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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ave Maria/Ellens dritter Gesang by Franz Schubert

Ave Maria/Ellens dritter Gesang
 from Songs from Sir Walter Scott
by Franz Schubert
published 1825

 Well now this is what I'm talking about- a hit song written by a composer in 1825 ABOUT books written by a hit Author.  That is what they call "synergy" in the world of big business.

  Franz Schubert was one of the first musicians to attempt to earn a living as a composer with no skills as a performer of music.  Writing music in the early 19th century, "the position of a composer who had no marked abilities as instrumentalist, conductor or administrator was far less profitable... from any wordly point of view, no career was ever so unsuccessful as Schubert's."  (1)

  Working initially as a school teacher, Franz Schubert wrote for opera as early 1818- an effort which lay unproduced for a year and a half.  He wrote a second opera in 1822, which was commissioned but not produced.  In 1823, he wrote a one act opera that ran into problems with government censors.

Franz Schubert: FAILURE

    Franz Schubert only gave one public performance in his entire career, on March 21st, 1828.  Schubert sold his music and songs to publishers, but he hardly received any money.  His works were, "addressed to the amateur market, and his supply of songs seems to have outstripped the publishers' capacity for issuing them."

    Again though, Franz Schubert was crucial in making an explicit link between music and literature, "By the time that Schubert died, not only had this new sensitivity created the Lied but Berlioz had embarked on the early concert overtures in which his musical impulses were drawn into focus by works of literature- Waverley, King Lear and Rob Roy... The new alliance between literature and music was to develop in the 1840s into the symphonic poems in which Liszt adapted the techniques of symphonic development to as close a parallel as can be achieved to narrative style in order to communicate his sense of the emotion significance of literature." (2)

   In Music and Society Since 1815, during a passage about the career of Franz Schubert,  Henry Raynor observes,
           "To declare any essential connection between the composer's new awareness of literature as a musical stimulus and the search for new audiences forced upon him by social and political conditions, would be to state more than we can ever have sufficient information to know.  But it may well be that subconsciously- for no composer of programme (sic) music has suggested that his approach to literature was a deliberate attempt to create a community of feeling with an audience which might otherwise find it difficult to come to terms with what he had to communicate- the romantic composer realized that the shared experience of literature was a means of approach to listeners otherwise hard to reach."

 This is a profound obersvation on the part of Raynor, and I think the negative phrasing of the thought weakness the strength of the observation.  Isn't it more accurate to surmise that, yes, Franz Schubert was consciouly trying to creat an Audience when he reference the work of Sir Walter Scott in 1825.

 Think about it- this is a guy- in Austria- in the early 19th century- who is basically broke- and has essentially zero Audience for his work.  What are the chances he "unconsciously" works in a Sir Walter Scott reference in 1825.  Rob Roy was published in 1817 and Sir Walter Scott and his followers were entering a twenty year period of literary dominance.


(1) Raynor, Henry Music and Society Since 1815,  published by Schokcen Books 1972, 17.
(2) Id at 20

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