On the many, many songs of Franz Schubert

In 1827 the composer Hummel visited Vienna and brought his sixteen-year-old student Ferdinand Hiller with him. After seeing Hummel deeply moved by hearing Schubert and singer Michael Vogl performing several of the songs, Hiller dropped in on Schubert’s home the next morning.

There he saw piles of finished manuscripts laying around, with another in progress on Schubert’s desk. He exclaimed, “You compose a great deal!” Schubert answered simply and seriously, “I compose every morning. When I finish one piece I start on another”

He wrote his first song, “Hagars Klage,” in March 1811 and his last, “Der Hirt auf Felsen,” in October 1828. In all, he wrote more than 600 songs. So he wrote on the average perhaps 35 songs a year or three per month, not to mention all of his piano music, chamber music, church music, orchestral music, and several  operas. How could he keep track of everything?

As another incident shows, he didn’t. Once he delivered several songs to Vogl to see how he liked them. Vogl especially liked one that was too high for his voice, so he transposed it to a more comfortable key and had a professional copyist prepare  a new manuscript.

About two weeks later, when Vogl and Schubert were making music together, one or the other of them proposed looking at something new. Vogl got out the transposed manuscript. Schubert played it while Vogl sang. Schubert exclaimed, “That’s a good song. Who wrote it?”

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