Posted by Richard on  UTC 2020-07-08 14:24

In the generation of the composer's parents we are dealing with not one family but two, whose lives run alongside each other and frequently intersect.

The two Schubert brothers, Karl and Franz Theodor, left their father's farm in Neudorf in Moravia, got an education in Brünn and then migrated to Vienna.

The two Vietz sisters, of similar ages to the Schubert brothers, also ended up in Vienna. Ultimately they met and married, but in a strange transposition: the younger Schubert married the older Vietz and vice versa.

The Schubert roots: Moravia and Silesia

Before we look at the interaction of these two Schubert families in Vienna let us get an overview of the events which brought them off the rolling hills in the east into the heaving imperial metropolis of late-18th century Vienna. This period was covered extensively in our piece on the ancestor generation, but a reminder may be useful, since the Schubert biography does not start in the Viennese suburbs but among the rolling hill of Moravia and Silesia.

The locations of the Schubert/Vietz ancestry.

The Schubert roots are buried in Neudorf/Hohenseibersdorf in the then region of Moravia (Mähren). The Vietz roots are buried in Zuckmantel in Austrian Silesia (Österreichisch-Schlesien), the small southern area that was left to the Austrians after Friedrich II of Prussia had conquered Silesia. The Schubert brothers were both educated at the Jesuit Gymnasium in Brünn.

Here is a tabular overview of the period that saw the Schubert brothers and the Vietz sisters move to Vienna. It will help us to get a panoptic view of these events.

Year Andreas Becker The Schubert brothers The Vietz sisters
1720 ??.?? born
1750 175? moves to Vienna. Starts teaching (?) in Stadlbauer's school, the Karmeliterschule in Vienna Leopoldstadt.
1755 03.04 Johann Karl Alois born in Neudorf.
1756 30.10 Elisabeth Vietz born.
1757 11.09 marries Maria Anna Stadlbauer.
1763 11.07 Franz Theodor born in Neudorf. 15.07 Maria Magdelena Vietz born
1769 18.10 both brothers start at the Jesuit Gymnasium in Brünn.
1770 Franz Theodor leaves the Brünn Gymnasium and returns home.
1772 Vietz, Johann Franz and family arrive in Vienna?
1773 18.10 Franz Theodor re-starts the Brünn Gymnasium.
1775 22.09 Karl completes his education in Brünn. He moves to Vienna and on 16.11 is immatriculated at the University of Vienna.
1776 03.08 Andreas Becker dies. Completes his university course.
1777 In teacher training?

The background to the age

The coloured segments mark external happenings that without doubt had some bearing on the lives of our subjects involved.


The pale blue backgrounds mark the years of agricultural failures and plagues in Neudorf. These times would also have been bad in nearby Zuckmantel. The horsemen ride seldom alone: along with starvation and disease came outbreaks of rebellion, such as the Peasants' Revolt in 1775.


The salmon background marks the period of the Seven Years' War. In the long list of stupid and pointless wars, mere exercises in despotic vanity, the Seven Years' War occupies a leading position. The war is reckoned to have killed more than half a million soldiers and civilians and maimed about the same number again.

Moravia and Silesia were two of the main theatres of the war. The agricultural populations on whom great European land armies descended were largely ruined. Within a few years, as always, the land and the people had recovered enough to be ready for the next cataclysm.

By the end of the war the exhausted combatant nations all agreed to return to the status quo ante bellum and walk away with a nonchalant shrug. The pleasure palace in Potsdam of that monster Frederick II (the so-called 'Great'), who started it all, is called appropriately enough Sanssouci, 'without care', and was erected to celebrate his 'triumph' in that miserable war. Frederick was a great admirer of Voltaire, just one more irony of history.

Educational reform

For the fate of the Schubert brothers, the pink segment was probably the most significant. It marks the year of the great school reform in Austria. The year before, Pope Clement XIV had banned the Jesuit order.

As part of their mission to promote the Catholic reconquest of the European mind following the disaster of the Protestant Reformation, in Catholic countries such as those of the Habsburg Empire the Jesuits had made themselves responsible for education and the regulation of cultural life in general.

Jesuit elementary education of that time was conceived as a religious education based on rote learning with hardly any serious attempt to teach the peasantry to read or to write. Their higher schools were there mainly to train the priesthood. It may have been that Carl Schubert, the deeply pious father of the two brothers, expected his sons to return from the Jesuit Gymnasium as two priests – instead they returned as two teachers.

The Austrian rulers were generally glad to see the back of the Jesuits, but were left with an empty shell of an educational system after the order was banned. The system was in a miserable condition, particularly in the sweeping acres of poor rural regions that made up so much of the Empire. In December 1774, Austria introduced the great Allgemeine Schulordnung, the 'General School Directive', which brought education under the aegis of the newly emerging civil state.

The improvement of education was just one of the administrative measures – house numbering, record-keeping, conscription management – that belonged to a Zeitgeist that was gradually transforming the ramshackle feudal empire into a state. It would have a long way to go, though.

FoS image, size 708x1142

Franz Theodor Schubert, then in his senior years in Brünn, experienced the early changes at first hand in the reorganization of the curriculum.

The decree was the great chance for the Schubert brothers. For a while the administration had to muddle along with former Jesuits as teachers, Jesuit teaching materials and Jesuit curricula, but there was a desperate need for trained teachers to take over the existing schools and the many new schools that were needed for the swelling metropolitan populations. The Schuberts were thus in exactly the right place at the right time – cometh the hour, cometh the men.

Brothers and sisters

The table represents the three strands of individual destinies that are important for us:

Andreas Becker

The key figure in this period is Andreas Becker, whose importance for our story has gained him his own column in our table, despite the fact that we know very little about him. He was born in Neudorf/Hohenseibersdorf in Moravia, but belonged to the generation before the brothers: Becker was born in 1720, Carl Schubert, the brothers' father, was born in 1723. Andreas and Carl would have known each other well, of that there can be no doubt.

At some time – possibly in the 1750s – he moved to Vienna. He could have played no part in the education of the Schubert boys in Neudorf, since they weren't even born until 1755/1763.

Becker was the pathfinder who had established himself in Vienna as a teacher before the brothers were born. He married Maria Anna, the daughter of Johann Adam Stadlbauer, the director of the school.

When Karl and then Franz Theodor moved to Vienna, he was the obvious safe harbour. He would have been the father figure for the young country boys, a fixed point in the Strudel of the imperial city.

That was not to be. Becker died on 3 August 1776, 56 years old, shortly after Karl arrived at his school. It was not a good death, either: he had been plagued for years before his exitus with some kind of lung disease, the doctoring of which seems to have sucked up his savings. It must have been clear to both his wife and Karl that he would not last long. He died a pauper, whose burial costs had to be paid by a charity. He left his widow only debts.

According to the marriage contract (dated 31 January 1778) between Widow Becker and Karl Schubert, these debts, amounting to 102 fl., were to be paid off by the groom. It seems a reasonable assumption that the pay off actually came out of the pocket of Carl Schubert, the father in Neudorf. Given his pious expenditure on statues and chapels, he would have had the money available to set his son up in a profession with a future. There may also have been some Christian sympathy on his part for the plight of Andreas Becker, his countryman.

We also learn from this document that somehow in the time between his arrival at the school and Becker's death Karl had progressed from being an assistant teacher to being a fully certified schoolteacher – how he did this is a mystery.

The marriage contracts of the time are frequently full of human interest. This one does not disappoint, for Karl explicitly agreed to let his maternal mother-in-law continue living with them, but insisted that the children of his new wife's brother had to leave the house, since they 'could make the marriage discontented'.

No matter: the safe harbour had done its job. Karl found a school and a widow ready for him, albeit at a price. He in turn became the safe harbour for his younger brother, Franz Theodor.

The Schubert brothers

There was an eight year age difference between the two Schubert brothers, Johann Karl Alois and Franz Theodor. Astonishingly, Franz Theodor, then only six, started at the Jesuit Gymnasium in Brünn at the same time as his fourteen year-old brother. After that first year, which Franz Theodor, to his great credit, completed successfully, he stayed at home for three years before continuing his studies there.

There can be no doubt that Karl's move to Becker's school in Vienna was arranged over the social network in Neudorf, as was Franz Theodor's arrival at the school four years later. Karl left the Jesuit Gymnasium in 1775, the year after the reform decree, so the future of education in the Empire was a hot topic.

Becker would have been keen to acquire reliable teaching staff to cope with the rapid expansion of education following the decree. He had by that time started down the path of his lingering death and we might imagine that he was choosing not just a junior but a successor – and if that successor came from his home village, so much the better.

The Vietz sisters

The progress of the two Vietz sisters, Elisabeth and Maria Magdalena, from Zuckmantel to Vienna is much more difficult to reconstruct. The few accounts we have are contradictory, in which case there is no point putting them into wider circulation. The sisters seem to have got by in domestic service.

It is thought that the two sisters came into domestic service with Karl and Anna in the Leopoldstadt school. Whether this employment was facilitated by the shared Moravian/Silesian background is unsure but seems a reasonable assumption.

By the time of her marriage to Franz Theodor, Elisabeth was a cook, which tells us that she had already risen from general purpose skivvy and domestic dogsbody to valued and specialised servant. She seems to have had some money, since on the registration form for her new home in Badgasse 26 in 1784 she is noted as 'living off her savings'.

Settling in Vienna

The record of their early life in Vienna shows us how Franz Theodor Schubert seized the new career opportunities in teaching with both hands:

Year Karl Schubert Franz Theodor Schubert
1778 15.02 Karl marries Becker's widow Maria Anna (- Stadlbauer -Becker). She is twice his age. The marriage will last for 14 years but remain childless. 01.09 Franz Theodor completes his education in Brünn. He moves to Vienna and on 19.11 is immatriculated at the University of Vienna.
1779 Completes his university course.
1780 In teacher training?
1781 Starts teaching for his brother Karl.
1783 Franz Ignaz Vietz born 12.04 to Elisabeth and Franz Theodor Schubert (dies 27.04 in the orphanage).
19.11 requests his certificate of baptism (required for marriage).

In this and the other tables of this type, green highlights mark children who died young, blue highlights those who reached adulthood.

We mustn't just forget about the Schubert ancestors in Neudorf, as though the brothers had been merely spores mindlessly scattered to the winds. Carl Schubert, their father, despite all the historical setbacks of his life, was no penniless peasant. He had a farm and money left over to erect his fine Ölvater in 1780. Almost immediately after that, he and his brothers went on to construct a chapel in Neudorf, which they finished in 1782.

He may have helped with getting his sons established in Vienna and taking their university courses but a large proportion of his money seems to have gone on his religious projects in Neudorf. As we have already suggested, it seems likely that he helped his oldest son Karl to get established as a teacher. We would be surprised if Franz Theodor didn't get some help either – he could not live on air in those first years.

After Carl senior died on 6 December 1787 the two sons received a modest inheritance (96 fl.). Modest or not, in Franz Theodor's case it helped him to equip his school and pay off some debts, so it was a timely income and luck was once more on his side.

But we have already gone beyond the limits of speculation allowed by the few bits of documentary evidence we have – this thin gruel of suppositions is the best we can do. Just to annoy ourselves, let us imagine all the letters that must have passed between Carl and Elisabeth in Neudorf and their two sons, whether they were in Brünn or in Vienna. Shared piety and filial piety being a characteristic of three generations of Schuberts.

The lost decade

We have skipped down the decade from 1775 (Karl's arrival in Vienna) to 1785 (Franz Theodor's marriage), perhaps leaving the impression that we know in general what happened to the brothers in this period.

In truth we know hardly anything at all about this period. Their lifestyles, their friends, their interests, the Rolodex of contacts they built up – about all that, we know nothing. Readers should try to imagine what would be missing from a decade of their own young lives were it to be reduced to a few bleak data points.

And what a momentous decade it must have been for the brothers. Karl was 20 years old at the start of it and during its course he acquired a school with a wife almost twice his age attached; Franz Theodor was a precocious 15 when he arrived in Vienna and 21 when he married Elisabeth Vietz, already with an illegitimate child dead two years in the foundlings' hospital and another baby about to emerge. For a man who later categorised himself as someone who was fond of moralising to the young, it was certainly an interesting ten years.

A human life is a symphony of social interactions. Of the Schuberts' symphony in those ten years we can only hear the parts for the triangle and the oboe: the rest we have to imagine.

The same could be said of our knowledge of the Vietz sisters, only with even fewer data points – a John Cage composition with no instruments at all – they emerge from a silence of unknowing. The date of the arrival of the Vietz family in Vienna is questionable and the lives of the two sisters will remain undocumented for a further 13 years.

Magdalena, the younger sister, appears to have been Karl's bit on the side for some part of this decade, the years with his now elderly wife, the one who came with a school attached.

At the time of her marriage to Franz Theodor, Elisabeth Vietz was already 28 years old and about to embark on 16 years of baby production, infant death, child rearing, cooking and skivvying in the cause of family advancement.

0 Comments UTC Loaded:

Input rules for comments: No HTML, no images. Comments can be nested to a depth of eight. Surround a long quotation with curly braces: {blockquote}. Well-formed URLs will be rendered as links automatically. Do not click on links unless you are confident that they are safe. You have been warned!

Name  [max. characters: 24]
Type   into this field then press return:
Comment [max. characters: 4,000]