At the same time Beethoven was at the pinnacle of his creative powers, despite his deafness and failing health, another composer faced disease, poverty and death in the imperial city of Vienna: Franz Schubert (b 1797 d 1828)
1823 was a hard year for Schubert. He was broke, his latest opera was a failure and he was sick with an outburst of late stage syphyllis and had to be hospitalised. In a letter he wrote to a friend:
“Think of a man whose health can never be restored, and who from sheer despair makes matters worse instead of better.
Think, I say, of a man whose brightest hopes have come to nothing, to whom love and friendship are but torture, and whose enthusiasm for the beautiful is fast vanishing; and ask yourself if such a man is not truly unhappy. “
However, the few years until his death turned out to be Schubert’s most prolific period. His suffering and desperation, but also moments of transcendence can be found in his work of this time. Schubert’s favorite form of composition was the song. The following is an excerpt from an movie about the life of Franz Schubert. You see him composing a song, called the “Doppelgänger”, after a poem of Heinrich Heine:
Listen to the finished version:
by Heinrich Heine
Still ist die Nacht, es ruhen die Gassen,
In diesem Hause wohnte mein Schatz;
Sie hat schon längst die Stadt verlassen,
Doch steht noch das Haus auf demselben Platz.
Da steht auch ein Mensch und starrt in die Höhe,
Und ringt die Hände, vor Schmerzensgewalt;
Mir graust es, wenn ich sein Antlitz sehe –
Der Mond zeigt mir meine eigne Gestalt.
Du Doppelgänger! du bleicher Geselle!
Was äffst du nach mein Liebesleid,
Das mich gequält auf dieser Stelle,
So manche Nacht, in alter Zeit?
The night is quiet, the streets are calm,
In this house my beloved once lived:
She has long since left the town,
But the house still stands, here in the same place.
A man stands there also and looks to the sky,
And wrings his hands overwhelmed by pain:
Upon seeing his face, I am terrified–
The moon shows me my own form!
O you Doppelgänger! you pale comrade!
Why do you ape the pain of my love
Which tormented me upon this spot
So many a night, so long ago?