Franz Schubert

Tchaikovsky Research
Franz Schubert (1797-1828), in a portrait by Wilhelm August Rieder

Austrian composer (b. 31 January 1797 [N.S.] in Vienna; d. 19 November 1828 [N.S.] in Vienna), born Franz Peter Schubert.

Tchaikovsky and Schubert

Tchaikovsky had a profound admiration for Schubert's music, as we can see from the many enthusiastic remarks in his feuilleton articles of the 1870s (see below). Although in one of these articles he observed that Schubert could not quite be ranked alongside Mozart and Beethoven, just a few years later, when discussing the significance of Bizet's opera Carmen in a series of letters written in the summer of 1880, he spoke of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert in the same breath as "the great masters of the past".

Given that in Tchaikovsky's time Schubert was known mainly for his Lieder, his chamber music, and piano pieces (just two of his nine symphonies had been unearthed and incorporated into the European concert repertoire by the 1870s, as mentioned in TH 288), it was not at all so obvious that the young Tchaikovsky should have immediately taken a liking to his music at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. (It was there that Tchaikovsky was really introduced to Schubert's works for the first time by his classically-minded teachers, especially Anton Rubinstein) After all, as Herman Laroche pointed out in one of his memoirs about his late friend, the young Tchaikovsky had several peculiar "musical antipathies", including a dislike of the combination of piano with string instruments and indeed an aversion to chamber music as such. Tchaikovsky had even sworn that he would never write any short piano pieces or songs himself. However, as Laroche adds: "He expressed the most profound contempt for songs and romances as a musical genre. This hatred, though, was of a purely platonic nature because he was quite willing to share in my delight at [the songs of] Glinka, Schumann, and Franz Schubert" [1]. Thus, it is very likely that for all his professions of sympathy for the new ideas proclaimed by Berlioz and Liszt, which were anathema to so many of his teachers, Tchaikovsky already then was able to appreciate the more 'modest' dimensions of Schubert's music. Certainly, by the 1870s he was a fervent admirer of the latter's chamber music works, and in the spring of 1887 we know that he studied Schubert's String Quintet while staying at Maydanovo [2].

As for Schubert's Great C-major Symphony (which Tchaikovsky discusses in such glowing terms in TH 288), that always remained unshakeable in his "musical pantheon" alongside Mozart's Don Giovanni and Glinka's A Life for the Tsar, as Laroche would later recall [3]. Another of Tchaikovsky's life-long favourites was Schubert's dramatic Erlkönig ballad, which moved him profoundly when it was sung by Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya at a concert in Moscow in 1875 (see TH 305). Two years later, his quarrel with Vladimir Stasov had partly to do with the fact that the mentor of the "Mighty Handful" had dared to assert that any romance by Aleksandr Borodin was equal to Schubert's Erlkönig! [4]

General Reflections on Schubert

Bold references indicate particularly detailed or interesting references.

In Tchaikovsky's Music Review Articles

  • TH 266 — reviewing a performance of the "Rosamunde" string quartet, Tchaikovsky speaks enthusiastically of Schubert's "inexhaustible wealth of melodic invention" and argues that it was only the haste with which he wrote many of his works, as well as his untimely death, that prevented him from ranking alongside Mozart and Beethoven.
  • TH 274 — describes Schubert as "that ever young composer who is always so full of genuine fire and inspiration".
  • TH 277 — in his division of composers into two categories — depending on whether it was sheer melodic invention or resourcefulness in the elaboration of themes which predominated in their music — Tchaikovsky places Schubert in the first of these.
  • TH 287 — discussing one of the many works by Schubert discovered after his death, Tchaikovsky refers to him as a "composer of genius".
  • TH 288 — praises the "unique magic and beauty" of the Great C-major Symphony and laments again that Schubert had died as "a genius unrecognized by his contemporaries".
  • TH 303 — compares Schubert briefly to Beethoven in his ability to unfold such "majestic breadth" of harmony within a narrow musical canvas.
  • TH 304 — attacks those Russian colleagues (Cui is mentioned explicitly, although Tchaikovsky was probably also thinking of the ever-critical Balakirev) who argued that prolific composers were insufficiently self-critical and bound to turn out low-quality music, and enumerates the huge body of works composed by Mozart and Schubert in their all too brief lives.

In Tchaikovsky's Letters

  • Letter 1539 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 June–19 June/1 July 1880, and letter 1541 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 18/30 July 1880: in both of these letters Tchaikovsky discusses the significance of Bizet's opera Carmen which had appeared like a breath of fresh air in an age when all composers were striving for "pretty and spicy sound effects" — something that "the great masters of the past (Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert)" had never done!

Views on Specific Works by Schubert

Bold references indicate particularly detailed or interesting references.

In Tchaikovsky's Music Review Articles

  • Erlkönig, ballad for solo voice and piano, Op.1 (1815), D.328 — TH 305
  • Mirjams Siegesgesang, choral cantata (1828), D.942 — TH 287
  • Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat major (1827), D.898 — TH 274
  • String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, Op. 29 (1824, "Rosamunde"), D.804 — TH 266
  • Symphony No. 8 in B minor (1822, "Unfinished"), D.759 — TH 288, TH 300
  • Symphony No. 9 in C major (1826, "Great"), D.944 — TH 288

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Herman Laroche, «П. И. Чайковский в Петербургской консерватории» [P. I. Tchaikovsky at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory] (1897) in Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p. 47–60 (56); English translation in David Brown, Tchaikovsky remembered (1993), p. 24.
  2. Diary entry for 10/22 April 1887. See Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 138.
  3. See Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p. 58.
  4. Tchaikovsky expressed his dismay at this assertion (and also at Stasov's dismissal of Gounod's music as banal) in Letter 3246 to Vladimir Stasov, 29 April/11 May 1887. See also Marek Bobéth, Čajkovskij und das Mächtige Häuflein (1995), p. 63-86.