Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Franz Schubert, Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, D. 485

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) in 1827, by Franz Eybl
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) in 1827, by Franz Eybl

Schubert and the First Viennese School

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was born, lived, and died in the Austrian capital of Vienna. Of all the great masters of “Viennese Classicism” – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert – Schubert was the only native-born Viennese.

(These composers are often referred to collectively as the “First Viennese School.” The term “Viennese School” was invented in 1834 by the Austrian musicologist Raphael Georg Kiesewetter, who applied it to Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Mozart only. In time, Beethoven and then Schubert were admitted to the “school” as well. The label “first” was added when the term “Second Viennese School” was coined in reference to the early twentieth century compositional triumvirate of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern.)

Schubert’s birth house
Schubert’s birth house

Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. For us, today, these long dead Euro-persons are among the ruling deities of western concert music. But they weren’t just “deities” for Schubert; they were, for all intents and purposes, his contemporaries. At the time of Schubert’s birth at Nussdorfer Strasse 54, Mozart had been dead for a bit more than five years, having died at Rauhensteingasse 8, about a mile-and-a-half from Schubert’s birthplace. At the time of Schubert’s birth, Joseph Haydn was working on his epic oratorio, The Creation, at his house at Kleine Steingasse 73, about 2 miles from Schubert’s birthplace. At the time of Schubert’s birth, the 26-year-old Beethoven – who had been living and working in Vienna for just over four years – was composing his Piano Sonata No. 4 in E-flat major, Op. 7. 

By the time Joseph Haydn died in May of 1809, Schubert was 12 years old and studying composition with none-other-than Antonio Salieri. 

Yes: that Salieri. 

Mozart. Haydn. Beethoven. Salieri. For Schubert, these were real people, and their music was part of the contemporary scene in which he grew up. As a teenager, Schubert’s favorite composers were Mozart and Haydn. As we might then expect, “classical clarity and discipline” lay at the heart of the instrumental music Schubert composed through the age of twenty. …

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