by Paul Reid
BEETHOVEN AND SCHUBERT ©2013, Paul Reid
Two of the world’s greatest composers lived in the same small city for thirty-one years, the entire life of the younger man. We are bound to ask whether they met – and equally frustrated at the lack of evidence that renders all our answers ultimately conjectural. When asking how the work of the older composer influenced that of the younger, we have plentiful evidence at our disposal. If we seek to estimate the influence exerted on Schubert by the personality of Beethoven, our imagination in the interpretation of facts and events is again exercised. A final, intriguing question concerns the possible influence of Schubert on Beethoven. Could the Titan, rendered yet more remote by his deafness, have given heed to compositions by the retiring Schubert, twenty-seven years his junior? There can be no definitive answers to these questions, but we can at least offer a commonsense survey and a commentary on the facts and issues relevant to their investigation.
Throughout his life Schubert admired Beethoven as an artist and a composer, but he did not set out slavishly to emulate the composer or to model his music directly on Beethoven’s. Indeed, despite occasional influences which can be traced in Schubert’s early compositions (where, like most young artists, he was studying a number of recognised sources as part of his apprenticeship), we find Schubert in 1816 blaming Beethoven for the trend towards ‘Bizarrerie’ in music. This ‘Bizarrerie’, which Schubert roundly condemns, is characterised by what Schubert considers an almost sacrilegious tendency to mix tragic and comic elements, to combine ‘the holiest with the Harlequin’, and arouse wild passions instead of leading listeners towards love and God. Schubert is clearly parroting the views of his musically conservative teacher Antonio Salieri to a large extent1, but he consistently disapproved of music as a tool to arouse cheap emotions and could never bring himself to debase music by making it a butt of humour in itself2 . In his later music, Schubert occasionally echoes motives from Beethoven works, including deliberate quotations as homage, but rarely seeks to imitate Beethoven’s style as such. By then Beethoven is important more as a personal model of the independent professional composer, and his example confirms Schubert in his determination to compose what inner necessity dictates, even if this is out of step with fashion and may not be fully appreciated by his contemporaries.
Known links between the two great contemporaries
The excellent student orchestra at the Konvikt, the Viennese boarding school which Schubert attended from 1808 until 1813, played the earlier (and easier) symphonies of Beethoven. The performances were enjoyed in the summer months by an appreciative crowd of locals, who gathered beneath the open windows of the school. Josef von Spaun3 mentions the second symphony in D major (published in 1804) as a favourite which made the ‘deepest impression’ on Schubert, then only just 12 and playing in the violin section. Another fellow-student, Anton Holzapfel,4 mentions the first and second symphonies, plus the overtures Coriolan (published 1808) and Leonore (probably No. 3, published 1807) – both then hot off the press. This was new and exciting music and showed Schubert just what could be achieved in the realm of orchestral music.
Yet the effect of this encounter with Beethoven’s orchestral music was intimidating as well as inspiring. Spaun reports that Schubert developed serious ambitions as a composer, nourished and encouraged in part by Beethoven’s music, but felt that he would never be able to compete on equal terms with the great man: ‘Er sagte dann ganz kleinlaut: Heimlich im stillen hoffe ich wohl selbst noch etwas aus mir machen zu können, aber wer vermag nach Beethoven noch etwas zu machen?’ (Then he added in an undertone: Secretly I still really hope to be able to make something of myself , but who can do anything now after Beethoven?).5 Any composer in Vienna in the first quarter of the nineteenth century was, of course, working more or less in the shadow of Beethoven, who gradually acquired the status of a living legend, but the young Schubert, who was already able to appreciate the nature and scope of Beethoven’s genius while yet lacking the technical skill to emulate the older man, would have felt his inadequacy particularly keenly.
Moritz von Schwind, reported that the 17-year-old Schubert sold his books in order to buy a ticket for the first performance of the revised version of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio on 23rd May 1814.6 Even if this anecdote is apocryphal, as seems probable, as Schwind was only ten years old at the time and was not to meet Schubert until 1821, it is cleverly chosen, as it fits well with what we know of Schubert’s enthusiasm for Beethoven – an enthusiasm he shared with a majority of the Viennese musical public.
Josef Kenner, Schubert’s contemporary at the Konvikt, reports more reliably that Schubert went through songs by both Beethoven and Zumsteeg with his fellow students Albert Stadler and Anton Holzapfel during his time at the school.7 In fact, Schubert deliberately modelled songs on exisiting setting by both composers.8
Schubert’s diary entry for 13th June 1816 states that he performed variations by Beethoven at a musical soirée, before singing two of his own songs.9 It is impossible to know which set of variations Schubert performed, as nineteen sets of variations for piano had been published by this time (all except the Diabelli Variations, op. 120), and twelve of these were first published in Vienna. This performance took place just three days before Schubert was to criticise Beethoven’s ‘Bizarrerie’ in his diary (see above), although an early set of variations would have been a less ‘bizarre’ choice than some of Beethoven’s more recent works.
When Schubert published his first substantial instrumental composition, the Variations on a French Theme for Piano Duet, op.10 (D 624) in 1822, it was dedicated to Beethoven from his ‘worshipper and admirer Franz Schubert’. This is strong phraseology even for a dedication. Beethoven is said to have played Schubert’s Variations with his nephew Karl and to have enjoyed them.10 Presumably Schubert, either directly or through his publishers Cappi and Diabelli, had obtained Beethoven’s permission to dedicate the work to him. In making this dedication, Schubert was also passing up the chance to receive the gratuity he would have expected from a noble dedicatee. The act of homage to the older composer was clearly more important to him than financial considerations.
Schubert almost certainly attended Beethoven’s grand concert or ‘Akademie’ in Vienna on 7 May 1824, when the ‘Choral’ Symphony was first performed, along with three movements from the Missa Solemnis.11 This may have influenced his own Ninth Symphony (the ‘Great’), begun the following year, and one wonders whether the choral version of Die Allmacht (D 875A) may have been the first draft for a choral Finale to Schubert’s new symphony. Beethoven’s ‘Akademie’ certainly inspired Schubert with the idea of organizing a benefit concert of his own.
The said benefit concert took place on 26th March 1828, a year to the day after Beethoven’s death. In addition to the significance of the date, there was more than an element of a tribute to Beethoven about the music performed. The song Auf dem Strom with horn obbligato (D943) clearly quotes the funeral march from the ‘Eroica’ Symphony, and Christopher Gibbs detects further, although well concealed reminiscences of the ‘Eroica’ in the E flat Piano Trio, which was the centrepiece of the concert.12 The poem to Auf dem Strom by Ludwig Rellstab may well have been among a sheaf of poems which the poet had given to Beethoven and which Anton Schindler recalls passing on to Schubert after Beethoven’s death. Seven more of these Rellstab poems were set by Schubert and incorporated into the Schwanengesang collection after Schubert’s own death.
Schubert knew his own worth and saw himself as the true successor to Beethoven. This belief was encouraged by Schindler’s handover of the sheaf of poems, and also on Easter Monday 1827, when the celebrated violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh gave his final subscription concert as an early memorial to Beethoven. The concert opened with the first public performance of Schubert’s Octet (D803), followed by Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte and an arrangement of the ‘Emperor’ concerto.13 In offering this juxtaposition, Schuppanzigh, who knew both Schubert and Beethoven and their instrumental works well, was providing an early answer to the challenging question posed by Franz Grillparzer in the fulsome eulogy he composed for Beethoven’s funeral: ‘Who shall stand beside him?’14
Schubert had been one of several torchbearers at Beethoven’s funeral, although this says more about Schubert’s established position in Viennese cultural life than about his specific relationship with Beethoven.
On his deathbed Schubert is said to have requested a command performance of Beethoven’s C sharp minor String Quartet, op.131, which was duly given by Karl Holz and others (the violinist Holz was a mutual friend of the two composers),15 and in his dying delirium Schubert was thought to be asking obliquely to be buried beside Beethoven at the cemetery in Währing. His father took pains to ensure that this wish was granted.16
For his part, Beethoven cannot have been unaware of Schubert’s rising fame. Reports of the publication and performance of Schubert’s works were appearing in newspapers and journals with increasing frequency and it is well known that Beethoven read newspapers and the specialist music journals assiduously. The ‘conversation books’ which survive from the period of his total deafness also show that a stream of fellow artists regaled him with news of the latest developments in music and literature. Contemporary reviews of Schubert’s music, as Christopher Gibbs has reminded us,17 regularly compared Schubert’s works with similar works by Beethoven, and this assessment of Schubert by the absolute benchmark of Beethoven thus began in his lifetime, and encouraged Schubert to make similar comparisons himself. Later it was to become fashionable to compare and contrast the ‘masculine’ Beethoven with the more ‘feminine’ Schubert and look for traits in the music which might exemplify this neat theory. This trend was initiated by Robert Schumann in his capacity as critic, taken up by Sir George Grove, and has continued to the present day, given new impetus by the debate over Schubert’s sexuality.18
Beethoven may not have praised Schubert publicly, but even positive comments made in private about the quality of Schubert’s Variations and his songs would constitute high praise from Beethoven, who rarely praised fellow composers openly. Beethoven’s deafness would not, of course, have been a barrier to his appreciating Schubert’s music, as he would hear a score in his head, but his appreciation could clearly be based only on published works or autographs. As a majority of Schubert’s published works before March 1827 were songs, Beethoven could be excused for judging him principally as a song composer. None of the symphonies, for example, were published in Schubert’s lifetime, the majority having to await the complete critical edition of 1884-5. We cannot criticise Beethoven – or other of Schubert’s contemporaries – for failing to have the rounded view of Schubert’s oeuvre which we can gain with comparatively little effort, and thereby underestimating his achievement in instrumental and orchestral music.19
Schindler, Beethoven’s self-appointed secretary in his later years, reported that he took a portfolio of Schubert songs in handwritten copies to Beethoven a month before the composer died, and on leafing through them Beethoven is said to have exclaimed: ‘Truly, in this Schubert there dwells a divine spark!’. The story is lent credibility by the survival of a portfolio of songs from Schindler’s effects, now bound and in the Taussig Collection in Lund, Sweden, which is possibly the very one which Schindler assembled for Beethoven’s perusal.20
In March 1827, the celebrated pianist and composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel hastened to Vienna to speak to Beethoven, having learned of his serious illness. Beethoven reported in a letter to Ignaz Moscheles, of 14 March 1827: ‘Hummel is here and has already visited me a few times’.21 We know from Ferdinand Hiller,22 who accompanied his master Hummel on this trip, that Hummel was extremely moved when Schubert and Vogl performed songs at the home of the retired singer Katharina Laszny during the same period, and Hummel even (according to Spaun23 ) improvised on one of the songs, Der blinde Knabe. It seems likely, given this conjunction, that Hummel would have praised Schubert’s songs to the dying Beethoven – a belated recommendation that would, however, have carried some weight, given the celebrity of Hummel at that time.
Schubert and Beethoven inevitably had many other mutual acquaintances. These included publishers, such as Anton Diabelli, Tobias Haslinger, Domenico Artaria and Sigmund Anton Steiner; movers and shakers in musical life, such as the Sonnleithners, Count Ferdinand Troyer, Moritz von Dietrichstein and Moritz Fries; writers and critics, such as Friedrich Rochlitz and Franz Grillparzer ; and of course, practising musicians, among them the violinists Ignaz Schuppanzigh and Karl Holz, the singers Johann Michael Vogl, Anna Milder and Karoline Unger, and the pianist and composer Josef Czerny.
Well, did they meet?
Schubert and Beethoven must, in the natural course of events, have met as fellow musicians living and working in a small city. It would indeed have entailed a huge effort to avoid an encounter, although Schubert’s modesty and shyness might explain why a formal introduction is not recorded. Reports on the matter are of little assistance. Schubert’s brother Ferdinand states: ‘He often met Beethoven, whom he revered and who spoke highly of Schubert’s songs in particular’, but the (lack of) evidence is against such a bold claim.24 Two possible meetings are reported in 1822. One was the handover of Schubert’s Variations, op.10, dedicated to Beethoven: some report that Beethoven was not at home and Schubert left the Variations and went, while others say that Schubert presented the Variations personally, but panicked when Beethoven made a minor critical comment and ran out. The other occasion was a meeting at Baden in the Summer of 1822, reported by the critic Rochlitz, who reports that Schubert actually took him to an inn specifically to introduce him to Beethoven, but this really does not ring true.25
Schubert visited Beethoven’s sickbed, but so did many others. Everyone wanted a piece of the famous man by that time – often literally, as after his death many visitors requested a few hairs from his head as a keepsake, in the manner of a religious relic, such was Beethoven’s revered status in Vienna by that time. In March 1827, about a week before Beethoven died, Schubert visited Beethoven’s room with his friends Josef Teltscher and the Hüttenbrenner brothers, Joseph and Anselm, but the two composers did not converse.26
Anselm Hüttenbrenner reports that he and Schubert often saw Beethoven in Steiner’s music shop, where Beethoven would hold forth. His mention of Beethoven’s speaking sarcastically about the excesses of Italian opera gives his accounts the ring of truth, as Italian opera and notably a Rossini mania of epidemic proportions was ousting all else at that period, causing some resentment among the ‘German’ composers.27
While it is as certain as it can be that the two men met, the evidence is frustratingly circumstantial and the reports contradictory. We must remember that Beethoven’s deafness made him increasingly less approachable to potential new acquaintances. As early as 1812, Goethe had commented with sadness on Beethoven’s increasing deafness, noting percipiently that it would be bound to affect his social interaction rather than his composing. It would have required a superhuman effort on Schubert’s part to enter Beethoven’s inner circle several years later, even had he wished to do so.
If by ‘meeting’ we mean shaking hands warmly and conversing, it seems probable that the two men did not meet. If we mean brief encounters, with a nodding acknowledgement of the other, then they did.
While it can be fascinating, it is potentially facile to draw up a simple concordance of musical reminiscences, unless these have a semantic or biographical significance or give us an insight into compositional method or style.
The fact that Schubert, as previously mentioned, quotes the Funeral March from Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony in his song ‘Auf dem Strom’ is of the greatest interest, as the song was first performed at Schubert’s concert a year to the day after Beethoven’s death. This encourages us – as it did the contemporary audience in March 1828 – to regard the whole event as a deliberate tribute to the dead Beethoven. Furthermore, although the actual words of the song are not relevant at this point (sadness at being carried away from home and love by the river), the fact that Schubert quotes a funeral march from Beethoven’s ‘heroic’ symphony certainly is:
Ex. 1a: Beethoven: ‘Eroica’, Marcia funebre
Ex. 1b: Schubert: Auf dem Strom
There are few more moving musical tributes from one composer to another, rendered all the more touching and intimate by the younger composer’s modesty in veiling, rather than proclaiming, the reminiscence – and that at a time when musical compositions, poems and concerts ostentatiously dedicated to Beethoven’s memory were the order of the day.28 It is likely that many members of the audience will have spotted the musical reference at once, while others will have been unsettled by hearing a melody which they could not quite place, the removal from its grand symphonic context to the intimate sphere of the solo song with obbligato producing a sense of alienation. Schubert, in his tribute, is not striving to compete on equal terms with his hero by some orchestral metamorphosis, but quietly weaving the familiar melody into the weft of the musical genre he had made his own – song.
Any outline similarities between Beethoven’s Septet and Schubert’s Octet, such as its instrumentation and the disposition of the movements, are of scant relevance to our theme, as this was a commission, and Count Ferdinand Troyer had apparently asked Schubert to imitate Beethoven’s celebrated Septet closely. Julian Rushton has pointed out, however, that Schubert was never going to follow this instruction to the letter: ‘Mercifully he did not succeed – even if he tried – for to have done so would have been to suppress his own inventive faculty’29. Rushton points to some essential differences between the two works, attributing some to Schubert’s ‘volcanic temper’30 , some to his general tendency to more expansive structures, and some to his use of Beethoven’s larger-scale middle period orchestral works, rather than the early Septet itself, as a model, notably in the Scherzo movement. Thus, it is the differences rather than the similarities which cast light on the compositional approach of the two composers. Beethoven’s Septet is a comparatively early work (1799), but it is instructive to recall that, when Schubert wrote his Octet (1824) in the period of his musical maturity – having already found his own musical voice and the confidence to seek to improve on his model – he was actually two years younger than Beethoven had been in 1799.
Certain works of Beethoven had a particularly pervasive influence on Schubert. The Allegretto of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony with its persistent ‘dactylic’ metre (one long note, followed by two short ones) resonates throughout Schubert’s mature work. It acquires almost the status of a musical motto and is certainly one of Schubert’s most distinctive musical fingerprints. Having adopted the dactylic figure into his musical armoury, however, Schubert proceeds to refine and redefine it. In songs such as ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’ (D531) or the moving ‘Schwanengesang’ (D744) to words by his friend Johann Senn, the metre becomes the ultimate musical analogue for the approach of death. This is no simple imitation, as borrowing has led to complete assimilation and transformation.
Beethoven’s Second Symphony was an early influence. As Brian Newbould has lucidly demonstrated, the influence could be directly musical, as in Schubert’s earliest attempt at symphonic writing, D2B; but more importantly Beethoven’s symphony reminded Schubert of the effectiveness and convenience of the key of D major for orchestral scoring, one of the principal technical challenges for an apprentice composer. Could Schubert’s choice of D major for 6 of his 13 attempts at a symphony and for all of his early overtures (1811-13) be directly attributable to his experience of performing Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony?31 The influence of Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony was certainly enduring, evidenced by a delightful recollection of its second movement (Larghetto) in the second movement (Andante) of Schubert’s Sonata in C for piano duet (‘Grand Duo’, D812) of June 1824:
Ex. 2a: Beethoven: 2nd symphony, Larghetto
Ex. 2b: Schubert: ‘Grand Duo’, Andante
Schubert was clearly taken with Beethoven’s final piano sonata, op. 111 in C minor, and typically pays his most apparent homage to this work, not in an instrumental work, but in a late song. Der Atlas (D957/8). Schubert’s own late triptych of piano sonatas (D958-960) were in themselves a homage to Beethoven32 , recalling that composer’s own final triptych (Op. 109-111), but in Der Atlas the homage is immediately apparent in the music itself. Schubert’s introduction is dominated by the same three-note motiv (C-Eb-B) which Beethoven had stated as a motto at the opening of the Allegro con brio ed appassionato section of the first movement of his op. 111. Susan Youens, in a virtuoso analysis of the song, suggests that Schubert may, in the opening bars of the song, be declaring his true kinship with Beethoven, his brother Titan (Prometheus and Atlas). The modest and still young composer is emboldened to state: ‘I shall continue where Beethoven left off’.33 Schubert is also demonstrating here that he has advanced song composition to the stage where a single song, traditionally a miniature and intimate art-form, can have the emotional impact and dramatic punch of a full-blown instrumental or orchestral composition.
Song links – a case study
Beethoven’s significant achievement in song and his contribution to the development of the Romantic Lied is now becoming properly appreciated, but song was the one genre where Schubert might have expected to be able to outshine Beethoven – and did. The publication of Beethoven’s great song cycle An die ferne Geliebte in October 1816 must have made the younger composer’s jaw drop a little, but he was not deterred and carried on to produce masterpiece after masterpiece and to bring his own conception of the song cycle to glorious fruition. Nevertheless, even in the field of song we can trace the influence of the older composer on the younger, and in one instance at least, a probable intimidating effect of Schubert’s achievement on Beethoven’s composition.34
In 1815 we note Schubert modelling songs closely on Beethoven’s settings of the same texts. He was clearly familiar with Beethoven’s set of six songs, op. 75, and his settings of Kennst du das Land (D321) and Der Zufriedene (D320) demonstrate a clear debt to Beethoven. Schubert composed his setting of Mignon’s song Kennst du das Land on 23rd October 1815, and on the same day set a further text which Beethoven had included in his op.75 collection: Reissig’s Der Zufriedene. Both Schubert songs show clear similarities in outline to Beethoven’s settings (op. 75, Nos. 1 and 6). The influence of the senior composer is self-evident in Der Zufriedene, the two songs employing a common key – A major – and even an identical pattern of semiquaver triplets in the piano part. In Mignon’s song too Schubert follows Beethoven in his choice of key (A major), the solemn metre of the opening phrases and a faster movement at ‘Dahin’. Like Beethoven, Schubert sets the first two stanzas to identical music, using repeat markings. A reminiscence beyond coincidence occurs at ‘Es stürzt der Fels’, where Schubert, like Beethoven, inserts staccato markings, here in the piano part:
Schubert, at eighteen, does not seem to grasp the emotional subtlety of the poem and relies heavily on his exemplar. Sadly, Schubert did not return to this poem in January 1826 when he plumbed the psychological depths of the other Mignon poems in his D877 settings, speaking now wholly in his own voice.
It is interesting, incidentally, to see Beethoven and Schubert experimenting along similar lines in their early years. Although Schubert cannot feasibly have known the song An Laura (WoO112), which was discovered only in 1911 and first published in 1916, there is an uncanny similarity of form in some of his own early settings of the poet Friedrich Matthisson. Der Abend (D108), Lied der Liebe (D109), Erinnerungen (D98) and Der Geistertanz (D116), for example, all show, like the Beethoven song, a strophic form interrupted briefly by recitative, before the original musical metre returns.
Beethoven’s setting of Der Wachtelschlag was published in 1804 (WoO129). Through tracing common divergences from Sauter’s original text, it is possible to demonstrate that Schubert almost certainly used Beethoven’s song as the source for the text of his song (D742), published in 1822, although there is no evidence of musical borrowing as such. Indeed, there is a fascinating contrast of styles in this case. The dotted song of the quail (‘Lobe Gott!’) runs through both settings as a given, of course. But Schubert’s setting is set lightly in 6/8 time and is essentially strophic, with only a sidestep to the tonic minor when storms and warriors approach, while Beethoven’s setting is through-composed (notated in F major, but riddled with accidentals) and amounts to a little cantata, with very much stronger and more pianistic accompaniment – note, for example, the vigorously pumping Allegro interlude which precedes the mention of the warriors (bar 51: ‘Machen Gefahren der Krieger dich bang’) which is closely related to the fiery last movement of the piano sonata op.31/3 (Presto con fuoco), composed in 1802, the previous year. Beethoven varies his time signature (2/4, C and 6/8) and tempo indications, from larghetto to allegro molto, and repeats words freely, partly in his habitual straining for emphasis, but also from purely musical considerations.
As an example of small-scale borrowing, consider the opening two bars (a ‘gathering note’ followed by semiquavers), which introduce each verse of Beethoven’s Sehnsucht (‘Was zieht mir das Herz so?’, op.83/2). These clearly prefigure the semiquaver meanderings of Schubert’s Am Feierabend from Die schöne Müllerin.
Furthermore, the punching rhythm (two quavers plus quaver rest in 6/8 time) at ‘Da kommt sie und wandelt’ is identical with Schubert’s rhythm at ‘Ach, wie ist mein Arm so schwach’:
In 1817 Schubert sketched an early version of the slow movement of his piano sonata in E flat (D568) on the outer leaves of a double sheet, the inner leaves of which contain the autograph of Beethoven’s song Ich liebe dich (WoO123). It is unexplained how this remarkable ‘double autograph’ came about. Kinsky, in his catalogue of Beethoven’s works, can only surmise that Salieri may have given the Beethoven autograph to Schubert in 1817. Schubert, always desperate for manuscript paper, would then have filled the unused outer leaves without thinking. What is certain is that Schubert gave one half of the folded sheet to his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner (later purchased by the collector Johann Kafka) and that the other half went to Schubert’s nephew Edward Schneider after the composer’s death. In 1872, Brahms obtained both sheets and reunited them. He donated the unique object to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in 1893, where it remains (GdM: A13). It is quite astonishing that Schubert did not attach more importance to the Beethoven autograph, which he must have recognised, as the song had been published in 1803 in Vienna and reprinted as recently as 1816. It is known, however, that Schubert could be nonchalant even about his own manuscripts, giving them away freely to admiring friends, and it would be wrong to conclude that Schubert intended Beethoven or his song any disrespect.
We have one example of a partial copy of a song by Beethoven made by Schubert, which constitutes one of the very few documentary links between the two great Viennese contemporaries.35 Schubert began to make a copy of one of Beethoven’s finest songs Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel (WoO150, composed 1820), writing out the first 24 bars and making a slight alteration to the accompaniment figure in bar 6. The fact that Schubert also transposed the song from E major down to D major suggest that he may have been making a performing version for the baritone Michael Vogl, by then a regular musical partner.
Beethoven made extensive sketches for a setting of Goethe’s poem Rastlose Liebe in 1796 (Hess149), and in March 1823 promised Goethe a setting of this very poem.36Interestingly, if Beethoven had revised his sketch in 1823, his final version would still have postdated Schubert’s setting of the text, written in 1815 and published in 1821. Could it be that Beethoven’s encounter with Schubert’s song was the reason his own project was abandoned? While he never heard any of Schubert’s songs performed, it is inconceivable that Beethoven did not leaf through copies of songs by his younger colleague in the music shops of Vienna. Clearly his deafness would not affect in the least his appreciation of the younger composer’s songs, and one wonders whether the ongoing publication of Schubert’s songs from 1821 explains Beethoven’s failure to complete any songs after 1820.
Beethoven’s reputation in Vienna in the first quarter of the nineteenth century was such that nobody in the world of music could ignore him. Schubert was alternately inspired and intimidated by his musical genius and his brooding presence. When Beethoven died in March 1827, Schubert knew that he was now the greatest living composer in Vienna. On the one hand he felt a sense of liberation, but on the other he was weighed down by a heavy sense of responsibility. Beethoven was a hard act to follow, and his spirit needed to be laid to rest. Schubert paid generous musical tribute to Beethoven, in his last piano sonatas, in the Rellstab songs and by indirect reference to Beethoven’s work in his ‘Akademie’ of March 1828. Schubert’s celebrated C major String Quintet (D956) may well have been yet another example of his deliberately realising the unfinished work of his predecessor, as Beethoven was known to have begun a String Quintet in the same key in the Autumn of 1826 (WoO62), and these 26 bars were probably his final composition. Having thus paid due tribute to Beethoven, Schubert was ready to move on, and he is fully liberated and fully himself in his two last solo vocal works: the glorious Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, and Die Taubenpost, whose syncopated gait recalls happy days in Hungary. But his newfound freedom and confidence were short-lived, and it is one of the cruellest twists of fate that he outlived Beethoven by a mere twenty months, during most of which he had striven almost frantically to come to terms with the loss of his musical hero.
1. Docs. 45 (64). The relevant diary entry was written on 16 June 1816, following a grand celebration of Salieri’s 50 years in Vienna, in which Schubert took an active part. Here and elsewhere the page numbers refer to the German edition of the Documents (English edition in brackets). *Back*
2. The issue is discussed more fully, of course, in the essay on Schubert’s Humour. *Back*
3. Mems. 25 (18). *Back*
4. Mems. 68 (58). *Back*
5. Mems. 150 (128). *Back*
7. Mems 95 (82). *Back*
8. See below for Schubert’s debt to two of Beethoven’s op. 75 songs. *Back*
15. Mems. 344 (299). *Back*
18. For a useful summary of this issue, see: David Gramit: ‘Constructing a Victorian Schubert: Music, Biography and Cultural Values’ in 19th Century Music XVII/1 (1993), pp. 65-78. The whole of this volume is devoted to aspects of the debate surrounding Schubert’s sexuality, which seems now to have subsided, although the implications remain. *Back*
19. 185 songs were published in Schubert’s lifetime. The only other genres which achieved significant attention from publishers (about 20 items in each case) were secular part songs, piano duets and sets of dances. *Back*
22. Mems. 282f. (324f.). *Back*
23. Mems. 137 (160.). *Back*
24. Mems. 47 (37). *Back*
25. Mems. 349 (303). *Back*
27. Mems. 77 (66). *Back*
29. The Schubertian (Journal of the Schubert Institute UK), No. 58 (January 2008), pp. 17-21. *Back*
30. A phrase conveniently coined by Hugh Macdonald to explain the isolated ferocious outbursts which occur in Schubert’s later piano music and here in the Adagio and the Finale. See ‘Schubert’s Volcanic Temper’ in The Musical Times 99 (1978), pp. 949-52. *Back*
32. The opening of Schubert’s C minor Sonata (D958) is reminiscent of the theme of Beethoven’s 32 Variations on an Original Theme (WoO 80) in the same key, but the works quickly go their separate ways. *Back*