During his short lifetime, Franz Schubert (1797–1828) contributed to a wide variety of musical genres, from intimate songs and dances to ambitious chamber pieces, symphonies, and operas. The essays and translated documents in Franz Schubert and His World examine his compositions and ties to the Viennese cultural context, revealing surprising and overlooked aspects of his music.
Contributors explore Schubert's youthful participation in the Nonsense Society, his circle of friends, and changing views about the composer during his life and in the century after his death. New insights are offered about the connections between Schubert’s music and the popular theater of the day, his strategies for circumventing censorship, the musical and narrative relationships linking his song settings of poems by Gotthard Ludwig Kosegarten, and musical tributes he composed to commemorate the death of Beethoven just twenty months before his own. The book also includes translations of excerpts from a literary journal produced by Schubert’s classmates and of Franz Liszt’s essay on the opera Alfonso und Estrella. In addition to the editors, the contributors are Leon Botstein, Lisa Feurzeig, John Gingerich, Kristina Muxfeldt, and Rita Steblin.
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Franz Schubert And His World
By Christopher H. Gibbs, Morten Solvik
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2014 Princeton University Press
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Schubert: The Nonsense Society Revisited
Twenty years have now passed since I discovered materials belonging to the Unsinnsgesellschaft (Nonsense Society). This informal club, active in Vienna from April 1817 to December 1818, consisted mainly of young painters and poets with Schubert as one of its central members. In this essay I will review this discovery, my ensuing interpretations, and provide some new observations.
In January 1994, at the start of a research project on Schubert iconography, I studied some illustrated documents at the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien (now the Wienmuseum am Karlsplatz), titled "Unsinniaden." The documents comprise forty-four watercolor pictures and thirty-seven pages of text recording two festive events celebrated by the Nonsense Society: the New Year's Eve party at the end of 1817 and the group's first birthday party on 18 April 1818. The pictures depict various club members, identified by their code names and dressed in fanciful costumes, as well as four group scenes for the first event, including Vivat es lebe Blasius Leks (Long live Blasius Leks; Figure 1), and two group scenes for the second event, including Feuergeister-Scene (Fire Spirit Scene; Figure 6 below). Because of the use of code names—and the misidentifications written on the pictures by some previous owner of the materials— it was not initially possible to interpret these documents correctly.
A few months later, in April 1994, I discovered a second set of papers, housed in the manuscript collection of the Wiener Stadt- und Landesbibliothek (now Wienbibliothek) in Vienna's City Hall, and these made it easier to unravel many of the society's secrets. This second set of materials had been purchased in 1937 from a descendant of the club's vice-editor, code-named Zeisig (a type of finch). It consisted of handwritten newsletters titled Archiv des menschlichen Unsinns (Archive of Human Nonsense). One numbered issue of the newsletter was apparently produced each week, although the collection contained only twenty-nine newsletters, those between 17 April 1817 and 10 December 1818 (nine from 1817 and twenty from 1818). Each issue, penned in Kurrentschrift (German running script) and usually eight pages long, begins with a motto and ends with a watercolor picture; in between are humorous and rather off-color texts spoofing contemporary politics, social mores, scientific discoveries, art, drama, and literature, each signed with the writer's code name. At the beginning of the first issue, in Zeisig's hand, is a key headed "Namen der Unsinnsmitglieder" that identifies most of the club members—twenty-two in all. This is what made it possible to link the newsletters to the documents in the Wienmuseum and, after intensive biographical research on the club's participants, establish Schubert's important role in the secret society.
Most of the members were young painters—students at the Vienna Art Academy—with code names that reflect their profession: for example, August Kloeber (1793–1864), famous for the portrait he sketched of Beethoven in 1818, was called Goliath Pinselstiel (Giant Paintbrush) and Johann Nepomuk Hoechle (1790–1835), who would paint Beethoven's studio a few days after the composer's death, was called Kratzeratti Klanwinzi (Little Scratcher). Three Kupelwieser brothers are also clearly identified on this list: Blasius Leks (Josef), Chrisostomus Schmecks (Johann), and Damian Klex (Leopold). Not all of the club's members are initially listed; Schubert's name, for example, is missing. Moreover, various code names that occur in the newsletters or on the individual portraits, for example that of Quanti Verdradi (Totally Mixed-Up), whom I have identified as Schubert's friend Franz von Schober, are also not on the initial list. Compounding this, at least two-thirds of the newsletters originally produced by the club are now missing (including the twenty-three issues immediately after the first one), a loss that makes a definitive interpretation of all the complicated allusions difficult.
Schubert's connection to the society was referred to in at least two memoirs by his friends but was misinterpreted by the great scholar Otto Erich Deutsch (1883–1967), who was only aware of another group, the so-called Ludlamshöhle (Ludlam's Cave). The first reference comes from Heinrich Anschütz (1785–1865), a famous Burgtheater actor, who delivered Franz Grillparzer's celebrated oration at Beethoven's funeral. He wrote in his memoirs:
I had spent my first Christmas in Vienna at the end of 1821.... This Christmas was of special interest to me because it brought Schubert to my house for the first time. Franz Schubert was one of the most active members of the late Nonsense Society. In this my brothers had been most intimately associated with him for years and it was through my [brothers] that he came to my house.
There is no reason to doubt Anschütz's assertion about Schubert's active participation in the "late" Nonsense Society—"late" meaning that the group no longer existed in 1821. Moreover, the first two names on the list of Nonsense Society members are the actor's two brothers: "Anschütz Eduard ... Schnautze, Redacteur" and "Anschütz Gustav ... Sebastn Haarpuder" (see Figures 2–4). Eduard Anschütz (ca. 1797–1855) was actually the club's leader, as well as the main editor (Redacteur) of the newsletters; most of the texts were written in his hand. His code name Schnautze, meaning (big) snout, is an anagram of Anschütz.
The second reference to the Nonsense Society, although the group was not mentioned by name, appears in an obituary for Schubert by Eduard von Bauernfeld (1802–1890):
At the time Schubert came out into the world several young men in his native city, mostly poets and painters (e.g. the esteemed [Leopold] Kupelwieser), gathered together, whom genuine striving after art and similarity of views soon united in sincere friendship, and into whose circle Schubert too was drawn. The mutual communication between these youths and their artistic conversations had a great effect on him and stimulated him, if not so much to talk, at any rate to the most varied musical productivity. To several of these friends he was most cordially devoted to the end of his life, and he often expressed regret, in letters as well as conversation, that the friendly union of so many worthy young men, as will happen, became disrupted by their pursuing different careers and by other chances.
Bauernfeld's mention of "other chances" having led to the disruption of this circle of poets and painters was probably a hint that the increasingly strict police measures against club formations in Prince Clemens von Metternich's Vienna made it too dangerous for the Nonsense Society to survive. One of the friends to whom Schubert "was most cordially devoted to the end of his life" was Franz Goldhann (1782–1856), the society's oldest member—aged thirty-five—and thus code-named Ultimus. His father had helped Mozart out financially, and he himself would become a member of Ludwig Mohn's reading circle in late 1823, using the new euphemism "Dr. Faust." His family name Goldhann actually means golden rooster, and the portrait painted of him for the club's first birthday party depicts him holding a shield displaying a barnyard fowl of this color. The pictures are full of such hidden clues to the members' real identities. Fortified by the references from Anschütz and Bauernfeld regarding the importance of this society for Schubert and his musical output, I began the search for his presence in this extremely secretive, encoded material.
The most immediately compelling evidence for Schubert's participation in the Nonsense Society could be gleaned from the many illustrations that accompanied the various issues of the newsletter. One particularly striking example is Zur Unsinniade—5ter Gesang (For the 5th Song of Nonsense) a watercolor containing the banner "Vivat es lebe Blasius Leks" (Long live Blasius Leks) and illustrating the last poem or song that Josef Kupelwieser wrote to describe the New Year's Eve party on 31 December 1817 (see Figure 1). The term Unsinniade suggestively resembles a later, far more famous word-creation: Schubertiade. Could the former have served as the inspiration for the latter?
Standing in the middle of the scene is a short man with curly sideburns and wearing eyeglasses, dressed in a brown suit, whom I have identified as Schubert. He is accompanied by two young women attired in formal white dresses and blue accessories, arriving at the end of the party, perhaps after attending another festivity elsewhere. The little man on the left, wearing a hat with fancy feathers, is the still-life painter Johann Carl Smirsch (1793–1869), whose code name was Nina Wutzerl. He is mentioned in the Schubert literature for having provided the composer with the opportunity to send the deeply moving letter of 31 March 1824 to his close friend Leopold Kupelwieser in Rome. The man on the right, dressed as a roughneck from Berlin and offering a toast to the two female guests, is Carl Friedrich Zimmermann (1796–1820), the one Jewish member in the club. He painted this picture, which is signed with his code name Aaron Bleistift (Bleistift meaning pencil, used by a Zimmermann, meaning carpenter). The two women are most likely Babette and Therese Kunz, sisters with whom Schubert gave concerts in March 1818 and for whom he arranged, in December 1817, his two Overtures in Italian Style as four-hand piano works (D592 and D597). The person playing the violin at the left of the complete picture is the amateur painter Ludwig Kraißl (1792– 1871), code-named Pinselmo Schmieraliri (Brushy Smearup). He was also a friend of Leopold Kupelwieser and played the violin in the well-known picture Ball Game at Atzenbrugg (dating from 1823), in which Schubert sits on the grass, smoking a pipe. Kraißl's prominent position at the forefront of the Unsinniade scene means that he serves as a kind of musical herald, announcing the arrival of his superior: the musical genius Schubert—who is placed so prominently in the center of the picture.
Other illustrations also point to Schubert. The caricature in Figure 5, The Kaleidoscope and the Draisine, was painted by Leopold Kupelwieser (signed with his code name Damian Klex) and is attached to the newsletter of 16 July 1818. It spoofs the composer as a portly schoolteacher, holding a stick and peering through a kaleidoscope, and the artist himself as a young student riding the newly invented draisine, a forerunner of the bicycle. The picture's meaning is explained in the accompanying article "Zum Kupfer" credited to the editorial board—that is, Eduard Anschütz:
The latest example of contemporary history proves just how dangerous the new invention of ice-slides is in Paris. But even the seemingly harmless inventions of the kaleidoscope and the draisine have their dangers, as the accompanying picture illustrates. The stout gentleman is absorbed in the contemplation of the kaleidoscope's wonderful play of colors—the dark glass makes him even more nearsighted than usual. He is about to be knocked to the ground by a passionate draisine rider, who likewise has his eye fixed only on his machine. Let this be a warning for others. There is already supposed to be a police order in the works on the strength of which every blockhead is strictly forbidden, on account of the danger, from using both new inventions.
The nearsighted Schubert was habitually associated in the newsletters not only with eyeglasses, but with other optical devices as well, such as the kaleidoscope. This new invention was patented by Sir David Brewster in 1817 to create inexhaustible forms of symmetrical geometric patterns; the draisine was likewise invented in 1817, by German Baron Karl Christian Ludwig Drais von Sauerbronn.
These illustrations provide vital clues for unlocking coded references to Schubert in the newsletters. Once a word or object was associated with a member, subsequent issues developed the association in other creative ways, which in turn could lead to further associations. Thus Gustav Anschütz, using the kaleidoscope as a coded allusion to Schubert, writes as follows in a newsletter dated 10 September 1818:
The undersigned has the honor of faithfully informing the venerated public that he has for sale a kind of kaleidoscope (also known as looking-through-tube) with the unique property that one can use it to see through all kinds of clothing. The great benefit of this optical device should be apparent to everybody since it discloses some items that are at present carefully kept hidden. Especially for young men who like to go walking on the Graben.
Today the Graben is filled with expensive shops, but in Schubert's time it was associated with prostitutes, the notorious "Graben nymphs." In another account, Josef Kupelwieser warns that the kaleidoscope can have a strong effect not only on the eyes, but also on the nose. He may be alluding to an advanced stage of syphilis in which the nose is eaten away. It is known that Schubert eventually contracted this disease, most likely in late 1822—probably through contact with a prostitute. The exact nature of Schubert's illness was hushed up by his contemporaries, but Wilhelm von Chézy, whose mother, Helmina, in 1823 penned the text to the drama with incidental music Rosamunde (D797), came close to revealing this in his recollection of the composer, published in 1841: "Schubert adored women and wine. Unfortunately this taste had caused him to stray into wrong paths from which he could no longer find his way back alive." Indeed, as we shall see, there is enough evidence provided by the surviving Nonsense Society materials to suggest strongly that Schubert was already using prostitutes in 1817.
Kupelwieser's caricature also alludes to Schubert's work as an assistant at the school where his father was headmaster, for it shows him carrying a stick. This attribute—associated with the disciplining stick used by teachers, sometimes known as a "Spanish rod"—occurs repeatedly in the newsletters, again pointing to the composer. For example, the issue dated 24 September 1818 describes the invention of a new machine called the Hiebeidoskopf—a play on the words Hiebe (blows, strokes) and Kaleidoskop—whereby a quantity of installed Spanish rods could give out the desired number of blows. The machine could also be used to beat the dust from clothing. Directly following is a newsletter article by Josef Kupelwieser describing the search for a theater librettist and the conditions under which he is to serve. The article closes as follows: "A composer is also required, under similar terms, except that he must also clean the boots and clothes of the director." Thus, in this encoded manner, a composer (Schubert) is associated with both the kaleidoscope and the stick. The stick occurs again in connection with "Ritter Zimbal" (Knight Cimbalom), in a newsletter dated 5 November 1818: here Schubert's code name follows the phrase "25 blows with a stick on the backside of a Hungarian soldier." What is more, a long serial drama by Schnautze Redacteur that appeared in the last five surviving newsletters (dated 12 November to 10 December 1818) satirizes Schubert as a Genie (genius) who flies out of a Schublade (a drawer) to the sound of music. After being transformed into a stick, this Genie warns about how dangerous it is to consort with a prostitute, disguised as a seductive woman in white.
Excerpted from Franz Schubert And His World by Christopher H. Gibbs, Morten Solvik. Copyright © 2014 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments vii
Permissions and Credits xvii
Schubert: The Nonsense Society Revisited 1
Excerpts from Beyträge zur Bildung für Jünglinge, 1817-1818 39
ANTON VON SPAUN AND JOHANN MAYRHOFER
TRANSLATED, INTRODUCED, AND ANNOTATED BY DAVID GRAMIT
"Those of us who found our life in art": The Second-Generation 67
Romanticism of the Schubert-Schober Circle, 1820-1825
JOHN M. GINGERICH
Schubert’s Kosegarten Settings of 1815: A Forgotten Liederspiel 115
The Queen of Golconda, the Ashman, and the Shepherd on a Rock: Schubert and the Vienna Volkstheater 157
Liszt on Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella 183
INTRODUCED AND TRANSLATED BY ALLAN KEILER
Schubert’s Freedom of Song, If Not Speech 201
Schubert’s Tombeau de Beethoven: Decrypting the Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 100 241
CHRISTOPHER H. GIBBS
Schubert in History 299
Notes on Contributors 363