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Home | 2016 | December | Schober?

The dark years: 1823-1826

Posted by Richard on UTC 2016-12-09 06:48.

There is simply no point beating our heads against a wall trying to work out why Schober suddenly decided to leave Vienna and start a new life as an actor in distant Breslau. We have no idea. Into this historical vacuum come the speculations. He wanted to learn the 'actor's trade', in which case we ask, why suddenly that, and why in Breslau, that run-down provincial town on the very eastern edge of Germany? It is now Wrocław, in Poland. Did he get to meet someone from Breslau in Vienna? Perhaps Schober just wanted to get away from his mother and her bishop. As usual, our only sensible response is: we don't know.

That response is quite embarrassing, because we really have some explaining to do on this point. Schober, the soulmate of Schubert (at least as far as Schubert was concerned), a leading light of the 'friends', the man at the centre of the Schubertiaden and the Lesegesellschaft, a man secretly engaged to Justina von Bruchmann, the daughter of one of the richest people in Austria, simply ups sticks and suspends his life in Vienna, leaves all his friends and abandons his projects in order to go and become an actor in distant Breslau– and we have not the slightest idea why.

That character complex of Schober's that our psychiatric team outlined – being 'one of them' whilst being the outsider – meant that he was always capable of letting go and moving on. Perhaps Schober didn't really have a reason not to go: he would have fresh pastures, no ballast from his past, plenty of opportunities to have an audience and use his magnificent bass voice and he would have his pick of some hot actresses.

The circle of friends knew in the summer of 1823 that Schober was going to go to Breslau. He actually left Vienna sometime in September and seems to have arrived in Breslau some time in late October or November. It is indicative of Schober's ease of detachment that none of the friends seems to have received any news from him directly at all. They managed to get his address in Breslau from his mother. Even Schober's niece in his mother's extended family, Theresia Justina Derffel (1796-1863), had picked up some scraps of information from somewhere and turned to one of the friends, Leopold Kupelwieser, for enlightenment. The scene would not be out of place in a Jane Austen novel – or perhaps even a P. G. Wodehouse tale:

Theres[ia] Derfl just left me […] She talked a lot about Schober, which put me into an embarrassing position. She said that she had already heard from several people that Schober wanted to become an actor, and that she didn't know what to believe and wanted to know more from me. I could say to her with some truth: 'I hear nothing and know nothing'. 'Knowing nothing' is often the best option. I am happy that she has gone. Theres[ia] is a very nice girl, but one hears a lot of things from her that one really does not want to know.

Quoted in Waidelich Torupson p. 56.

Clearly, Kupelwieser did know that Schober was hoping to become an actor. We can presume that Schober swore the friends to secrecy on this point because – we once again presume – he didn't want to tell his mother and her bishop about his choice of this generally disreputable trade. We may wonder what fairy story he did tell his mother, but from secondhand reports we get the impression that he told her nothing. It appears that she may have suspected the truth but really did not want to have her suspicions confirmed. How can such a thing be? Let us not forget that this is the mother who did not notice when daughter Ludovica slapped on the cheap scent and spent her days hanging around the spas of Baden. The 'ask no questions, get told no lies' school of parenting.

The Viennese friends now have to cope with two years of rumour and speculation about their lost sheep. Schober has detached himself from them almost completely, yet the closest to him stay passionately loyal. His relationship with his secret 'fiancée' Justina von Bruchmann is kept going using the doting Moritz von Schwind as a communication channel. Justina is told little of his doings, but, we would think, knows well enough what he is getting up to in distant Breslau. Any suspicions she may have had are fully justified.

For a long time Schober's onetime soulmate Schubert is told nothing and seems not to resent that, a testimony to the strange power-at-a-distance of charisma. Not only did Schober keep quiet about his doings in Breslau, he would also do his best to remove all traces of that time from his biography, including his letters to his friends, which means that we can only reconstruct a very partial image of him.

The mysteries pile up. Once in the theatre troupe in Breslau Schober took the stage name 'Torupson', presumably to keep his mother from finding out about his acting career. We would have to puzzle hard to think of a worse pseudonym: were his mother or relatives to read of a 'Torupson' in Breslau what else could they do but think of him.

In his acting career he never made the big time. We know that during that career he was on stage almost every third day. The actor 'Herr Torupson' appeared around 120 times altogether, spread over 24 different roles. The reviews of his performances, which in that day pulled no punches, ranged from 'complete beginner', 'needs practice', 'a bad choice, an unfortunate appointment', 'an Austrian', 'drove us out of the theatre', 'beginners should not presume to take such roles', 'the actors deserve praise, apart from Herr Torupson'. In all this condemnation, at least two of his roles seem to have been found to be generally acceptable.

During his time he propagandised a number of Schubert works – but, as far as we can tell, nearly always works that were based on his own texts: Alfonso und Estrella appeared in the music shops of Breslau and some Schober/Schubert compositions were performed in public. As usual, the composer himself gained no benefit from this.

Whilst in Breslau Schober had flings with at least two young actresses who fell for him, whilst simultaneously keeping his Justina in Vienna nicely simmering on the backburner. Personalities who can simultaneously join as 'one of them' and detach as 'outsider' can also 'compartmentalise'. Schober used the 'engagement' to Justina to detach himself from his other relationships when required. It makes Schober seem morally even less attractive, that in his meticulouosly kept archive he scratched out words and phrases in letters that showed him in a bad light. This is the case with his affairs in Breslau, about which our knowledge is clearly not comprehensive. Ten years later (in 1835) he would write to Bauernfeld that

Since Justina, women, leaving aside the excesses of lust, have not made me happy. I can say that since then I have not been in love once, and that is really the best that one can do and enjoy.

Quoted in Waidelich Torupson p. 151, n. 518.

Schober is here obliquely blaming the rest of the world for the loss of his great love; his many infidelities during his engagement to Justina count for nothing in this view.

A partially censored letter from one of his conquests reveals how he played another girl along, a girl who had fallen utterly in love with him and was desperate to know whether he loved her. How the indifference of one inflames the passion of another! Schober took, but never gave. Even after the girl in question married, the letter writer hints, Schober may have continued taking, since her heart was still his. Here again, we see the Schober traits of 'one of them' and simultaneous 'outsider' in full operation.

The final break with Justina came at the end of 1823. 'Baron von Schober' in Vienna as a prospective son-in-law might be worth considering, 'Herr Torupson's' dalliance with the seedy, twilight society of thespians in provincial Breslau was quite another. When Schober was still in Vienna, Justina's brother, Franz von Bruchmann, also a member of the Schubert circle, had been prepared to go along with the charade, even enabling meetings between the two.

The Breslau jaunt was just too much for Bruchmann. By the middle of 1824 Justina's parents were pressuring her and she herself was putting up little resistance. By the autumn it was all over. The friends seem relieved that this unlikely pairing had finally come to an end. The 'secret engagement' between Schober and Justina that had never really been was stopped and, we suspect, the letters she had written to him had to be returned.

Schober seems never to have told anyone in Breslau that his engagement to Justina had collapsed – it was for him a useful fiction that allowed him to break free from those who had fallen for him, those who bore the fault for turning the head of this remote paragon.

Schober bared his soul to his soulmate Schubert in a letter from Breslau to him in Zselíz in the summer of 1824, around the time that his engagement to Justina collapsed. It would be nice to be able to tell you about Schober's bared soul, but after Schubert's death it appears Schober retrieved that letter – and possibly other letters, who knows? – and ultimately destroyed it/them. However, it may be that the very fact of Schober's intervention may tell us more about his soul than any of his letters could.