"
Said the rose, "Then I'll pierce thee
That thou may'st remember me."
Thus reproof bestowing.
Little wild rose, wild rose red,
In the hedgerow growing.
Thoughtlessly he pulled the rose,
In the hedgerow growing;
But her thorns their spears oppose.
Vainly he laments his woes,
With pain his hand is glowing.
Little wild rose, wild rose red,
In the hedgerow growing.

—Goethe.

THE WANDERER'S NIGHT SONG

Night descends in peace o'er the trees,
Each trembling leaflet, e'en the breeze,
Hath slumber blest.
The little birds cease their ev'ning song.
Wait awhile, wait awhile, ere long
Thou too shalt rest;
Wait awhile, wait awhile, ere long
Thou too shalt rest.

—Goethe.