Schubert’s early female characterizations stem from the tradition of the poets whose works he set.
Matthisson’s Die Betende and An Laura evoke Petrarch’s Laura, an idealized, unattainable woman who combines chaste purity with erotic beauty, like some of Raphael’s religious figures; Schubert’s settings mix hymnlike elements with irregular phrasing and expressive chromatic features, intertwining spiritual and sensuous emotions.
Another archetype–the lament of a suffering woman whose only salvation lies in transforming sorrow into beautiful song–underlies Schiller’s Des Mädchens Klage, which Schubert dramatizes with an agitated D-minor section that pivots through the relative major into a final epiphany in C major.
While Goethe’s Gretchen is a more profound character than either of these two archetypes, she is related to both in some ways. In Gretchen am Spinnrade she alternates between sorrowful lament and ecstatic reverie, and Schubert’s setting again juxtaposes D minor and C major, but this time the minor key expresses stability and the major key intrudes as a disruptive force. The song’s climaxes convey erotic power in both text and music, underscoring the link between love and death.
This according to “Feminine voices in Schubert’s early laments” by David P. Schroeder (The music review LV/3 [August 1994] 183–201; RILM Abstracts 1996-16685).
Above, Gustav Klimt’s Schubert at the piano (detail); below, Renée Fleming sings Gretchen am Spinnrade.
The operetta Das Dreimäderlhaus (1916) was based on Schwammerl (Mushroom, one of Schubert’s nicknames), a novel about Franz Schubert by Rudolf Hans Bartsch; the music incorporated numerous melodies by the composer. U.S. and U.K. adaptations followed: Blossom time (1921) and Lilac time (1922), respectively.
Unsurprisingly, the work was excoriated by critics, scholars, and performers for its defilement of Schubert’s melodies, spurious plot lines, and superficial, misleading, and sentimentalized portrayal of the composer’s character. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau derided it as “Schubert steeped in kitsch”, while Maurice J.E. Brown declared that “the popularity of this pastiche has done Schubert more harm than good.”
Audiences, however, adored it; the operetta passed its 1000th Berlin performance in 1918, and its 1100th Viennese one in 1927.
This according to “Of mushrooms and lilac blossom” by Richard Morris (The Schubertian 27 [December 1999] pp. 6–14; 28 [March 2000] pp. 15–18).
Today is Schubert’s 220th birthday! Above, a poster for the 1958 film version starring Karlheinz Böhm; below, a trailer for the film.
BONUS: Selections from Sigmund Romberg’s score for Blossom time; the show’s publicity breathlessly promised, among other attractions, “32 Schubert themes in eight bars.”
When Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was a little boy he was, as he described himself, “shy, clumsy, obedient, and uninterested in sport.”
He started piano lessons when he was nine, and these led indirectly to his second great artistic pursuit, drawing and painting. It took many years for him to try his hand at oils, but by the 1970s his two homes were filled with many testimonies to his skill. “It helps to release the tensions and strains of my profession,” he told an interviewer.
This according to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, mastersinger by Kenneth Whitton (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1981, pp. 16–17).
Today would have been Fischer-Dieskau’s 90th birthday! Above, a self-portrait from 1985; below, a brief film presenting several of his portraits.
BONUS: Fischer-Dieskau’s much-celebrated recording of Schubert’s Die Winterreise with Gerald Moore, from 1962.
A hitherto unknown newspaper, Archiv des menschlichen Unsinns (Archive of human nonsense) provides a lively picture of Schubert’s circle. The newspaper is full of allusions to political events as well as parodies of classical works.
Most of his friends were artists. The Unsinnsgesellschaft (Nonsense Society), of which Schubert was a leading member, also included August von Kloeber, Johann Nepomuk Hoechle, August Kopisch, and Josef and Leopold Kupelwieser.
This according to Die Unsinnsgesellschaft: Franz Schubert, Leopold Kupelwieser und ihr Freundeskreis by Rita Steblin (Wien: Böhlau, 1998), which presents all 29 editions (1817–18) of the newspaper along with biographies of all the members of the society.
Above, Leopold Kupelwieser’s watercolor Neueste Erfindungen: Schubert als strenger Schullehrer mit Rohrstaberl und Kaleidoskop, Kupelwieser als Schulbube mit Draisine (Latest inventions: Schubert as strict teacher with Rohrstaberl and kaleidoscope, Kupelwieser as schoolboy with draisine). Below, a lighthearted scherzo.