Supremely Happy Hours

The Gay Love Letters of Franz Schubert


Portrait of Franz Schubert aged 16, by Leopold Kupelwieser

Franz Schubert's (1797–1828) best friends were the brothers Anselm and Josef Hüttenbrenner from Graz. Schubert dedicated "The Trout" quintet to Josef, the younger brother. He and Schubert lodged together for a time in the same house, and he was responsible for collecting together many songs that would otherwise have been lost. Anselm met Schubert while they were both pupils of Salieri, and he gave up the study of law to devote himself to music. When his father died in 1821 he moved to the family property in Graz, and visited Vienna only one more time during Schubert's lifetime. Another close friend was Johann Mayrhofer, with whom Schubert shared the same room in Vienna for two years, when Schubert was twenty-seven and Mayrhofer was seventeen. Mayrhofer wrote the text for many of Schubert's songs. In 1816 Schubert expressed terror at the idea of marriage, and virtually all of his social life was spent drinking with fellow male students and musicians. His contemporaries acknowledged that he led a riotous bohemian life but that he was also misogynistic, which some modern interpreters have seen as a veiled allusion to his participation in the gay subculture of Vienna. In late 1822 some friends persuaded him to visit a brothel, where he contacted syphilis (presumably from a female prostitute) which put him in hospital the following year and lead to his death five years later. Tragic despair informs his "Unfinished Symphony" and the Winterreise song-cycle during these painful last years of his life. His friend Mayrhofer took his own life a few years after Schubert's death.


DEDICATION TO JOSEF HÜTTENBRENNER WITH MS COPY OF "THE TROUT"

Vienna
21st February, 1818
12 o'clock at night

Dearest friend,
          I am exceedingly pleased that you like my songs. As a proof of sincerest friendship I am sending you yet another, which I have just written at midnight at Anselm Hüttenbrenner's. I wish that we could pledge our friendship in a glass of punch! Vale.
          Just now when I wanted to sprinkle sand quickly over the thing, I took up instead, half drunk with sleep, the ink-stand and poured it all over. What a disaster!

FRANZ SCHUBERT TO ANSELM HÜTTENBRENER

Vienna
19th March, 1818

Dear Hüttenbrenner,
          Please do your utmost to be at home next Thursday afernoon, the 19th of the month that is, at 3 o'clock, so that I can come and call for you, and we can then go on to the Kunzes togther. If you should not have time – but that would badly upset my plans – then leave word for me with your landlord. This is the urgent request of your friend,
                              Franz Schubert

Vienna
21st January, 1819

Dear old friend,
          Are you still alive? When I consider how long it is since you have been away and since you have written and how faithlessly you have abandoned us, I really feel obliged to ask.
          The last hope of your return has now flickered out. What on earth keeps you bound hand and foot in that cursed Grätz? Have you fallen under some spell that holds you captive in its terrible ban, and makes you forget all the rest of the world? I had, indeed, a presentiment when I kissed you good-bye that you would not be coming back so soon again.
          You have composed two symphonies: that is good. You let us see nothing of them: that is not good. You should really let your old friend hear something of you now and again.
          What has become of all those supremely happy hours that we once spent togther? Perhaps you do not think of them any more. But how often do I! You will have heard that otherwise everything is going very well with me.
          I wish you with all my heart the same.
          Be my friend always and do not forget
                    Your
                              Schubert
          Write to me really soon.

Vienna
19th May, 1819

Dear friend,
          A rogue – that's what you are!!! Ten years will probably slip past before you see Vienna again. First one girl and then another turns his head. Oh, may the devil take the lot, if you let them bewitch you so! For God's sake get married, and then there will be an end of it. – You certainly can say like Caesar: Rather the first in Grätz than the second in Vienna. Well, be that as it may, I am in a raging fury that you are not here. The proverb quoted above applies even more to Cornet than to you. God give him joy of it! Finally I shall come to Grätz as well and play the rival to you. – There is little news here. If one hears anything good it is sure to be old. – . . .
          I cannot think of anything else now. Work hard at your composition, and let us too have a share in it.
          Fare you well.
                    Your true friend,
                              Franz Schubert


SOURCE: Franz Schubert's Letters and Other Writings, ed. Otto Erich Deutsch, trans. Venetia Savile (London: Faber & Gwyer, 1928).


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