Episode #4 of the course “Famous classical music composers”
Although not well known in his lifetime, Austrian composer Franz Schubert produced more than perhaps any other musical writer. With over 1,500 works in his corpus—including sonatas, operas, symphonies, masses, and theatrical productions—Schubert is now recognized for experimenting with music in ways that other composers of the early 19th century never did.
Schubert’s works are considered simpler than some other composers’ and are often described as graceful, elegant, and charming. His style demonstrates more focus on melodies than drama created through harmony, and he brought a style of traditional folk music to his Romantic Lied works. By setting poetry to music, Schubert pushed the boundaries of the Lied genre more than any musician before or since; with themes of pastoral scenery or romantic love, the genre was a popular style of “art song” that heavily influenced later hymnals and atonal musics. His Lider are said to express a journey of the soul rather than the body.
With so many works from his short career, it is difficult to say which are Schubert’s best, or even his best known. His String Quintet in C-major (D. 956, Op. posth. 163) displays his fondness for experimentation and musical adventure. Schubert makes use of a second cello rather than a second viola, as most string quintets would have, and uses irregular phrase lengths and modulation, as well as a richer lower register than many other string compositions.
A mystery continues to surround Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B-minor (D. 759), which is often referred to as the “Unfinished Symphony.” After two movements, Schubert left the piece unfinished, although he lived for several years after he began it. A complex work that is often called the “first Romantic symphony,” it uses techniques and instrumentations that create distinct and vivid “tonal colors” within a strict classical composition framework.
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