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Schubert: Who can ever do anything after Beethoven?

Franz Schubert died on this day in 1828. primephonic examines the composer's last days in whichSchubert, an earnest admirer ofBeethovenallegedly expressed his wish to hear Beethoven's last quartet on this deathbed.

“Who can ever do anything after Beethoven?”These were allegedly the words of Franz Schubert while still at a young age, and could well serve as a motto for his entire creative career and tragically short life.

An ardent admirer of Beethoven, Schubert was influenced by the great composer, whose towering figure had cast a large shadow over the whole of Vienna’s musical world. In many ways, Schubert was thus both inspired and intimidated by his musical hero and his dominating presence.

Having lived together in the same city for three decades, it is almost certain that Schubert and Beethoven must have met one another on some occasion. However, the surviving evidence is circumstantial and the related accounts often contradictory. In any case, no official account survives of a formal introduction between the two composers. This, however, can be partly explained by Schubert’s inherent modesty and shyness of character, as well as Beethoven’s increasing social isolation in his later years due to his deafness.

Still, there is reason to believe that the appreciation between the two great musicians was mutual. Around one month before his death, Beethoven was presented with handwritten copies of various Schubert songs. After looking into the works of the younger composer, Beethoven is said to have exclaimed:“Truly, in this Schubert there dwells a divine spark!.”

Schubert also visited Beethoven’s sickbed, and on 29 March 1827 he was one of the torchbearers at his funeral. After the ceremony, Schubert went to an inn with some friends to have some drinks. After raising his glass, his first toast was: “To him whom we have buried!” At the second glass he said: “To him who will go next!” Twenty months later, on 19 November 1828, Schubert would pass away at the age of thirty-one.

On his deathbed, Schubert expressed the wish to listen to Beethoven'sString Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, which was duly executed by his friend and violinist Karl Holz along with other musicians from the composer’s circle. Just days before Schubert’s death, Holz, who had also been a friend of Beethoven, remarked:“The King of Harmony has sent the King of Song a friendly bidding to the crossing.”

Beethoven on the left, Schubert on the right with a

Mozart monument in the center (Zentralfriedhof, Vienna)

At his own request, Schubert was buried next to Beethoven in the village cemetery of Währing in Vienna. In 1888 their remains were moved to Zentralfriedhof, Vienna’s main cemetery, where their tombs lie alongside one another to this very day. Even though they scarcely met in the physical world, the king of song and the king of harmony were thus destined to stay together in the hereafter.

Mimis Chrysomallis

Images courtesy of canzona.org

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