Among the Great Masters of Music: Scenes in the Lives of Famous Musicians Schubert byWalter Rowlands
In the Währing cemetery in Vienna three monuments of varying design stand side by side. The central one honours Mozart, the name of Beethoven is inscribed upon the second, and the last bears that of Franz Schubert. Schubert died aged but thirty-one, in 1828, the year after Beethoven had passed beyond. He had the greatest reverence for the sublime master, and on the day before his own death spoke of him in a touching manner in his delirium. Schubert was one of the torch-bearers at the grave of Beethoven, and after the funeral went with some friends to a tavern, where he filled two glasses of wine. The first he drank to the memory of the great man who had just been laid to rest, and the other to the memory of him who should be first to follow Beethoven to the grave. In less than two years he himself lay beside him.
Schubert, in his youth, once asked a friend, after the performance of some of his own songs, whether he thought that he (Schubert) would ever become anything. His friend replied that he was already something. "I say so to myself, sometimes," said Schubert, "but who can do anything after Beethoven?" At a later day he said of the master, "Mozart stands in the same relation to him as Schiller does to Shakespeare. Schiller is already understood, Shakespeare still far from being fully comprehended. Every one understands Mozart; no one thoroughly comprehends Beethoven."
Although Beethoven lived in Vienna during nearly the whole life of Schubert, and for some years very near to his house, the two composers were almost strangers. Schindler, Beethoven's biographer, does indeed state that they met in 1822, but the story has been much doubted. Schindler says that the younger composer, whose "Variations on a French Air" had just been published by Diabelli and dedicated to Beethoven, went with the publisher to present the offering in person. He received them kindly, but Schubert was too confused to answer the master's questions, and on Beethoven making some slight criticism upon the piece, fled from the room in dismay. Huttenbrenner says, on the other hand, that Beethoven was not at home when Schubert called on him and that they never met. He, however, states that he, Schubert, and the artist Teltscher, went to Beethoven's house during his last illness and stood for a long time around his bed. The dying man was told the names of his visitors and made signs to them with his hand which they could not comprehend. Schubert was deeply touched, for his veneration for Beethoven amounted almost to worship.
Schindler, during Beethoven's last illness, brought him a collection of Schubert's songs, and he expressed the greatest admiration for their beauty, coupled with regrets that he had not known more of him. How great must have been Schubert's delight to learn that Beethoven on this occasion said of him, "Truly, Schubert possesses a spark of the divine fire;" and again, "Some day he will make a noise in the world." Beethoven is said to have frequently played the "Variations" which Schubert dedicated to him.
The extraordinary fertility and facility of Schubert in composing are well known. Elson tells the story of the creation of "Hark, Hark, the Lark!" from "Cymbeline." "It was a summer morning in 1826 that Schubert was returning from a long walk in the suburbs of Vienna, with a party of friends; they had been out to Potzleindorf, and were walking through Währing, when, as they passed the restaurant "Zum Biersack," Schubert looked in and saw his friend Tieze sitting at one of the tables; he at once suggested that the party enter and join him at breakfast, which was accordingly done. As they sat together at the table, Schubert took up a book which Tieze had brought with him; it was Shakespeare's poems in a German translation; he began turning from page to page in his usual insatiable search for subjects for musical setting; suddenly he paused and read one of the poems over a few times. 'If I only had music-paper here,' he cried, 'I have just the melody to fit this poem.' Without a word, Doppler, one of his friends, drew the musical staff on the back of the bill of fare, and handed it to the composer, and on this bill of fare, while waiting breakfast, amid the clatter and confusion of a Viennese outdoor restaurant, Schubert brought forth the beautiful aubade, or morning song, 'Hark, Hark, the Lark!'"
Upon the same evening, he set two more of Shakespeare's songs to music, "Who is Sylvia?" from the "Two Gentlemen of Verona," and the drinking song from the second act of "Antony and Cleopatra."
The composer played the piano with much expression, but could not be considered as a performer of great technical attainments. He once attempted to play his "Fantasia in C, Opus 15," to some friends, but broke down twice, and finally sprang up from his chair in a fury, exclaiming: "The devil may play the stuff!"
"The subtle influence which Schubert exercised over those with whom he was brought into close contact was not to be accounted for by any grace of person or manner. Kreissle says that he was under the average height, round backed and shouldered, with plump arms and hands and short fingers. He had a round and puffy face, low forehead, thick lips, bushy eyebrows, and a short, turned-up nose, giving him something of a negro aspect. This description does not coincide with our ideas of one in whom either intellectual or imaginative qualities were strongly developed. Only in animated conversation did his eye light up, and show by its fire and brilliancy the splendour of the mind within. Add to this that in society Schubert's manner was awkward, the result of an unconquerable diffidence and bashfulness, when in the presence of strangers. He was even less fitted than Beethoven to shine in the salons of the Viennese aristocracy, for his capacity as an executive musician was more limited. But he was far more companionable among his intimate acquaintances, and perhaps his greatest, and certainly his most frequent, pleasure was to discuss music over a friendly glass in some cosy tavern. It would be entirely unjust to say that he was a drunkard, but he was not overcautious in his potations, and frequently took more than was prudent or consistent with a regard to health. This weakness was purely the result of his fondness for genial society, for he was not a solitary drinker, and invariably devoted the early portion of the day to work. The enormous mass of his compositions sufficiently proves his capacity for hard and unremitting labour, and no diminution of energy was observable to the very last. It is not easy for us at this distance of time, and with our colder Northern temperament, to comprehend the romantic feelings of attachment subsisting between Schubert and some of his friends, - feelings which, however, are by no means rare among the impulsive youth of South Germany, - but his naïve simplicity, cheerful and eminently sociable disposition, insensibility to envy, and incorruptible modesty, were qualities calculated to transform the respect due to his genius into a strong personal liking. Schubert was, in truth, a child of nature, one whom to know was to love; for his faults might be summed up into a general incapacity to understand his own interests, and it might be said of him as truly as of any one that he was no man's enemy save his own, thus reversing Shakespeare's words, the good which he did lives after him; the evil was interred with his bones."