Quotes about Schubert

There are many, many quotes about Schubert. Some are very positive, others are much less so. Some are by people who knew him well, and others are from people who only know him from his music. On this page we have a few of our favourite quotes about Schubert, and some quotes that are so well known that they just have to be here. We hope you find some that inform, amuse or delight you.

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Truly, in Schubert there dwells a divine spark!
by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Quoted by Anton Schindler, Beethoven's factotum, in Musikalische Nachrichten, Vienna 3 May 1831. Given in an English translation in Schubert Memoirs by his Friends, p307.

The art of music here entombed a rich possession, but even far fairer hopes.
by Franz Grillparzer

Franz Grillparzer, the Austrian poet, was in Schubert's circle. He was asked to provide an inscription for Schubert's first tomb at the Währinger Friedhof, and this was the chosen text (the rejected inscriptions have been preserved, and are on display in the Death House Museum in Vienna). It provoked controversy because many people thought it undervalued what Schubert had already achieved.

If I wished to instruct him in anything fresh, he already knew it. Consequently I gave him no actual tuition but merely conversed with him and watched him with silent astonishment.
by Michael Holzer

Michael Holzer was the choirmaster at the church in Lichtenthal where the Schubert family worshipped. He was the first musician outside Schubert's family to teach Schubert. Holzer is quoted in an obituary written by Schubert's brother Ferdinand entitled Aus Franz Schuberts Leben and printed in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Leipzig, in 1839.

...this heaven-inspired clairvoyant who, as it were, simply shook his most glorious things out of his sleeve.
by Karl von Schönstein.

Schönstein, an aristocrat, was an admired singer of Schubert's songs, who helped to spread the word about Schubert by singing at private musical parties. He was the dedicatee of Die schöne Müllerin. His comment articulated a view prevalent in several of Schubert's friends who did not understand Schubert's compositional processes. From notes Schönstein sent to Ferdinand Luib, who was preparing a biography. Given in an English translation in Schubert Memoirs by his Friends, p102.

...he sang the whole of the Winterreise through to us. We were quite dumbfounded by the gloomy mood of these songs and Schober said he had only liked one song, Der Lindenbaum. To which Schubert only said, "I like these songs more than all the others and you will get to like them too".
by Josef von Spaun.

Spaun was one of Schubert's best and most constant friends, from the time they met soon after Schubert arrived at the Stadtkonvikt to a few days before he died. Schubert was right, of course! From notes Spaun made for Luib and Kreissle. Given in an English translation in Schubert Memoirs by his Friends, p138.

My love for Schubert is a very serious one, probably just because it is not a fleeting fancy. Where is genius like his, which soars aloft so boldly and surely, where we then see the first few enthroned? To me he is like a child of the gods, who plays with Jupiter's thunder, albeit also occasionally handling it oddly. But he plays in such a region, at such a height, to which the others are far short of raising themselves...
by Johannes Brahms

The composer Brahms was a great fan of Schubert, promoting his works, helping with the editing of the Schubert Complete Works for his birth centenary, and collecting Schubert manuscripts. From a letter from Brahms to Schubring, in June 1863.

Perhaps a more overrated man than this Schubert never existed. He has certainly written a few good songs. But what then? Has not every composer who ever composed written a few good songs? And out of the thousand and one with which Schubert deluged the musical world it would indeed be hard if some half-dozen were not tolerable. And when that is said, all is said that can justly be said about Schubert.
by James William Davison

Davison, on the other hand, was clearly not a fan! From an article in Musical World, June 13th 1844. At that time many of what we now think of as Schubert's finest instrumental works had still not yet been published.

Good God, it makes one's blood boil to think of so fine and rare a genius, one of the ten or twelve topmost men in the world, in want of even the common necessaries of life. Failure, disappointment, depreciation, and suchlike shocks and wounds of the heart and soul, these are the necessary accompaniments of a fine intellect and a sensitive heart; but to want the ordinary comforts and amenities of life, to want bread, it is too dreadful to think of.
by Sir George Grove

Grove, editor of the famous dictionary that still bears his name, was a great Schubert fan, and this undoubtedly clouded his judgement from time to time. His biography of Schubert in the first edition of his Dictionary of Music and Musicians shows that he believed in most of the 'old wives tales' about Schubert, and even invented his own, especially with his argument for a 'lost' symphony from Gstein/Gmunden from 1825, which scholarship from the first SIUK chairman, John Reed, finally showed was actually the Symphony #9 in C major ('Great'), D944. From Groves' appendix to the English translation of Kreissle von Hellborn's biography by Coleridge.

...le musicien le plus poëte qui fut jamais.
 (...the most poetic musician that ever lived).
by Franz Liszt

The composer Liszt was another composer who promoted Schubert, especially with his transcriptions of Schubert songs to piano solos and his willingness to stage the first performance of Schubert's Alfonso und Estrella. This quote comes from a long letter from Liszt printed in the French journal Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris, 2nd September 1838.

Schubert's musical brain is a wonder of improbability, even more so than the invertebrate's eye.
by Richard Dawkins

A remark from his book The God Delusion by the eminent evolutionary biologist.

One rubs one's eyes. Compared with Schubert's pen, Aladdin's lamp seems a poor affair.
by Daniel Gregory Mason

Mason, an American composer, was chairman of the committee to oversee the celebrations for the Schubert death centenary in America in 1928. This remark was quoted by Robert Haven Schauffler in his biography of Schubert, p32.

At the Crystal Palace there is an understanding among the regular frequenters that a performance of Schubert's symphony in C is one of the specialities of the place. The analytic programme of it is one of Sir George Grove's masterpieces - and Mr Manns [the conductor] always receives a special ovation at the end. The band rises to the occasion with its greatest splendour; and I have to make a point of looking pleased, lest Sir George should turn my way and, reading my innermost thoughts, cut me dead for ever afterwards. For it seems to me all but wicked to give the public so irresistible a description of all the manifold charms and winningness of this astonishing symphony and not tell him, on the other side of the question, the lamentable truth that a more exasperatingly brainless composition was never put on paper.
by George Bernard Shaw

Before he made his name as a playwright, George Bernard Shaw earned his living as a music critic. It would appear tht he was not a fan! Published in The World, 23 March 1892.

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