Though he died in his early thirties, Austrian composer Franz Schubert managed to leave behind a large body of work. That someone working nearly two hundred years ago could create music that is still popular today is, if nothing else, a testament to the staying power of one man’s creative ability. But who exactly was this composer who associated with political dissidents and worked in the shadow of the great Beethoven?
Schubert is painted as a man who always knew he wanted to be a composer even if many of the trivialities of life managed to get in the way. From his unhappy days as a school teacher to his more productive time under various patronages, Schubert was first and foremost a composer. Even as his circle of friends had him out drinking and arguing at inconvenient hours, Schubert maintained a commitment to his work that stretched beyond occasionally frayed relationships. And many of Schubert’s relationships can be said to have been frayed. While scholars still debate Schubert’s sexual preferences, the Schubert of the novel is unrepentant in his love of men, particularly men who were loud and boisterous.
The composer’s circle of friends and lovers were, after all, a tumultuous mix of the angry and creative, a mix that brought enough attention from the Austrian authorities to warrant arrest. As Schubert states about his friend Senn “It was his passion which drew me to him, but it was his passion which brought him down in the end, as I witnessed.” Schubert uses the arrest to reflect on a time when, as a child, he was caught playing jacks with a French soldier during Napolean’s first invasion, much to the consternation of his mother. “I couldn’t understand; he was just a man in a uniform, that was all, and I was better at jacks than he was.” Constantly at odds with the realities of the world, the novel is at its best when Schubert’s artistic soul must reconcile with unhappy political climates and death.
Though occasionally clogged with the obvious, such as when Schubert compares himself to Beethoven (e.g. “He always felt so awkward and stupid when he compared himself to Beethoven”), Schubert nevertheless emerges as a believable figure, both liberated and trapped by the time in which he lived. Not much may actually be known about Schubert’s personal life but the rendering given is enough to fill in just who the man behind works such as the Winterreise might have been. Gentle and longing with his romances though voracious and committed with his work, the Schubert presented is one who “turned up his wet face and sang his tune to the clouds, which answered with a slow ceasing of the rain, as if nature herself were falling silent to listen to his music.”
Reviewed by Collin Marchiando for IndieReader