- Series: Musical Lives
- Hardcover: 226 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (April 28, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 052159426X
- ISBN-13: 978-0521594264
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,815,099 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Life of Schubert (Musical Lives)
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From Library Journal
Here, Gibbs (music, SUNY at Buffalo; editor, The Cambridge Companion to Schubert) focuses on the relationship of Schubert's music to his brief life (he died at 31 of unknown causes) and vice versa, with background on friends, teacher Antonio Salieri, and the social scene in 18th-century Europe. Along the way, he analyzes the copious biographical material on Schubert, acknowledging some of the more sensational issues (his sexual orientation) and critical evaluations (superficiality of his output). But rather than take sides, Gibbs carefully assesses the evidence, and, for the most part, allows the reader to make judgments. The organization is more or less chronological, paced by the compositions. Explorations of individual compositions rarely resort to technical analysis; instead, Gibbs is more interested in discussing each work's aesthetics and relating it to Schubert's life. Although clearly a fan, he does not gloss over Schubert's human frailties. The net result is a well-researched, warmly written, and refreshing new look at the Austrian composer. [Other recent books on Schubert include Elizabeth Norman McKay's Franz Schubert (LJ 10/1/96) and Brian Newbould's Schubert: The Music and the Man (LJ 3/15/97).DEd.]DTimothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toront.
-DTimothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toronto
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"...timely and valuable." "Mr. Gibbs, with his solid grounding and balanced view, packs a great deal into a small space and supplies a corrective still sorely needed." --New York Times, June 19, 2000
"One of the best concise depictions of the man Schubert." Alan Hirsh, Booklist
"A well researched, warmly written, and refreshing new look at the Austrian composer." Timothy J. McGee, Library Journal
"This slender volume, crammed with good research, should be the paradigm for the contemporary biography." --Kirkus Review, Apr. 1, 2000
"Gibbs, with his solid grounding and balanced view, packs a great deal into a small space and supplies a corrective still sorely needed..." James R. Oestreich, International Herald Tribune
"...excellent, compact, and readable biography....it better presents a wide range of issues in more informal, yet compelling, language. Recommended for all academic and public collections." Choice
"Christopher H. Gibbs's slim volume, "The Life of Schubert," in Cambridge University Press's series Musical Lives, is therefore timely and valuable. Though terse, it brings all those matters up to date in an eminently readable manner." Books of the Times
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I seldom read biographies of composers or writers. I tend to think the music or words tell me everything I want to know. But the 'accepted' image of Franz Schubert is so incongruent with what I hear in his music that I finally became curious about his life. The irony of that, it turns out, is that Schubert's life is extremely poorly documented; he wrote no memoirs, few of his letters have survived, few accounts of him from his friends or from public observers were written during his lifetime, and the accounts written years later, sometimes decades later, are about as reliable (ha!) as the Four Gospels.
Christopher Gibbs's "Life of Schubert" is eminently level-headed, properly modest in any claims to certitude, concisely and pleasantly written, neither a hagiography nor an agenda-driven expose. Of course, it will be of interest ONLY to people who are thoroughly enamored of Schubert's music. Don't think that this little book will "introduce' you to Schubert the composer, or will somehow convince you of his musical glory. Start with the music! When you've heard enough to care - the string quartets and quintet, the Lieder, the symphonies, the piano sonatas - then you may find this book interesting. Whatever I have to say about Schubert's life and career, for now, is totally informed by what Gibbs presents in this bio. Let's go point by point:
* Unfinished. The two movements of the "Unfinished Symphony" were not discovered by musicologists until decades after his death; the work was indeed unfinished, abandoned after some 40 measures of a third movement, for unknown reasons. Yet it's one of Schubert's best-known and most performed works. In fact, Schubert's manuscripts have been found to include an extraordinary number of unfinished compositions, including some that were 'half way' to being innovative masterworks. Another major example is his dramatic cantata "Lazarus", which has also become part of the active repertoire despite its unfinished condition. Neither Gibbs nor yours truly has any convincing explanation for Schubert's tendency to abandon great compositions short of completion. He wrote a lot of music, a vast amount of finished music, and he seems to have been unable to set a piece aside and return to it later, something that many composers do regularly. The "unfinished Symphony", by the way, was not a work in progress when Schubert died; it had been composed and abandoned years earlier.
* Unrecognized, unappreciated. Gibbs present quite a different picture. Schubert was adulated by a close circle of friends and fans. His published Lieder were numerous and sold well. He was not a performing virtuoso, and in his era that certainly hindered the spread of his reputation, but Gibbs makes a good case that Schubert's career was on the rise, that he was on the verge of quite ample renown and reward at the time of his death.
* Posthumous. This is certainly so. A goodly number Schubert's Lieder and some of his smaller compositions intended for domestic music-making had been published, but even his strongest admirers were unaware of his greatest, most ambitious music. Many compositions went undiscovered for decades; when they appeared, as if by archaeological magic, they again and again forced musicains and music lovers to re-evaluate Schubert's stature.
* Bashful, socially misfit? An inadequate myth fueled by 'romantic' idolatry. Schubert was extremely social, spending most evenings with friends, centering a world of social music-making, usually sharing his living quarters with friends. If anything, Schubert was a bit of a "party animal", certainly a bohemian in the style of his time and place, and he may have been a heavy drinker, a carouser. Gibbs speculates that he suffered from some degree of clinical manic depression - bipolarity - and that his drinking was a kind of self-medication. What little evidence exists is consistent with such a 'diagnosis', but Gibbs is appropriately open about the fact that he's merely guessing.
* Syphilis? In his early twenties, Schubert suffered a long period of serious illness, after which his few writings suggest a deep-set fear for his health. The symptoms recorded for that bout of illness are consistent with syphilis but hardly proof presumptive. Schubert's skeleton was exhumed in the 19th C; his skull did NOT show any of the characteristic degenerations associated with tertiary syphilis. There's no real medical evidence that syphilis was the immediate cause of his sudden death; in fact, there was mention of fever as a cause. Schubert had just taken a 35-mile hiking expedition weeks before his final sickness.
* Beethoven's Heir? I confess that I've supposed as much, metaphorically. But it makes little sense, given that a large number of Beethoven's greatest compositions and all of Schubert's were in fact written in the very same thirteen years, roughly from 1814 to 1827. Beethoven died a mere 14 months before Schubert. In a sense, Schubert (1797-1828) and Beethoven (1770-1827) were musical contemporaries, though Beethoven's established fame overshadowed Schubert's during the years when they were both living and working in Vienna. Schubert was not a child prodigy in the manner of Mozart, but he was astonishingly precocious, once he started composing. His first now-recognized masterwork, the piano-song Gretchen am Spinnrade, was composed in 1814, at age 16. And Schubert died at age 31, almost five years younger than Mozart! Mozart was thirty when he wrote "Nozze di Figaro", thirty-three when he wrote the sublime Clarinet Quintet, thirty-two when he wrote his last and best symphonies. And Beethoven was an oldster of thirty-three when he composed his Third Symphony and of thirty-six when he wrote the Rasoumovsky Quartets 7, 8, & 9. One could argue that, as a composer, Schubert was the most precocious of all, and he was just hitting his stride, approaching his own mature expectations of himself, when he died.
But let me say it once again: listen to the music. That's what there is. That's what astonishes.