Posted by Richard on  UTC 2019-12-18 08:02

In our attempt to understand composer Schubert's social situation in the feudal construct that was 'Biedermeier' Austria (and Vienna in particular), we have quoted on a couple of occasions the following anecdote retailed by Joseph von Spaun (1788-1865) in praise of Schubert's humility. On these occasions we have been more interested in what the anecdote said about Spaun's patrician attitude to his old friend than the many other puzzles associated with it.

Today we are going to unravel the anecdote with more rigour. Our regular readers know what that means and are now going off to get themselves a flask of something soothing, a packet of biscuits and some caffeine pills. They are not wrong.

When Vogl or Schönstein, accompanied by Schubert, performed songs before larger gatherings they [the singers] were bombarded with applause, but no one took any notice of the modest genius who created the melodies. He was so used to this neglect that it never bothered him at all. Once, when he and Baron Schönstein were invited into a princely residence and were to perform his songs before a very aristocratic audience, the delighted listeners surrounded Baron Schönstein with the most passionate recognition and with praise and compliments on his performance. But when no one bothered to even look at the composer sitting at the piano, the noble lady of the house, Princess B. attempted to counter this neglect and greeted Schubert with the most extreme praise, thus implying that he should overlook the fact that the other listeners, completely captivated by the singer, only praised the singer. Schubert thanked her and replied that the Princess should not trouble herself at all about this since he is accustomed to being overlooked and that he even preferred it this way, since he felt less embarrassed.

Wenn Vogl oder Schönstein, akkompagniert von Schubert, in größeren Kreisen Lieder vortrugen und damit hinreißende Wirkungen hervorbrachten, so wurden sie mit Beifall und Dank förmlich bestürmt, aber kein Mensch dachte an den bescheidenen Meister, der die herrlichen Melodien schuf. Er war diese Vernachlässigung so sehr gewöhnt, daß sie ihn nicht im mindesten bekümmerte. Als er mit Baron Schönstein einst in ein fürstliches Haus geladen war, um seine Lieder einem sehr hohen Kreis vorzutragen, umringte der entzückte Kreis den Baron Schönstein mit der feurigsten Anerkennung und mit Glückwünschen über seinen Vortrag. Als aber niemand Miene machte, den am Klavier sitzenden Kompositeur auch nur eines Blickes zu würdigen, suchte die edle Hausfrau Fürstin B. diese Vernachlässigung gut zu machen und begrüßte Schubert mit den größten Lobeserhebungen, dabei andeutend, er möge es übersehen, daß die Zuhörer, ganz hingerissen von dem Sänger, nur diesem huldigten. Schubert dankte und erwiderte, die Fürstin möge sich gar keine Mühe diesfalls mit ihm geben, er sei es ganz gewohnt, übersehen zu werden, ja es sei ihm dieses sogar recht lieb, da er sich dadurch weniger geniert fühle.
[Erinn 157f]

We remind ourselves: this tale was written down probably around 1857, when Ferdinand Luib, Schubert's would-be biographer, wrote around asking for anecdotes of the composer. By this time, of course, poor Schubert had been decomposing under the Viennese sod for nigh on thirty years. Otto Deutsch, in his notes on Spaun's memoir, tells us that the writing of the memoir on this occasion had been prompted by Luib's enquiry, although Spaun never actually sent his memoir to Luib. [Erinn 164]


Who knows? It is just one of those puddles of the Schubert biography into which we take care not to step, much like those pools of the dead which Frodo, Sam and poor little Gollum, crossing the Dead Marshes on the way to Morder, wisely avoid. It is what it is.

Leopold Kupelwieser, Joseph von Spaun

Joseph von Spaun by Leopold Kupelwieser, [ND, original now 'lost']

The memoir somehow found its way to Heinrich von Kreißle, Schubert's first biographer, who, as Deutsch points out, had access to the memoir and quoted parts of it in his 1865 biography – now nigh on forty years since Schubert's passing. You need patience when you are under that Viennese sod, waiting for artistic recognition.

Spaun had written an earlier memoir of Schubert in 1829, the year after Schubert died, but did nothing with it other than send it to Eduard Bauernfeld to use as a source for his own memoir.


Who knows? Yet one more turbid pool into which we choose not step.

In this early version, following the theme of the 'humble Schubert', Spaun gave us the generic conclusion but without the anecdote he would later attach to it:

When on occasion the singer who performed his songs was drowned in enthusiastic applause and no one gave a thought to the little man sitting at the piano who accompanied soulfully the songs he had written, the modest artist was not put out in the slightest by being so neglected.

Wenn bei einzelnen Musiken der Sänger, welcher seine Lieder vortrug, mit enthusiastischem Beifall überschüttet wurde und niemand des kleinen Männchens gedachte, das am Klavier saß und mit seelenvollem Spiele die selbstgeschaffenen Lieder begleitete, so fand sich der bescheidene Künstler durch eine solche Vernachlässigung auch nicht im geringsten verletzt.
[Erinn 36]

A comparison of the vocabulary and style of the brief paragraph of the 1829 version and the first segment of the 1857 version shows that Spaun probably had the earlier version in front of him when he wrote the later version – a conclusion that will surprise nobody: Spaun, with his civil servant's brain, would look up the file of existing materials before expanding upon it.

It is also a characteristic of Spaun's civil servant's brain, that whilst in 1857 he supplies some colour to his 1829 remark, he simultaneously obscures all meaningful, personal information. Why did he do this?

Now, that is, at last, a question we can probably answer.

Sanitised discourse

In order to answer this question we need to recall that a state of censorship had existed in the Austrian Empire for a very long time. It had been extended, formalised and institutionalised by Franz II/I around the beginning of the 19th century. After the collapse of Napoleon in 1815, Emperor Franz's Foreign Minister, Prince Metternich, spread it around the splintered fiefdoms of the German speaking statelets in Europe. Censorship was briefly abolished in Germany after the 1848 revolution but soon crept back into use when that revolution fizzled out a couple of years later.

The preceding paragraph will be more or less incomprehensible for most non-specialists. When we talk of censorship nowadays we think almost exclusively of political censorship. However, Austrian censorship put its roots deep down into every aspect of the social and religious life of the times. Anyone who was capable of insulting the Catholic Church and its servants or the members of the feudal aristocracy was ipso facto a dangerous Jacobin in waiting. Ditto anyone who lived a louche, non-standard life – the moralists always kept the theatre tribe under close observation, for example.

All publications whether text or image were rigorously purged of possibly offensive material. All scripts for theatre or opera were vetted in advance and during performances – any performer who went off-script would be in trouble.

A large bureaucracy emerged whose task was to inspect and censor every product of public culture. Beyond that, all real or imagined sexual impropriety was hounded, with the assistance of an army of paid narks. Since a sure sign of Jacobin sentiments was the display of insufficient respect for the elders and betters in the feudal order, this sort of behaviour was a permanent object of interest for the authorities.

Spaun had trained himself, through all his years of civil servanting, not to say or write anything that might get him into hot water. His education in these matters had started early, with the example of the miserable fate of his mad uncle, Franz Seraph Spaun. After a while such cautious speech becomes natural and normal.

The motivation for such an extraordinary degree of discretion takes some explaining for moderns. For that reason we are going to have to take a long detour through a particular event which illustrates the cast of mind which Spaun absorbed.

Our American readers are allowed to feel smug about having the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (1791), which guarantees, among many other important things, freedom of speech. Among the Founding Fathers, Jefferson and Franklin in particular had seen and experienced the European vice of censorship at first hand.

In the modern march towards restrictions on speech, it is arguably the Europeans who are leading the way once again – old habits do indeed die hard. Letter writers in most of the states of Central Europe still punctiliously write the name and address of the sender on the envelope, in the belief that they are thus helping the postal service return undelivered letters to them, rather than obeying the old censorship rules that so annoyed Mozart, who was always too free with his words for his own good.

But enough of now, let's step back to the Vienna of 1843.

The Pichler caper

An example of the extraordinary sensitivity in respect of the feudal classes in Austria arises from a censorship case involving the renowned Viennese author Caroline Pichler (née Greiner, 1769-1843) and her book Denkwürdigkeiten aus meinem Leben, 'Memories from my Life'.

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Caroline Pichler, from young woman to Biedermeier grande dame.

She was no nobody: her mother had been one of Maria Theresia's ladies-in-waiting; Pichler's salon was a Viennese institution (albeit one outside Schubert's ambit) and she herself became an institution, part of the landscape of 'Old Vienna'. She was about as respectable as it was possible to be. Emil Karl Blümml, the conscientious and thorough editor of the 1914 edition of 'Memories', sums up her reputation as follows:

There was a time, still not all that long ago, it was the first three decades of the 19th century, when the spire of St. Stephen's Cathedral and the writer Caroline Pichler were the two landmarks of Vienna. You needed to see both if you wanted to know something of the Viennese character and being. They may not have been on the same level but they were both attractions for visitors. In Caroline Pichler's home you would get to know that typical Viennese sociability that was present there in full flower in which all educated people took part and which is now just history.

Es gab eine Zeit, noch liegt sie nicht allzuweit hinter uns, es waren die drei ersten Jahrzehnte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, da galten der Stephansturm und die Dichterin Karoline Pichler als Hauptmerkwürdigkeiten von Wien1). Beide mußte man gesehen haben, wollte man von Wiener Eigenart und Wesen etwas wissen und wenn sie auch nicht ebenbürtig waren, so waren sie doch gleicherweise Anziehungspunkte für die Fremden. Was man in Karoline Pichlers Heim kennen lernen konnte, das war eben jene echte Wiener Geselligkeit, die bei ihr in voller Blüte stand, an der alle Gebildeten gleichermaßen teilnahmen, und die heute mit ihren Trägern längst der Vergangenheit angehört.
[Pichler 1.IX]

Her salon was legendary:

Her social evenings – every Wednesday, later every Tuesday and Thursday […] – were the meeting points of the cultured bourgeoisie, the minor aristocracy and the literary and artistic elite, entertaining each other with talk of current events and literary and artistic works.

So waren ihre Gesellschaftsabende — jeden Mittwoch […], später jeden Dienstag und Donnerstag […] — der Vereinigungspunkt der feinen bürgerlichen Kreise, des niederen Adels und der literarischen und künstlerischen Größen, deren Unterhaltung sich um Tagesereignisse und Gegenstände der Literatur und Kunst drehte.
[Pichler 1.XIII]

Notice Blümml's careful use of the term niederer Adel, 'minor aristocracy'. Even such a Viennese legend as Caroline Pichler was not part of the higher aristocracy. They had their own to play with. Every Viennese salon had its customer base and its overlaps with others, but on the whole people stuck to their class. No one could relax in the presence of marked inferiors or superiors.

Even an author such as this, the highly regarded and socially conservative author of a book so apparently apolitical, did not escape the censor's red pencil – yes, they really did use a red pencil. The censorship story of Caroline Pichler's 'Memories from my Life' gives us a glimpse into one reality of life under Emperor Franz's censorship system.

The story begins after her death in 1843. It is assumed that she started to write the book after the death of her beloved husband in 1837. The intention at the start seems to have been just to write some autobiographical reminiscences for her family, the sort of 'family chronicle' that was so popular at the time, but her scribbler's soul took over.

Also, like all true scribblers, she was aware of a financial opportunity, since the book might sell well in the new nostalgia market for 'Old Vienna' and provide an income for her children. She appears to have rewritten the work with a view to its posthumous publication, recasting passages that she knew from her long experience would not pass the censor. She left precise instructions in her will for its publication by her family after her death.

She died on 9 July 1843 and her daughter and inheritor, Karoline von Pelzeln, started the process of publication shortly thereafter.

Between the millstones, Part 1

Karoline chose to let Franz Pichler, her cousin, publish the book. The first step was to present the work to the censor for inspection. Before doing this the work was given a preliminary reading to remove anything that the censors might find objectionable. Every objection from the censor's office created paperwork – masses of it – so it was advisable to do a preemptive sweep.

This initial read-through was done by Ferdinand Wolf, no less, the Custodian of the Imperial Court Library, an extremely well educated and well respected figure in Viennese life. The book was handed in to the censors at the beginning of September, 1843. In sum, therefore, the censors were now confronted with a book that had been written by a highly respected and well-connected author, one of the luminaries of Viennese life, and which had been vetted by a noted academic. What could go wrong?

Quite a lot, as it turned out.

The first problem was that only one specimen, the original handwritten text, had been handed in: the regulations specified two specimens. Rules is rules, particularly in the Empire of Paperwork. Caroline's 'Memories' was four volumes long and copying the work would take a long time and be very expensive. In which case, could the censors manage with only one specimen on this occasion?

Karoline von Pelzeln submitted the request to the censorship office on 11 September, the request was passed up the bureaucratic ladder three days later and the decision came down three days after that on 17 September. The single specimen would be sufficient. After this sign of benevolence from the authorities, we move on to the next step.

The manuscript was passed on to the censor selected for this case, Johann Ludwig Deinhardstein (1794-1859). Deinhardstein is no lowly figure in a back room. Censors were drawn from a wide range of highly educated people, often for whom censorship was a part time task, perhaps just to earn some money or gain the goodwill of the powers that be.

Caroline's censor had studied jurisprudence and constitutional law, literature and aesthetics, of which latter he was a professor at the University of Vienna, he was himself a reputable author, had been Vice-Director of the Hofburg Theater and was in the middle of a solid career in Viennese society. He was in no sense a literary firebrand and could be relied upon to know what was acceptable to the authorities and what was not. The author and he had moved in the same circles and had known each other socially.

Deinhardstein got through the four volumes and delivered his report astonishingly quickly, on 23 September. Perhaps at a social level he was aware of the family's haste to get Caroline's book published. His full report has been destroyed, but we still have the summary.

Deinhardstein listed 23 passages in the four volumes that should be omitted or changed. For some reason the censorship office was not satisfied that Deinhardstein's censorship had been adequate. Perhaps the speed of his inspection of the work had awakened mistrust, or his friendship with the Pichlers. The manuscript was therefore passed to another censor for a second assessment. The new censor found four additional objectionable passages and in addition was concerned about some of the political statements in the work.

Caroline's manuscript was therefore passed by Count Sedlnitzky, the Police and Censorship Chief, to the Chancellery for the political evaluation of some passages. Prince Metternich himself replied on 25 October, listing seven 'political' problems with Caroline's work.

Despite Caroline's impeccable reputation and her status as a person without any seditions opinions, caution was called for, in that the potentially enormous popularity that Pichler's 'Memories' would have with a broad mass of Viennese made the work particularly dangerous: the censors had to be especially careful not to let unacceptable statements and opinions – 'misformulations' – stand in a work which would have such a wide audience.

After all this memo and report writing, Karoline von Pelzeln received the final decision on 30 October. Once the changes were made the work could be printed. It appeared in spring 1844.

We may make fun of all this thrashing around with paperwork, but the censorship procedure in the case of Caroline Pichler's work had been remarkably expeditions: the entire procedure took two months almost exactly, which is in stark contrast with the frequent claims of others that the procedure could take much longer, years even.

We presume that, given Caroline's impeccable reputation and lifestyle as a pillar of Viennese society, the censors at every level were clearly motivated to process the work as quickly as possible and not to leave themselves open to accusations of dilatory work by members of the family and the many well connected friends that Caroline left behind her. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, a censorship time-bomb was ticking away, deep inside the work.

Between the millstones, Part 2

In her 'Memories' Caroline had written about a love affair between a friend of her youth, Sophie von Mertens and Count Ignaz Chorinsky, from the extremely eminent Chorinsky family. The events are worthy of a Jane Austen novel:

During this time Count Chorinsky suffered much with his love for Sophie. She was his social inferior, and so attractive she was in heart and spirit, so pretty she was in appearance and so well-disposed and loving the old Count was to his son, the old aristocratic prejudices or viewpoints, especially back then, were not easy to surmount. The father did not want to give his permission, the son did not want to leave the girl. It was indeed a case of love and trust from a time when we were capable of warmer feelings and higher moods in our views of life.

None of us was aware that the relationship continued in secret, though ... Only later did we friends find out, not without shock and disapproval, the true nature of things, that Count Chorinsky was absolutely determined to marry his loved one even against the will of his father… We [had to] let matters take their course, after we had made clear to them all the sorrows and disruptions to which they were about to expose themselves.

Während dieser Zeit hatte Graf Chorinsky viele Mühe und Kummer um seine Liebe zu Sophien getragen. Sie war ihm nicht ebenbürtig, und so trefflich sie an Herz und Geist, so hübsch sie von Gestalt, und so gut und liebevoll gegen den Sohn auch der alte Graf gesinnt war, dennoch ließen sich, besonders damals, die Standesvorurteile oder Ansichten nicht leicht überwinden. Der Vater wollte seine Einwilligung nicht geben, der Sohn das Mädchen nicht lassen. Es war eben noch eine Liebe und Treue aus jener Zeit, wo man im allgemeinen wärmerer Gefühle und eines höhern Schwunges in den Lebensansichten fähig war.
Ein gemeinsamer Freund, der gar zu gern Geistestätigkeiten dieser Art übte, wurde ins Vertrauen gezogen. Er vermittelte die geheimen Besuche, und erst lange darnach, als eben dieser allzu tätige Vertraute wegen anderer Verhältnisse Gefahr für sich selbst fürchtete, und seine Mitwirkung aufgeben mußte, erfuhren wir übrigen Freunde, nicht ohne Schrecken und inniger Mißbilligung, den wahren Stand der Dinge, daß nämlich Graf Chorinsky fest entschlossen sei, sich mit seiner Geliebten auch heimlich, auch wider den Willen seines Vaters, zu verbinden.
[Pichler 1.177f]

Caroline had described the events accurately and with delicacy of feeling, but nevertheless the Count's stepson complained to Count Sedlnitzky, even though the events had taken place fifty years before and reflected only honourably on the two people involved, both of whom were by now long dead. The complainant accused Sedlnitzky of not supervising his censors adequately.

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Moritz Michael Daffinger (1790-1849), Graf Joseph Sedlnitzky, 1837. Image: Beaussant-Lefevre, Paris

Sedlnitzky wrote to the President of the Censorship Office demanding explanations from him and the censors involved. Deinhardstein in turn justified himself by stating that he had noticed nothing offensive about the passages in question, had not left anything in the work that violated the censorship laws, and had not removed anything that might have taken away the little interest there was in this 'rather flat' work. He had also only ever heard the author speak of this particular family in positive terms.

That's how it works in repressive regimes: Sedlnitzky, who was probably embarrassed that he had signed the work off in the first place, turned on Deinhardstein, who then turned on the late Caroline, who had helped him when he was a young, struggling author, for her uninteresting, 'rather flat' work.

Despite Deinhardstein's rhetorical skill in defence of his censorship, Sedlnitzky found his excuses 'inadequate' and ordered the complete recensorship of the entire work before its next printing. Every objectionable passage was to be removed 'definitely and without error'.

For the publisher, Caroline Pichler's nephew Franz Pichler, this would have a major financial impact. There would doubtless be many changes made by the now terrified censors, changes which would require existing type forms to be broken up and the whole work repaginated. The commercially profitable reprint would now be a commercially expensive new edition, its content blander and even 'flatter' than the original.

Sedlnitzky issued instructions for the future to cover such cases.

I find myself moved by the current case to issue the following order: that all passages in manuscripts which concern particular [recognizably] named families, when these passages have not already been removed by censorship, should from now on always be excised.

Zugleich finde ich mich durch den gegenwärtigen Anlaß zu der Bestimmung bewogen, daß in Manuskripten alle Stellen, welche einzelne darin namhaft gemachte Familien betreffen, wenn diese Stellen nicht ohnehin so geartet sind, daß sie wegen ihrer Anstößigkeit in Censurbeziehung schon an und für sich gestrichen werden müssen, jederzeit anher zu exhibieren sind.
[Pichler 1.LXXII]

The censorship system has reached its climax of stupidity. Following this aristocratic outburst over a completely trivial tale from long ago, the censors were now to look with suspicion on any name of anyone, family or individual, that might occur in any text. From now on, in theory and in practice, it was not permissible to mention anyone's name.

Blümml summarized the case of 'Memories' as so 'characteristic for Austrian censorship' [Pichler 1.LXXII]. The system will stagger on a few more years before it is swept away in 1848, on 14 March, to be precise, but only for a brief respite – it will stagger back and press its dead hand on the artistic life of the German-speaking world for most of the remainder of the 19th century.

The pyramid of fear

The tale makes it clear to us that Franz's censorship system could be fussy and punctilious to its friends as well as its enemies. It was a system based on fear and suspicion, matching the character of Franz, its censor in chief. No author could be trusted, no matter how elevated and unthreatening they were.

The tale also shows us that no one censor could be trusted without undergoing the censorship of another. Who censors the censor? For the censor there was only one career-safe option: ban everything that was not completely anodyne – trouble only came from letting things through. No censor ever got into trouble for wearing out his red pencil.

There was, hovering above it all, a political censorship at the highest level of government. Censorship decisions were all taken ultimately at the very highest level. Every level seems to have had to validate the work of the lower level anew. Even Metternich or his underlings are checking and revising the previous work of the censors. May God help them all, if Franz himself then read the work or was contacted by some noble who objected to something in it.

The treatment of Caroline Pichler's 'Memories' illustrates another crucial characteristic of Franz's censorship system: fear. Not just the fear of the written word and its potential for disturbing the 'calm' that Franz so wanted to maintain, or the fear of inadvertently letting something through, some slight misformulation, but rather the fear of internal retribution.

Everyone working in Franz's administration – certainly in the police and censorship section – seems to be terrified of retribution for any mistake. Delegation of decision making – that is, freedom to take decisions at lower levels – never seems to have happened.

For everyone under Franz, the system degenerated into rule-following without responsibility, that is, without responsibility until something went wrong. There are two bureaucratic symptoms of this fear: the automatic passing upwards of all decisions and the generation of large amounts of paperwork to cover backs.

The administration of the Empire of Paperwork was based on fear of failure. This meant that no one within the machine felt capable of taking a decision, which in turn meant that the most trivial issues were passed up the chain until they reached the very top. Some readers may recall the way the continuation of the little ex-chorister Franz Schubert's scholastic career became a matter for the Emperor himself.

Much ado about nothing

In the end, the entire censorship pantomime around Caroline's 'Memories' turned out to be a pointless, short-term futility: the book was not the bestseller that the Pichler family or even the censors might have imagined it would be. Although we do not have the sales figures for the book, it is significant that it was little reviewed.

Perhaps the frocks and bonnets of Caroline's times had passed with her. Perhaps the public of 1844, just a year or two away from an enormous political and social revolution that would shake the whole of Europe, living through an age of job losses and migration to the cities that later historians would call 'Pauperism', perhaps they were just no longer interested in censor-sanitized, genteel reminisces of a salon society that had kept the Viennese amused under Franz's belljar.

Perhaps, being 'flat' and pedestrian in the first place, after the censors had pounded every slightly interesting bump level, it became something that no one wanted to read anyway. Censorship job done, in other words.

This was, after all, the effect of censorship on Austrian and also German literature in the 19th century. Franz Grillparzer, the 'National Poet' of Austria, was particularly plagued by the censors, leading him to produce works as flat, bowdlerised and as boring as Caroline Pichler's 'Memories'.

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Franz Grillparzer by Moritz Michael Daffinger, 1827.

Spaun revisited

After this practical example of literary life under the red pencil of the censor, we can perhaps understand why Joseph von Spaun masks the name of 'Princess B.' and the location of this soirée even in 1857.

He may not have known of the details of the Pichler case – the censors censored talk about censorship, too – but this kind of thing was in the air that every Austrian breathed. He had masked it even more completely in 1829, but three decades later he seems to have felt he could lift the hem of his literary dress ever so slightly to give us a tantalising view of an anonymised Princess.

Now that we comprehend Spaun's fear of endangering his standing, his career and whatever else had been repressed in his civil servant's brain, we can perhaps suggest an answer to the two related questions we posed at the beginning of this piece which had stumped us: Why did Spaun not publish any of his memoirs?

We remind ourselves: He was the person in the Schubert circle who was most perfectly placed to deliver an assessment of his friend the composer, having known him from his first days in the Vienna Stadtkonvikt to his last days on his death bed. Of all Schubert's friends, Spaun was the trusted elder statesman.

But he wrote no obituary notice for Schubert – although we might have expected something from him at least in Linz, his home town. He wrote two memoirs, it is true, but did nothing with them, furtively passing them on for others to use. He criticised Kreißle's biography for its supposed indelicacies and prurience, yet never openly published anything of his own. He went to the trouble of writing his lengthy memoirs of Schubert, then orphaned them.

The reason, we now suspect, was that publishing his memories would have forced him to say something substantive in public about his friend, to take sides, to discuss his setbacks, his mistreatments, his disease, the Senn disaster (Heaven help us!), his successes and his disappointments. He would have had to write in a balanced way about the other people in those 'Circles of Friends'.

Readers of our pieces about Schubert's life on this website will know all too well just how many edges and interfaces there were to Schubert's existence. We don't expect 21st century historical and sociological perspectives from Spaun, but a bit of bravery on these subjects from someone who was there would have helped. The silence of Schubert's friends under Franz's censorship belljar suffocated his reputation for more than forty years after his death.

Spaun in particular was incapable of such reckless honesty – it might have affected his career.

Spaun's anecdote as text

Now that we have wafted the dull beam of our torch around the shadows of the bureaucratic mind of Joseph von Spaun – and rather wish we hadn't – let us now subject his anecdote to some good old-fashioned textual analysis. It certainly needs it.

Our first question is, who is the narrator of this anecdote and who is the observer of the events?

An appeal for witnesses

It seems clear that Spaun is the narrator, but he seems to be narrating events he did not himself witness. He gives no hint that he himself was invited to the musical evening in the 'princely house', so we are missing the source for the anecdote.

In fact we would have been surprised if he had been the witness, since he – though ranking well above Schubert – was out of his depth in this company.

The administrative system of the Austrian Empire was an exact reflection of its feudal structure. Around the Emperor clustered the great and the good, closest to him the greatest and the goodest from the oldest dynasties, then in descending order of rank and seniority came other aristocrats. It was simply inconceivable in such a system that a supervisor could have a lower feudal rank than the people under him.

The lower levels, where Spaun found himself, were occupied by functionaries and wannabes, young men from good houses who had taken a Law degree, who hoped that their careers of writing memos and summaries and making copies of letters might feed their families and possibly even take them up the ladder a rung or two.

In Spaun's case, he took the elevator that raised him slowly, floor by floor, through the ranks of the Viennese Lottery. After forty years of this, when he was seventy-one, he was made a baron and given an Iron Cross (Third Class) to wear on his tailcoat. He had thus finally, after years of drudgery and filling filing cabinets, arrived almost at the inherited social level that Baron Schönstein (1796-1876) had possessed all those years ago, as a mere thirty-three year-old at the time of the Kinski concert. Spaun had another six years to enjoy his new rank, before his life of service to his betters ended.

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Karl Freiherr von Schönstein, lithograph by Joseph Kriehuber, ND. Image: Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien.

In contrast, here, with Schubert and Schönstein in the 'princely house', we are moving in the empyrean of Austrian nobility, among the great families with lineages that reach back for centuries and with land and castles across the vast reaches of the empire – modern Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia. This is simply not the place to find some underling who scratches his pen across paper for the Viennese Lottery.

Which fact puzzles us, however, when we read Spaun narrating these events as though he had been present: the conversation between Schubert and Princess B. is not given in direct speech, but so close to it that the difference scarcely matters.

Indirect speech in German is grammatically much more precisely specified and carefully used than it is in English. Although Spaun is not reporting direct speech, his use of indirect speech suggests to the German-speaking reader that this is merely quotation without the quotation marks. We would expect such an exchange to be written by a careful journalist. Let us repeat the passage describing the interaction between the princess and the pauper here for easy reference:

But when no one bothered to even look at the composer sitting at the piano, the noble lady of the house, Princess B. attempted to counter this neglect and greeted Schubert with the most extreme praise, thus implying that he should overlook the fact that the other listeners, completely captivated by the singer, only praised the singer. Schubert thanked her and replied that the Princess should not trouble herself at all about this since he is accustomed to being overlooked and that he even preferred it this way, since he felt less embarrassed.

Als aber niemand Miene machte, den am Klavier sitzenden Kompositeur auch nur eines Blickes zu würdigen, suchte die edle Hausfrau Fürstin B. diese Vernachlässigung gut zu machen und begrüßte Schubert mit den größten Lobeserhebungen, dabei andeutend, er möge es übersehen, daß die Zuhörer, ganz hingerissen von dem Sänger, nur diesem huldigten. Schubert dankte und erwiderte, die Fürstin möge sich gar keine Mühe diesfalls mit ihm geben, er sei es ganz gewohnt, übersehen zu werden, ja es sei ihm dieses sogar recht lieb, da er sich dadurch weniger geniert fühle.
[Erinn 157f]

If we assume that Spaun is not simply making it all up, we are left wondering who reported this scene to him in such detail.

Schönstein is a possibility, but seems to have been occupied at that moment with his group of noble admirers – it therefore seems odd that he would have been an observer of Schubert's conversation with the Princess.

In his own memoir, also written much after the fact, Schönstein mentions nothing of this well-received recital in the 'princely house'. This oversight in itself means little, since by the time of this memoir his mind was very confused and his recollections jumbled and unreliable (see, for example here and here). It therefore seems unlikely that he was the source of Spaun's account.

Did Schubert himself tell his old friend Spaun about this incident?

Perhaps he did mention it, but it seems highly unlikely that his account took the form Spaun presents to us. That would be very odd, since not only does the text present Schubert in the third person singular, we have difficulty imagining the introverted Schubert saying anything as revealing about himself as this. To Dr Phil, perhaps; to the boys in the coffee house, definitely not; to a great princess, absolutely not.

Our unease is reinforced when we consider that no one else in Schubert's inner circle seems to have recorded the occurrence of this remarkable, princely concert, especially Eduard Bauernfeld (1802-1890), who was very close to Schubert at the time and whose aptitude in recording the foibles of Viennese society would have seized on such a scene.

Bauernfeld had his private journal, in which he could have memorialised it without fear of censors, but from him – and from all Schubert's other friends, even the gossipy Hartmann brothers – we hear nothing of this event. Conclusion: Schubert would just not relate such a tale, even to intimates.

Schubert might indeed say to the Princess, responding to her politeness with his own politeness, that being ignored in these situations was quite normal and understandable for him, the piano player, but then to venture 'that he even preferred it this way, since he felt less embarrassed' beggars belief.

And it seems quite incredible that he said something of this sort to a princess – or to any stranger, particularly one of rank, in polite society. Princess B's consolation of the socially invisible Schubert is the attentiveness of the good hostess, noblesse oblige, as it were. That the introverted Schubert, even under the pressure of the social embarrassment of the occasion, would be so forward and socially courageous as to expand his response to a riff on the state of his miserable but brave little soul – well, that's asking for some suspension of belief on our part.

There are indeed people nowadays who respond to questions such as 'how are you' from polite strangers with discomforting, lengthy monologues on the hardships of their tortured existence, but of Schubert we know that he was the sort of person who kept his inner life to himself.

Spaun's account of this fascinating encounter between the princess and the pauper is further flawed by the omission of the response of the Princess to Schubert's heartfelt bleat of social isolation. If he really said something such as this to her, wouldn't you really, really want to know how this noble, empathetic creature responded? Instead, Spaun just breaks off, leaving his readers dangling.

The socially inept among us will be able to understand Schubert's desire to remain unnoticed at such gatherings. For Baron Schönstein, in contrast, it was all so easy.

He not only had a certain rank himself, but like all aristocrats, had the Almanach de Gotha hardwired into his noble brain. He would have recognised most of those who addressed him, and would have been formally introduced to those he did not know. He knew their rank, their geniture, their origins and their importance in the feudal scheme of things in the Habsburg Empire.

The daughters of the Empire in particular would be fluttering round him, drawn like moths to this tall aristocrat with his fine tenor and matching moustache – Trionfi degli uomini, Pennacchi d'amorCosì fan tutte I.11). Princess B. in contrast, went to talk to the composer.

Here is Schönstein as Moritz von Schwind remembered him years later – easy to spot: he is of course the tall, imposing figure on the left of the image, standing behind Michael Vogl, the other singer.

Moritz von Schwind: a Schubertiade

Moritz von Schwind, Ein Schubert-Abend bei Josef von Spaun, 'A Schubert evening at Josef von Spaun's'.

In contrast, Schubert was a complete outsider in Princess B.'s noble gathering. He would have needed to be formally introduced to almost everyone who approached him. We might also have some understanding for aristocrats who lacked enthusiasm to go through the entire rigmarole of being introduced to and making small talk with such an insignificant worm. And who was there to do the introducing? Introducing yourself was always a risky business.

Aristocrats would always gravitate to their fellows in that feudal comfort zone, rather than risk ending up in polite conversation with someone from a Viennese Vorstadt with no definable job whose father was a Moravian farmer's son and whose mother had been a domestic skivvy.

We would expect the hostess, to whom Schubert had certainly already been introduced, to show no inhibitions in going up to him and engaging him in conversation, but even so, Schubert would have been wise enough and socially aware enough to have kept his innermost thoughts to himself.

We speculate? That we do, Reader, that we do.

Who, when and where?

Not only has Spaun masked the identity of the Princess B. he has also neglected to give us any date, time or place. Without these anchors the anecdote floats in a vacuum. Spaun might just as well have started with 'once upon a time'.

Perhaps we are expecting too much of Spaun in an account written around 1857, when he was in his late sixties. All this had happened thirty years before. Nearly everyone else from those days was long gone and he was relying on his account of the incident from his first memoir, written in 1829. That earlier remark was written in a timeless simple past tense, suggesting a repeated occurrence.

But a tantalising hint of a possible reality behind Spaun's anecdote is buried deep in Otto Deutsch's collection of Schubert documents. On 7 July 1828, Princess Charlotte Kinsky wrote to Schubert:

Please receive once more my thanks, my dear Mr Schubert, not only for the part you played in the success of my concert, but also for the dedication of the songs I recently received, at which I am looking forward to marvelling next winter, if you and Baron Schönstein will be kind enough to favour me with this pleasure. Please receive the enclosure as a weak proof of my gratitude and you will greatly please your devoted

Charlotte, Princess Kinsky
Vienna, 7 July.

Empfangen Sie nochmals meinen Dank, lieber Herr Schubert, sowohl für den Anteil, den Sie an dem Gelingen meines Konzerts hatten, als für die Zueignung der letzterhaltenen Lieder, welche ich mich freue, den nächsten Winter zu bewundern, wenn Ihre und Baron Schönsteins Gefälligkeit mir diesen Genuß verschaffen wollen. Empfangen Sie die Inlage als einen schwachen Beweis meiner Erkenntlichkeit, und Sie werden sehr verbinden Ihre ergebene Wien, d. 7ten Juli Charlotte Fstn. Kinsky. 1828.
[Dok 526]

FoS image, size 708x900

Josef Kriehuber, Princess Marie Charlotte Kinsky (1782-1841), née von Kerpen, around 1830. Otto Deutsch notes with some relish that in 1812, Beethoven called her 'one of the prettiest fattest women in Vienna'. He dedicated three works to her [Dok 524].

Learn to write thank-you letters like this and you, too, could be a princess one day. Otto Deutsch makes the connection to Spaun's anecdote:

It seems likely that the musical evening, which must have occurred shortly before, was the occasion for the event with Schönstein, who had introduced Schubert there.

Der Musikabend bei der Fürstin, der kurz vorher stattgefunden haben muß, war wohl der Anlaß jenes Erlebnisses mit Schönstein, der Schubert dort eingeführt hatte.
[Dok ibid]

On reading this we may need to blow into a paper bag a few times, perhaps do a bit of Tibeten chanting and keep repeating to ourselves: 'it is only a possibility'.

It's actually a bit more than that, as even Deutsch – always the careful researcher – suggests. After all, how many times did Schubert perform for such nobility? Only once as far as anyone knows. Princess Kinsky's letter frees Spaun's anecdote from all the obfuscation which he had wrapped around it. Suddenly, so much makes sense.

The wider context

When we sift through the documentary record for the first half of the year 1828, apart from Princess Charlotte's letter to Schubert, we find no trace of the Kinsky concert.

We do find that the four songs, Opus 96, which Schubert had dedicated to Charlotte, had been printed privately by Schober's new plaything, his lithographic printing company. Exactly when this happened, no one is sure. Otto Deutsch, who dislikes imprecision as much as your author, is driven by the confusion to write one of his most knitting-wool statements:

Opus 96 probably appeared before Opus 92 and Opus 94, which were only advertised in July (11 July 1828), certainly before Opus 95 (13 August 1828); but Opus 106 not before Opus 97 (6 October 1828) but rather before all the opera which appeared posthumously, 98, 99, 101 bis 105 (see Appendix V).

Op. 96 erschien wahrscheinlich vor op. 92 und 94, die erst im Juli angezeigt worden sind (11 Juli 1828), sicher vor op. 95 (13. August 1828); op. 106 aber nicht nur vor op. 97 (6. Oktober 1828), sondern vor all den posthum erschienenen opp. 98, 99, 101 bis 105 (siehe Anhang V).
[Dok 524]

Several readings and a couple or three glasses of a soothing yet inexpensive Californian Cabernet Sauvignon predictably got your author no further. Fortunately, for simpletons like him, Deutsch left his conclusion in Appendix V: 'summer 1828'. [Dok 599]

And that is it. That is all we have. The recital in the rich magnificence of the great Palais Kinsky, alongside the other noble houses in the Freyung (number 4) has left only the most fragmentary traces of its existence.

Although one should generally stick with the documentary record and not simply make things up, there are times when some reasonable speculation may help us by pointing out a possible resolution to a puzzle. In 1828, from the beginning of the year to midsummer, there are number of suggestive pieces of evidence.

The Kinsky dedication

The first of these pieces of evidence is the dedication of the four songs, Opus 96, to Charlotte Kinsky. Each of these songs had been written at differing times and Schubert brought them together as a group for the particular purpose, so it seems, of dedicating them to Charlotte.

FoS image, size 708x586

The cover page of the printed album for Opus 96 (1828), dedicated to Charlotte Princess Kinsky. Image: Musiksammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek. Online.

The dedication of a work of art to someone had to follow a procedural tradition. The first step in that procedure was to ask the dedicatee for permission to dedicate a work to them. Failing to do this was a serious breach of protocol since, once the dedicatee accepted and the dedicated work was published, tradition demanded that the dedicatee reward the artist in some way.

Charlotte's letter of thanks to Schubert is an example of the final step in this procedure. She may have sent money, or, more stylishly, some object of appropriate value such as snuff box, cravat pin etc. The poverty-stricken artist was then free to monetize the gift as best he could.

The single data point of Kinsky's letter thus fans out to point to other instances of which we have no direct record, since there must have been at least three points of contact between Schubert and Charlotte before her letter concluding the transaction.

The first of these would have been Schubert's request to dedicate Opus 96 to her. It strains belief that he would have done this at the concert.

We can be sure that these songs were not performed at the concert, since Charlotte says she is looking forward to hearing them performed by Schubert and Schönstein at a further concert in the winter. Everyone who could possibly do so fled the sticky and dusty summer of Vienna for the country – the social season began again in the late autumn or winter.

The request for a dedication had to be in writing. With someone of Charlotte's status, sidling up to her at her concert and simply asking for permission to dedicate a work to her would have been a serious faux pas that a professional musician such as Schubert would never commit. But we have no letter – Schubert did not make a copy and as far as your author knows no such letter has appeared in the Kinski effects.

At some point, too, Charlotte (probably through a secretary) would have given her permission for the dedication. This would have been done in writing and has also been lost.

This exchange would have had to be completed before Schober printed the work… except that the dedication is overprinted on the frontpage of the score in brown ink, meaning that Schober almost certainly went on and printed the sheets for Opus 96 and then overprinted the dedication when Charlotte's letter of acceptance was received.

It therefore seems not unlikely that the sequence of events was as follows:

  1. On hearing that Schönstein had got them a gig at the Kinsky's, Schubert raided his drawers to see what he had available. He put together the four songs in Opus 96. We shall look at that collection in detail on another occasion.
  2. He then wrote to Charlotte asking permission to dedicate the collection to her. He would not have done this out of the blue, some specific point of contact – in this case the planned musical evening – would have had to be present.
  3. Schober, we imagine desperate for work to keep the presses of his Lithographic Institute turning (it would collapse a few months later), got on with printing the score. The production of a musical score demanded time, effort and care and was certainly not the work of a day or two. Perhaps the task was also a test run for the music printing skills of his new plaything.
  4. Charlotte's acceptance of the dedication would have followed a few days after she had received Schubert's request.
  5. Schober then overprinted the dedication.
  6. Schubert presented Charlotte with one or more copies of the collection on the occasion of the concert. (Waiting until after the concert to send her them would have been absurd.)
  7. Charlotte is then in a position not only to send Schubert his reward for the dedication but to thank him for the concert.

This sequence of events not only satisfies the conventions of a dedication but also explains the double function of Charlotte's letter of thanks.

In 1828, therefore, we find Schubert popping up at this noble gathering. It seems reasonable to assume that Schönstein, as the principal performer, was the one who had brought Schubert to the attention of Charlotte Kinsky. However, Schubert's first and only public concert on 26 March that year may have been a factor in bringing the composer to the attention of a wider circle of people.

We who think that Schober's institution of the Schubertiaden in the early 1820s did more harm than good to Schubert's career now sit up and pay careful attention as Schubert's reputation expands beyond that small and very limited circle.

The Schubertiaden crowd may have formed the core of the audience at the March concert, but, although we don't have any attendance details, it seems reasonable to imagine that many people who did not belong to the inner circle turned up that evening. Without overdramatising the situation, we can say that on that night Schubert's music went beyond the punchbowls of the 'Circles of Friends'.

Unfortunately, the composer had yet to find a way of monetising his talent beyond the sale of compositions. The concert had brought in some much needed money, but apart from that, Schubert was a copyright pauper. In our modern world, at the time of writing, we are just about to enter the season of the year that continues to pay substantial pensions to a few now geriatric members of a few bands and their managers who came up with a catchy piece for Christmas half a century ago.

This did not happen to Schubert. He handed his manuscripts for the few florins he could get for them over to a music publisher and waved bye-bye to them. In effect, he was selling sheets of paper having the added value of some musical notes on them. The intellectual value behind the arrangement of those notes on the paper was scarcely relevant at the time, but nearly two centuries later Schubert's works are still earning money for Big Classic – just not for Schubert. He had to break out of the business model that chained him like a hamster in a wheel to selling music scores.

We have no idea what Charlotte Kinsky sent him as her 'weak proof of my gratitude' for his dedication of Opus 96 to her. It certainly doesn't seem to have had any detectable impact on Schubert's miserable financial state.

With Schubert's newly found connection with the Kinskys we are even entering Beethoven territory: the late 5th Prince, Ferdinand Kinsky, Charlotte's husband, was one of the three nobles – Archduke Rudolph, Prince Kinsky and Prince Lobkowitz – who clubbed together in 1808 to provide a substantial pension to Beethoven in order to keep him in Vienna. The Dekret, the contract to provide this pension, was a disaster that reflected badly on all of those involved, Beethoven included.

The lesson for Beethoven that was still valid for Schubert: never rely on aristocrats for your income. Ferdinand Kinsky died after a fall from his horse on 3 November 1812, leaving his wife, Maria Karolina von Kerpen (confusingly also Charlotte) to carry on. Beethoven had to take the estate to court to get even a few dribbles of the money that he had been promised.

As with Beethoven, so with Schubert: the most continuing and most important of all factors in the life of Franz Schubert was money.

Throughout 1828, again and again, we have evidence of Schubert's money worries and his desperation to sell his compositions. For only part of his time is he a composer – the rest of the time he is an entrepreneur, a marketing expert and a salesman. In that he is probably no different from many other creative artists, then as now.

In September, after much dithering, he had to cancel for lack of funds his planned summer trip to the Pachlers' in Graz, a trip that had been so restorative for him in the previous year. [Dok 537]

It may be flattering to move in the halls of the titled mighty, to sweep up the great baroque staircase of the Palais Kinsky, to think back to the nonentity that was the Assistant Schoolmaster grinding his charges through the three Rs whilst knocking off Erlkönig and Gretchen am Spinnrade. All artists – however 'humble' their natures – need recognition. But they mainly need money.

Perhaps if Schubert had lived, the Kinsky connection might have proved fruitful, but it seems unlikely. More likely, it would have turned out to be another engine of exploitation, just as the Schubertiade had been, only at a much higher level. After all, it hadn't done Beethoven much good, either – barely keeping him in Cabernet Sauvignon.


All translations ©FoS.

Dok Deutsch, Otto Erich, ed. Schubert: Die Dokumente Seines Lebens. Erw. Nachdruck der 2. Aufl. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1996. [DE]
Erinn —, ed. Schubert: Die Erinnerungen Seiner Freunde. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1997. [DE]
Pichler Pichler, Caroline, Ed. Emil Karl Blümml. Denkwürdigkeiten aus meinem Leben, München, G. Müller, 1914. [DE]

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