Posted by Richard on  UTC 2022-05-02 04:14

Some reflections on the theme of Schubert and travel prompted by Oliver Woog's new book Franz Schuberts Aufenthalte in Oberösterreich, Salzburg und Umgebung.

Modest beginnings

Franz Schubert had a constrained childhood – which is not to say that it was unhappy or uneventful or even unusual, just closely bounded, spatially and culturally.

Readers troubled by the broad brushwork used here might care to reflect on some childhoods that were anything but constrained: Goethe's childhood in Frankfurt, for example, which was incomparably richer in books, pictures and general stimulation, will do us nicely as a marker at the other end of the spectrum. Both Wolfgang's father and mother were well connected and well-off figures in Frankfurt society. He grew up in a bustling, imperial city and was educated by his father and various tutors. There was money to accommodate most of his whims.

Schubert's father, the farmer's son from provincial Moravia, left the constraints of village life for the shackles of a Jesuit boarding school. The work-ethic and drudgery he absorbed there fitted him for the conscientious and dutiful drudgery of teaching in schools that, despite all efforts at reform, were still largely appendages of the Catholic church. A constrained and morally immaculate lifestyle – at least in public view – was a basic requirement for its teachers.

Goethe grew up in a spacious townhouse; composer Schubert in a hovel above his father's classroom.

During the ascent by which the farmer's boy from Moravia raised himself by his own efforts from peasant to schoolteacher he collected some cultural appendages – his musical interests, for example – which would be decisive for the young Franz Peter. That our composer had a grounded musical education in accordance with his talents is entirely due to his father's curation of them and his seizing an opportunity to get his son a musical education for which someone else – in this case the Emperor – paid. Father Schubert was always careful with money; he seems to have lived under the impression that he was only ever one step away from ruin, when, in fact, his later finances were quite solid.

Franz Peter's mother, Elisabeth, the uneducated servant girl and cook from provincial Silesia, from what little we know seems to have been a kind and loving wife and mother but, as with nearly all the women of her station, we know hardly anything about her. It is fair to assume that, had she been anything more than a skivvy, which was the status to which she had been raised, we would have some hint of it. As it is, we can only assume that she must have been an important emotional figure in the childhood of the little, introverted genius.

Goethe's mother, Catharina Elisabeth, was the social opposite of Schubert's Elisabeth. She was a highly respected and high status women in a city of high status and rich individuals. She became known as Frau Rat (the Counsellor's wife) a.k.a. Frau Aja (the 'governess of princes'). From her we have more than 400 entertaining and beautifully composed letters. Goethe claimed that his physique came from his father but his gift of imagination came from her.

From Schubert's Elisabeth, on the other hand, we have not a trace – no artefacts, not a hairpin or a ribbon; not a scrap of paper. The one thing the two women have in common is the pain of many of their children dying young.

There were relatives and friends, of course, in Schubert's constrained world – he was certainly not isolated. His childhood was that of a Vorstadtkind, as Herwig Knaus termed it in his 1997 work Franz Schubert – Vom Vorstadtkind zum Compositeur. This single word enfolds a complex meaning. A direct translation as 'child of the suburbs' would mislead English speakers who do not know of the particular status of the ring of suburbs that grew up around Vienna in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The population of Vienna had exploded in this period.

The imperial city is a relatively small place encircled by broad fortifications, outside of which the new suburbs grew up. The new arrivals – the tradespeople, merchants, labourers, hawkers, owners of small factories, workers and all their families – made these suburbs the teeming anthills of homo economicus.

The physical separation of the imperial centre from the surrounding industrious anthills is an obvious metaphoric image of the interface between the declining feudal world and the ascending capitalist world of the industrial revolution.

Schubert's family life was embedded in the vibrant communities in the Himmelpfortgrund and Lichtental suburbs. It was a life that was not without colour or stimulation. These were communities in which his school director father had a certain standing. But most of the toiling residents were firmly outside the feudal hierarchy of the crusty empire within its great fortifications. Only a little before his death did Schubert's father manage to become a Viennese citizen; a status his son never achieved.

Opening doors and windows

The first great break in these constraints on Schubert's childhood came when the eleven year-old Schubert entered the Akademisches Gymnasium. The magnitude of this break is not comparable with that rite of passage experienced by every child who finally goes to big school. It is more comparable with the break felt by children who are sent off to boarding school – for this is exactly what the school was for Schubert: he studied in the Akademisches Gymnasium and boarded at the associated Stadtkonvikt, both part of the old city.

Here he met and befriended children and young men from all over Austria: children of the bourgeois elite as well as university students also boarding in the Stadkonvikt (conveniently situated close to the university). These encounters formed the genesis of the famous 'Circles of Friends'. With this first rupture in the constraints of of his childhood, his world began to open up.

After leaving school and training as a teacher he found himself, despite his obvious musical talent, embedded in his father's life of drudgery. He had to have a job: a low status individual without a job was essentially a vagabond. Despite these constraints, these years gave us the great mass of his song compositions. Further constraints fell when the louche charmer Franz von Schober adopted him and encouraged him to fly the parental nest.

In the summer of 1818, when Schubert was 21, came the first great adventure, the summer in Zseliz as musical domestic servant to the family of Count János Károly (Johann-Karl) Esterházy de Galántha (1775-1834).

The route between Vienna and Zseliz is not one of the great journeys of Europe. The Esterházy estate was in the middle of nowhere and unremarkable in many ways – though it had distractions, most of the constraints in his life were still there. The stimulus of the adolescent friendships was missing, though. Schubert's letters to his friends tell how he longed to get back to life in Vienna.

In the summer of the following year, 1819, Schubert's singing partner Johann Michael Vogl led his young companion out of a further constraint and into the heartlands of Austria, 'Diese göttlichen Bergen und Seen', 'These divine mountains and lakes', which is the very apposite subtitle for Oliver Woog's new book, which deals the journeys he made in Upper Austria, Salzburg and its surroundings. We reviewed it recently here.

Father Schubert, as far as we know, once he had settled in Vienna never travelled anywhere beyond the city. A vision of him sitting in a coach taking in the scenery, paying out good money for fares and hostelry accommodation seems absurd.

Also, as far as we know, he never went back to his native village of Neudorf in Moravia, whether for the death of his father or during the widowhood of his mother or at her death. That would have been a substantial journey, nearly 300 km (as a comparison, his son's journey to Zseliz was about 250 km). Understandable, since he was busy establishing his school, his family and his own future.

A travelling man

Young Franz's fare to Zseliz and a wage for his time there were paid for by his employer. One wonders what father Schubert thought of his son's mind-broadening journeys around Austria. The financial arrangements for these jaunts are obscure, but most of the accommodation was probably provided by the hosts. In return, Schubert played and sang and composed for his supper.

Goethe, our reference for the unconstrained life, was much travelled, in later years in the service of his Duke, but also privately around Germany, through Switzerland, to Rome and the tip of Italy. We discussed the dramatic broadening effect on his mind of his lengthy stay in Rome, which introduced a substantial realignment of his life.

Travel broadens the mind, we say. Schubert's mind never experienced the broadening of international travel – the prodigy Mozart's long coach journeys across Europe, Mendelssohn's journey to and through Britain, for example. We noted Schubert's experiential limitations when confronted with Heine's sea shore poetry: Schubert had never seen or heard the sea or been anywhere near a coastline.

We might say that Schubert went through stages of provincialism: the raw bustle of the Vorstadt, the metropolitan bustle of Vienna, the rustic but boring Zseliz, until, in 1819, he took the first of three trips into Upper Austria and Salzburg and became at least an Austrian provincial.

But nevertheless, Schubert's encounters with what we might term Greater Austria – the Austria beyond Vienna –were transformational events in his life. They really were world-opening, mind-broadening experiences.

Apart from the context of our discussion of the Forellenquintett, D 667, and a few remarks here and there, this website has neglected this important theme. Fortunately, Oliver Woog in his Schubert Topografie (especially ST2 and ST5) is covering this ground extremely well, allowing the miserable worm on this website largely to circumvent this subject.

The inner exile

'Travel broadens the mind'.

True – but it is often also a journey into an 'inner exile'. Cultural history is well supplied with 'outer exiles', artists who left their native countries to pursue their craft in the 'otherness' of foreign places and foreign languages (Sickert, Joyce, Pound etc.). As outer exiles, distanced from their roots, they achieved insights into themselves and the places that had created them.

Through his travels it seems that Schubert, however, followed the path of inner exile. In the autumn of 1827, after his return to Vienna from his last major tour, he wrote a powerfully emotional letter to a woman he met during his stay in Graz that summer, Marie Leopoldine Pachler.

This is a remarkable letter in many ways, particularly since it is written by someone we habitually call 'introverted', but now is not the moment to explore all its remarkable characteristics. For the moment we only need to observe the inner exile into which the traveller Schubert has retreated on his return to Vienna:

I haven't adjusted back to Vienna yet, it is big, but lacking in heart, openness, real thoughts and particularly in intellectual deeds. One never really knows whether one is clever or stupid, there is so much muddled chatter here and one seldom or never attains a state of inner happiness.

Wien will mir noch nicht recht in den Kopf, 's ist freylich ein wenig groß, dafür aber ist es leer an Herzlichkeit, Offenheit, an wirklichen Gedanken, an vernünftigen Worten, und besonders an geistreichen Thaten. Man weiß nicht recht, ist man gscheidt oder dumm, so viel wird hier durcheinander geplaudert, und zu einer innigen Fröhlichkeit gelangt man selten oder nie.
[Deutsch Dok 451f Schubert and Frau Pachler, Wien am 27. September 1827.]

This is the letter of a man whose eyes have been opened and whose mind has been broadened. It is a particular curse of the inner exile that whatever happiness there was once in some place at some time, that happiness, once left, can never be rediscovered. The moments of those places and their moods have gone irretrievably over time's waterfall and now remain in the inner exile's memory, no longer memories of happiness but still open wounds of loss.

After the desperate and lonely crisis of his syphilis infection in 1823, Schubert's attempts to return to the places where he had once been happy – to Steyr or to Zseliz, for example – brought no new happiness, only deepened his depression in his new otherness.

Thus do we depressives see Schubert's travels, not just as a broadening of the mind, but as a journey into the inner exile, with its associated growth of self-awareness and of otherness.

The long-dead days as the Vorstadtkind, the shared struggles and cameraderie of sparky, youthful companions, companions now raising families and trying to earn their livings, most of them as pen-pushers of empire – all were gone.

On this his private journey he had no companions – the path to the inner exile is only wide enough for one – but, sometimes his heart was so full of this loss and isolation that, as we have seen, he was driven once to confide his feelings on paper in a letter to a middle-aged mother of passing acquaintance and of a class far above his own station. We would call that 'inappropriate' these days. A couple of weeks later he informed her that his 'habitual headaches are starting up yet again'.

1827: the inner exile completed

This was 1827 we remind ourselves. It seems that some great emotional catastrophe occurred in Schubert's life in that year. We suspect this because it appears that Schubert was on the verge of an engagement or even a marriage to some person unknown to us. The detailed background to this catastrophe we set out here – what follows is the executive summary. The case is complex, with many uncertainties, but if it is true, then much of the gloom that fell upon Schubert in that year can be explained.

The reasoning is as follows: It appears that Schubert ordered a copy of his baptismal certificate on 3 January 1827. The only reason that a 29 year-old man would need his baptismal certificate is if he were intending to marry.

Schubert must have ordered this certificate when things started to get heavy in a romance, indeed it would be odd if he had ordered it without some prior discussion about marriage with the woman in question. The couple were clearly discreet, since even his closest friends make no mention of it. All we have is guesswork.

We know now that, for whatever reason, no marriage took place and Schubert's chance of finally having a woman in his life – some emotional and physical warmth, perhaps even some sex – evaporated, never to occur again. He didn't want a beauty, a graceful dancer, a seducer, just a 'true friend' as he had put it in his diary more than ten years previously. For that we might read: a girl like my Mum. There must have been a painful break, which we imagine was not of Schubert's making.

1827. The year of Schubert's bitter letter to Frau Pachler. The year of Winterreise, with its distraught ex-suitor, the marriage prospect culminating in rejection, the wandering and the final, terrible portrait of the Leiermann, the hurdy-gurdy playing social outcast to whom no one pays any attention. The parallels are so close that we might suspect that Wilhelm Müller had written these poems with Schubert in mind.

Werner Neuhaus (1897-1934), Mann mit Drehorgel, 1925-26

Werner Neuhaus (1897-1934), Mann mit Drehorgel / Man with hurdy-gurdy, 1925-26. Image: Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur.

Who was there in Vienna to give Franz a hug when he most needed it? Don't worry, Franz, you'll be dead in a year, your journey finished, your 'true friend' unfound.

Fifty years later Austria will remember you and call you the 'Prince of Song' and stick plaques and flattering busts of you on buildings where you plumped your pillow on your journeys to self-discovery and inner exile. Your childhood hovel will be smartened up, fit for the tourists, and even your specs will find a place of honour under a glass box.

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