Schubert's Handwritten Music on View at Beinecke

Several handwritten scores by Franz Schubert – 1797-1828 – are on display at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in celebration of the composer’s 200th birthday. On view through June 19, the exhibit includes Schubert’s sketches and a partial score for one of his last compositions, the “Fantasia” in F minor for piano duet – D 940, 1828. Also on display are scores for the “Romanze” – Deutsch no. 114, 1814 – and for the songs “Als ich sie errotten sah,” “Morgenlied,” and “Abendlied,” all in the composer’s hand.

In addition to the autographs, the exhibit features several first publications of Schubert’s work and contemporary editions by four of the poets whose words he set to music: Goethe, Schiller, Wilhelm Muller, and Heine. The display is drawn principally from the Frederick R. Koch Collection and the Yale Collection of German Literature.

Franz Schubert was born in Vienna on January 31, 1797, the only native Viennese of the great classical composers – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven – whose names are associated with the city. The oeuvre he produced in his tragically brief life – he never reached his thirty-second birthday – is astonishing in size and variety, comprising masterpieces for piano and chamber music, voice, and symphony.

The son of a schoolmaster, Schubert grew up in Vienna where he studied with Ruzcicka and Salieri and sang as a choirboy in the Imperial and Royal City College. He became a teacher in his father’s school in 1814 when he was 18 years old. His first musical masterpiece was a setting of Gretchen’s song from Goethe’s “Faust” in October of that year.

In 1815, he wrote an extraordinary number of songs, 30 of them on poems by Goethe. They include some of his most memorable, such as “Wandrers Nachtlied” and “Erlkonig.” Close and devoted friends began to organize private evening performances of his music, which became known as “Schubertiade.”

From 1819, Schubert devoted himself entirely to his music. In 1821, “Erlkonig” was published by private subscription to considerable acclaim. It was followed by the publication of more songs, which established his fame. The year 1822 saw the composition of the Mass in A flat, the “Wanderer” Fantasy and the familiar “Unfinished Symphony” in B minor, which was rediscovered and performed for the first time in 1865. Late in that same year, Schubert realized that he was infected with syphilis. The dark, pessimistic Sonata in A minor – D 784 – and “Die schone Mullerin” were written in the months following this cruel revelation.

The last four years of Schubert’s life were marked by a succession of great compositions, many of which remained unpublished until long after his death on November 19, 1828.

Beinecke Library, 121 Wall St., is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

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