Jun - 1823-24, Rosamunde, Die schöne Müllerin and Illness

ACCORDING to Kreissle, the year 1823 was, in a musical point of view, the most important of Schubert's life. We shall presently see how this statement is supported by facts, and must at once mark a good beginning in the production of the incidental music to "Rosamunde," a play written by Wilhelmine Christine Chezy, a woman whose self-confidence and ambition'were far in excess of her talent, and who enjoys the remarkable and fortunately rare distinction of having worked mischief to two such composers as Weber and Schubert. For the one she wrote the feeble book of "Euryanthe," for the other the absurd drama already mentioned. Wilhelmine might easily have been the evil genius of half a-dozen other musicians. She was always on the alert for chances of using her fatal pen, and spent her time roaming from city to city, impelled by an insatiate desire to figure before the world in a capacity for which Nature had indifferently equipped her. There does not appear to have been much method in her wanderings. For example, she went to Vienna in 1823 by the merest chance. Kreissle says:- "The odd and capricious lady had intended to leave Dresden, her last place of residence, and revisit the North; but, on setting off and feeling her pocket, she missed her Prussian passport; the Austrian one, however, was safe, and Helmina, looking on the incident as a warning of fate, ordered the coachman to go by way of Prague to Vienna." From the Austrian capital the authoress went to Baden, and there, at the instance of a young man named Kupelwieser, she perpetrated "Rosamunde," for which Schubert was to supply music, the whole to be performed in Vienna for the benefit of Fraulein Neumann, an actress of whom Kupelwieser was enamoured. The piece was to be brought out at the Theater an der Wien, a very unsuitable house because frequented by a public having no special taste for such things. "Rosamunde," therefore, stood doubly condemned before trial - condemned alike by its own defects, and by the incompetency of the tribunal. Schubert, nevertheless, put into the work some of his best music, both vocal and instrumental. Who among English amateurs does not know this now? Who has not revelled in the lovely romance, and the entr'actes, so diverse in character, yet so equally bearing the impress of genius? These things, and the companion pieces, are treasures for the sake of which we are almost willing to bless the eccentric Chezy, and accept her as part of the providential machinery which makes for good. When Kreissle wrote his biography of the composer he could only speak from hearsay of some of the music, then lying perdu in a dusty cupboard belonging to a connection of the Schubert family, Dr. Schneider, where it was discovered, in 1867, by George Grove and Arthur Sullivan. The story of the finding has been told by the first-named gentleman (see his Appendix to the English edition of Kreissle) in terms so graphic that we cannot resist quoting it here:-

"It was Thursday afternoon, and we proposed to leave on Saturday for Prague. We made a final call on Dr. Schneider to take leave and repeat our thanks, and also, as I now firmly believe, guided by a special instinct. The doctor was civility itself; he again had recourse to the cupboard, and showed us some treasures which had escaped us before. I again turned the conversation to the 'Rosamunde' music; he believed that he had at one time possessed a copy or sketch of it all. Might I go into the cupboard and look for myself? Certainly, if I had no objection to be smothered in dust. In I went, and after some search, during which my companion kept the doctor engaged in conversation, I found, at the bottom of the cupboard and in its farthest corner, a bundle of music books two feet high, carefully tied round, and black with the undisturbed dust of half a century. It was like the famous scene at the Monastery of Souriani on the Natron lakes, so well described by Mr. Curzon:- 'Here is a box,' exclaimed the two monks, who were nearly choked with the dust, 'we have found a box and a heavy one too!' 'A box!' shouted the blind abbot, who was standing in the outer darkness of the oil-cellar; 'a box! where is it?' 'Bring it out! Bring out the box! Heaven be praised! We have found a treasure! Lift up the box! Pull out the box! shouted the monks in various tones of voice.' We were hardly less vociferous than the monks when we had dragged out the bundle into the light and found that it was actually neither more nor less than what we were in search of. Not Dr. Cureton, when he made his truly romantic discovery of the missing leaves of the Syriac Eusebius, could have been more glad or more grateful than I was at this moment. For there were the part books of the whole of the music in 'Rosamunde,' tied up after the second performance in December, 1823, and probably never disturbed since. Dr. Schneider must have been amused at our excitement; but let us hope that he recollected his own days of rapture; at any rate, he kindly overlooked it, and gave us permission to take away with us and copy what we wanted, and I now felt that my mission to Vienna had not been fruitless."

The Viennese of 1823 could little have dreamed that forty-four years later, two strangers would come from an "unmusical country" beyond sea, and go into raptures over the discovery of works which they treated with indifference, and allowed to become - as to part at any rate - lost. A critic of the period was, however, good enough to bestow faint praise upon the composer, and say: "Herr Schubert shows originality in his compositions, but, unfortunately, 'bizarrerie' also. The young man is in a period of development; we hope that he will come out of it successfully. At present, he is too much applauded; for the future may he never complain of being too much recognised." These sapient remarks could ill have consoled Schubert for the fact that once more his labour was thrown away. The man had written so much, with so little apparent result, that the wonder is he did not throw down the pen in sheer despair. That he worked on and on is the best proof of entire possession by the spirit of his art. Only two representations of "Rosamunde" were given before the Viennese declared the work dull and tiresome. Its withdrawal immediately followed.

Garrulous Wilhelmine naturally had a plausible explanation of so decided a failure. She opined that, as Schubert had quarrelled with Weber (in the manner already stated) the partisans of the composer of "Der Freyschütz" took their revenge by wrecking "Rosamunde". For this charge there appears to be no more ground than for a further statement that a third performance would have reversed the earlier verdict. The authoress, however, did justice to Schubert. In her own inflated style she wrote: "A majestic flow of melody, reflecting and glorifying the poetry by the subtle intracacies of music, captivated the heart of all who were present. It matters not that certain members of the public who, ever since autumn began, have been hunting stage wolves and leopards on the boards of 'an der Wien' lost their way in the labyrinths of 'Rosamunde,' it matters not that a party had secretly influenced the mass of the listeners, this stream of harmony would have swept victoriously over every obstacle.

The three act opera "Fierrabras" is another product of 1823. Its libretto, commission a year before by the famous Barbaja, then manager of the Imperial Opera, was written by Josef Kupelwieaer, and proved to be clumsy, inartistic, and uninteresting, even beyond the average of such things. Schubert, however, was no judge of libretti. He seems to have accepted without question whatever was put into his hands, and it is certain that he went to work upon "Fierrabras" with absolute enthusiasm. Beginning May 23, he completed the first act (300 pages of MS.) in seven days; the entire opera (1,000 pages) being ready on September 26; or, according to one authority, October 2. For due appreciation of this tremendous achievement let the reader turn to the full score just published as part of their great "critical edition," by Breitkopf and Härtel. That ponderous volume of 537 pages excites wonder which grows and grows as the nature of the music becomes more clear. "Fierrabras" was not performed at all, being rejected, ostensibly on account of the bad book, and again the poor composer saw his strenuous effort wasted, the seed of his genius cast on a stony soil. Fate was indeed hard upon him, and his sensitive nature must have deeply felt the cruel scourge of repeated disappointments. Had he faith, we wonder, in the ultimate triumph of justice? And see the "broad approach of fame" which the future reserved. Haply he had the consolation expressed in Thomson's lines:-

               Ye good distressed!

     Ye noble few, who here unbending stand

     Beneath life's pressure, yet bear up awhile

     And what your bounded view, which only saw

     A little part, deem'd evil, is no more;

     The storms of wintry time will quickly pass,

     And one unbounded spring encircle all.

A third work for the lyric stage of 1823 was a one-act opera, "Die Verschwornen," the autograph score of which, now in the British Museum, is dated April. It contains eleven musical pieces, with spoken dialogue interspersed. Schubert first met with the drama in an annual publication devoted to that class of literature, and was perhaps stimulated to write music for it by some introductory remarks wherein the author, Castelli, said:- "The complaint, generally speaking, of the German composers is this: 'Well, we should be very glad to set operas to music only get us proper words to write to?' Now here is one, gentlemen. If you will accompany it with music, pray let my words have fair play, and don't spoil the intelligibleness of the plot, whilst you only look after roulades and flourishes in preference to musical characteristics. In my opinion, the opera should be a dramatically worked piece, accompanied with music - not music with a text specially adapted as an after-thought; and the general effect and impression, according to my view, are of more importance than that of giving an opportunity for some individual singer of displaying the elasticity and power of his vocal organ Let us do something, gentlemen, for the bona fide German opera." Schubert, accepting the invitation thus offered, completed his music with characteristic impetuosity, but, as in the case of "Fierrabras," never heard it performed. Malignant influences still pursued the unfortunate master, whose MS. was returned from the theatre without even the compliment of an examination. "Die Verschwornen" lay in obscurity for more than forty years, and was first produced at a Concert of the Vienna Musical Society, March 1, 1861, under Herbeck's direction. Its next appearance was on the stage at Frankfort, August 29 1861, since which time it has been heard in many places, always with favour. Speaking of the first Vienna performance, Kreissle says:- "The freshness and beauty of the melodies, coupled with the marked individuality of each character in the piece, worked upon the attention of the hearers in the same degree as the power and facility of treatment shown in the vocal and instrumental parts called forth delight and astonishment on the part of those who were incredulous of Schubert's gifts in this particular branch of art."

To the year 1823 belongs also the set of songs known as "Die Schöne Müllerin," or, more generally the 'Müllerlieder." A story is told as to the accidental way in which Schubert first became acquainted with the poems set by him to undying music. Our composer was on terms of friendship with Randhartinger, private seeretary to a nobleman, and one day called upon him at his employer's residence. During the visit Randhartinger was summoned from the room, whereupon Schubert, to beguile the time, took up a book which chanced to be lying there. It was a copy of Müller's works. The composer read some of the verses; slipped the volume into his pocket and went home. Next day Randhartinger missing his Müller, and, suspecting the thief, went to Schubert's lodgings in search of it. There he found the composer with some of the songs already set to music. The task of writing the set of twenty songs occupied our master at intervals during the summer, and helped to while away the time he spent as a patient in a hospital. Other lyrics saw the light at the same period, as well as the Pianoforte Sonata in A minor, afterwards dedicated by the publisher to Mendelssohn.

Looking back upon the repeated disappointments of 1823, it is not to be wondered at that Schubert fell into a desponding mood, which he indulged with as much thoroughness as, in happier moments, he gave way to the promptings of a light heart. Judging from an extant letter to Kupelwieser - brother of the "Fierrabras" librettist - he entered upon 1824 in a very gloomy state of mind. After describing himself as "the most unhappy, the most miserable man on earth" - which he was not, nor anything approaching to it - Schubert went on:-

"Picture to yourself a man whose health can never be re-established, who from sheer despair makes matters worse instead of better; picture to yourself, I say, a man whose most brilliant hopes have come to nothing, to whom the happiness of proffered love and friendship is but anguish, whose enthusiasm for the beautiful - an inspired feeling at least - threatens to vanish altogether, and then ask yourself if such a condition does not represent a miserable and unhappy man.

          My peace is gone, my heart is sore,

          Gone for ever and evermore. 

I can repeat these lines now every day, for each night when I go to sleep I hope never again to wake, and every morning renews afresh the wounds of yesterday. Friendlessly, joylessly, should I drag on the days of my existence, were it not that sometimes my brain reels, and a gleam of the sweet days that are gone shoots across my vision."

At the same time the master poured his unhappiness into his diary where we read: "Grief sharpens the understanding and strengthens the soul"; "No one fathoms another's grief; no one another's joy"; "My productions in music are the product of the understanding and spring from my sorrow; those only which are the product of pain seem to please the world the most." That Schubert was perfectly sincere in the expressions stimulated by his morbid condition cannot be doubted. He had a nature very susceptible to influences within and without. Easily pleased and enjoying pleasure of the keenest, he was also easily depressed and apt to sink down at small provocation into the lowest depths of sadness. At the same time, the work he did under the pressure of his grief showed that the load, whatever noise he made about it, had no effect upon his powers. At the very time when complainings were on his lips he composed the Octet, and the String Quartets in E flat and E, and various pieces of less importance. In May came a change for the better, Schubert being then required to accompany Count Esterhazy's family to Zelész, their place in Hungary. Away from the distractions of Vienna, and surrounded by the calm of nature, the master received comparative peace into his soul. This we gather from the tone of a letter to his brother, Ferdinand, wherein the following occurs:-

"In order that these lines may not perchance mislead you to a belief that I am unwell or out of spirits, I hasten to assure you of the contrary. Certainly that happy joyous time is gone when every object seemed encircled with a halo of youthful glory, and that which has followed is the experience of a miserable reality, which I endeavour as far as possible to embellish by the gifts of my fancy (for which I thank God). People are wont to think that happiness depends on the place which witnessed our former joys, whilst in reality it only depends on ourselves, and thus I learned a sad delusion, and saw a renewal of those of my experiences which I had already made at Steyr, and yet I am now much more in the way of finding peace and happiness in myself."

In this mood Schubert addressed himself to work with renewed zest. At Zelész, he composed the fine Pianoforte Duo Sonata and the Theme with variations, both for four hands, since scored for orchestra by Joachim. There, also, he made essays in writing poetry; penned the curious "Dream," to which the reader's attention has already been directed, and found pleasure, thanks to improving health, in the steady discharge of his duties. Besides the works above named, he wrote at Zelész, the Pianoforte Sonata in B flat, the Variations in A flat, a number of waltzes, and the vocal quartet "Gebet." With regard to the last-named it is said that, one morning at breakfast, Countess Esterhazy produced the poem, and asked Schubert to set music to it for home performance. The master took the book to his room, and had his work ready by the evening of the same day. Otherwise, he did little with vocal pieces at this particular time.

The Esterhazys remained in Hungary six months - too long for Schubert, who was a thorough child of Vienna, and could not live away from his mother city. He grew impatient of delay in returning to the capital, and it may be that part of his restlessness was attributable to a hopeless passion for one of his pupils, the Countess Caroline, who was then seventeen. Kreissle speaks of Schubert's love as of an undoubted fact, and relates that once, when the young lady jestingly reproached her teacher with never having dedicated a piece to her, he answered, "What would be the good of it? Everything I have ever done has been dedicated to you." Accepting this story the Countess could hardly have remained ignorant of Schubert's state, but she did not return his affection - a fact by no means surprising in the case of a girl brought up to believe that between her class and all others below it in the social scale was a gulf which none should pass. Moreover, Schubert's appearance and bearing were not such as might easily captivate a noble maiden's fancy. Even the lover, partially blinded to obstacles as most lovers are, must have seen that he had no chance, and longed to escape from the Tantalean misery to which living in the same house subjected him. It is fair to say that some of the master's biographers, among them Sir George Grove, throw doubt upon the whole matter, or, at least, charge it with exaggeration.: But as Schubert was intensely susceptible there is nothing at all improbable in the story of his feeling and encouraging a passionate attachment to his young pupil, though all the time conscious of its utter futility.