Monday, March 15, 2010

Schubert's personal soundscape

By "personal soundscape" I mean the ambient sound and resonance of his room(s). In this post, however, I am actually focusing on musical instruments again, as I am still vexed over Robert Winter's statement about pianos, repeated below from this post.
. . . the truly remarkable fact that Schubert did not have regular access to a piano as he composed. Robert Winter, in the New Grove biographical sketch of Schubert, writes that in late 1824,"Schubert moved briefly . . . for one last time into the Schubert family home. . . . It was the only place he ever lived in that contained a piano; Schubert never bought, leased or borrowed a piano of his own."
Schubert writes his siblings in October 1818: "Do take my fortepiano; I shall be delighted" (Deutsch 109). The instrument is presumably the Graf said to have been given Schubert by his father in 1814 (44). Schwind's drawing of Schubert's room with a piano was made in 1821 (163; 204; also my earlier post). In notes on Schubert's estate expenses, Deutsch says that "Schubert no longer owned a pianoforte, but had used that in Schober's lodgings" (849). Johann Mayrhofer's recollections of sharing a room with Schubert in 1819 include the remark that, ten years later (that is in 1829), the room still held "a played-out pianoforte" (860); in the notes a further quote to this: "Schubert had a miserable pianoforte standing in a narrow room" (864).

Dieckmann's comments on Wilhelm Rieder's formal portrait of Schubert, an oil painting done decades after the composer's death, suggest that Winter took too literally another late-life recollection: Schubert's lively but problematic friend Joseph von Spaun claimed that the composer never owned and didn't use a piano to compose (Dieckmann, 102). Dieckmann thinks that the piano drawn by Schwind in 1821 is the same instrument given Franz several years earlier by his father; it would have gone along when Schubert moved back into the family home in fall 1822 and was probably left there the following year as he went back and forth between the house and the city. From early 1825, he may not have had an instrument but played those in friends' houses nearby (Dieckmann 106-7).

The end result: Winter is apparently wrong; Schubert did own a piano and had it with him in his rooms at least part of the time up to 1825; he may very well have composed without an instrument; no one mentions a violin.

Dieckmann, Friedrich. Franz Schubert: eine Annäherung. Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag, 1996.
Deutsch, Otto. Eric Blom, trans. Schubert: A Documentary Biography. London: J. M. Dent, 1946.