Franz Schubert’s immense outpouring of songs, sonatas, symphonies and chamber works netted him only about $12,500 (current dollars) during his lifetime.
At the time, the concept of “music publishing” was only first coming into being, and many composers had no way of capitalizing on their talents.
Schubert simply gave away the rights to his great works, often for a meal, a few dollars, a room for a few nights.
By contrast, Beethoven was an excellent businessman, and negotiated his own lucrative publishing contracts with all the major publishers of Europe. Beethoven was one of the first composers to make a success out of music publishing, and had amassed a small fortune.
Schubert may have been the worst businessman of any of the great composers, and perhaps the first Bohemian artist, having reputedly once traded a symphony to pay his bill at the local bakery, hence the famous story about him selling a piano sonata for a cream puff.
Schwammerl, (Tubby) as he was known to his many fiercely loyal friends, preferred coffee and hot chocolate and hot rolls, and lots of wine.
He had a private booth at the local pub, and once was said to have written the theme to one of his string quartets on the back of a restaurant tab.
Schubert never owned a piano, never rented one, and didn’t need one to compose.
Schubert didn’t even have an apartment, so where would he put a piano, anyway?
He could compose anywhere.
In fact one of the few things we know Schubert said was to a friend, whom he told, “The state should support me. I have come into the world for no purpose but to compose.”
But it was Schubert’s many friends, many of them aristocrats, who, recognizing his genius, gave him their homes as their own.
Schubert repaid his aristocratic friends with a constant stream of masterpieces that were premiered in their lavish living rooms and ballrooms, dedicated to them, eventually making their names immortal.
Schubert once met Beethoven and showed him several manuscripts with trembling hand. The aging, gruff master Beethoven is said to have softened and remarked, “Truly, he has the divine fire.”
Schubert was perhaps one of the first hippies or socialists, and was in no way a member of the establishment. It was Viennese society who sought him out, but he returned their affection with indifference, so absorbed was he in composing.
He and two equally poverty-stricken artist friends started an enclave in which there was no private, personal property. They were the predecessors of the “Wandervogel,” a youth movement that advocated sharing and getting away from urban areas into the wild.
They each shared what the other had.
Whoever had money at the moment was in charge of paying the bills.
Schubert, admitted to the immortal pantheon of the great composers, was alone among them a pauper, an outsider and a failure.
He was never a member of the smart social set, and never aspired to be admired by the aristocracy.
He lived a short but merry life and died all too soon, at the age of thirty-one.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press