Living in Beethoven's Shadow
Tue, 27 Feb 2018

Continuing on with our jealousy theme, this week I would like to ponder the relationship between two great Romantic composers: Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert. Twenty-seven years Beethoven’s minor, Schubert grew up in Vienna with obvious knowledge of the elder composer’s great success and contribution to the music world. Establishing an eternal legacy in his ability to reach new heights in composition, Beethoven created somewhat of a “shadow” for those composers to follow in coming years. Like many, Schubert believed that in order to be successful, he must attempt to say something new within the forms Beethoven had already established. The young composer visited Beethoven on several occasions, requesting that this gifted man give him advice related to his work.

Though we may look at Schubert as a pillar in our musical canon, during his lifetime, he never quite saw the extent of his success that really blossomed many years following his death. Even the poet Goethe, whom Schubert held in high regard, ignored the poor composer’s settings of his poetry until after he had passed away.

On March 26, 1827, Schubert’s works were performed in a private concert. Though people seemed to enjoy his work, the great Beethoven breathed his last that very day, most likely turning many eyes away from the aspiring composer. Schubert was then asked to bear a torch at Beethoven’s funeral. Did Schubert perhaps feel tinges of jealousy toward Beethoven? Or did he simply aspire to learn from his greatness and carve his own musical path? This we do not know for certain but it does seem evident that Schubert suffered a rather unfortunate life, never living to see how great his work would become.

Schubert died only two years following Beethoven at the young age of 31. Ironically, he was laid to rest beside Beethoven in a Vienna graveyard. Does this signify Schubert as Beethoven’s equal? Or perhaps as a means of reminding him that he will forever remain in the shadows?


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