Beethoven conquered deafness to compose before his mysterious death
Richard Strauss survived two world wars pushing the boundaries of decency
Franz Schubert died penniless despite composing classics such as Ave Maria
Johannes Brahms died a celebrity after 15 years of writing his first symphony
Known for his emotional sonatas and symphonies – and his terrible rages – Beethoven kept producing awe-inspiring works even after he lost his hearing
We join Beethoven, 29, living in Vienna. He is already a successful composer of piano concertos and violin sonatas, with rich patrons funding his career.
11 March 1800 Yesterday I took part in a musical duel. It was organised by Prince Lobkowitz, a great musical patron in Vienna.
He thought it would be fun if I challenged his protégé Daniel Steibelt, the pianist, to an improvisation contest. So much fuss has been made of Steibelt’s prowess, I couldn’t refuse.
Prince Lichnowsky, who has supported me greatly, pointed out he had just bestowed upon me a large annuity and wanted his money’s worth by seeing me defeat Lobkowitz’s man.
Weekend unveils the secret diary entries of the world’s greatest composers. Beethoven (depicted) premiered First Symphony, a work in C major in April 1800 before he began losing his hearing
Steibelt went first and all the ladies thought him superb. I did not. It was showy, empty nonsense.
The rules in these duels are that you listen to your opponent’s effort, then improve upon it.
Within 20 bars of my own effort, which deliciously mocked his fingerwork, he stormed out, vowing never to return to Vienna. I have slain my opponent. The best man won.
3 April 1800 I premiered my First Symphony, a work in C major, yesterday, in a programme that included some Haydn and a Mozart symphony.
Towards the end, I did some piano improvisation: the audience expects it.
The symphony went down excellently and the takings on the door were very healthy, though I heard mutterings of my work being too heavy on the wind instruments. Really!
29 June 1801 Walking along the Danube, I saw a blackbird open its mouth, but I couldn’t hear its song. Dear God, I fear that my hearing, which has been weakening for some time in my left ear, may be becoming critical.
I hear buzzing and humming where there should be silence, and silence where there should be song. I’ve tried almond oil and tepid baths, but nothing helps.
21 July 1801 I was up, as usual, at 5am to work hard on my piano sonata [christened the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ five years after his death].
I’m striving to capture, especially in the slow opening passage, the heart and its sense of yearning, such as that – dare I say – I feel for Countess Giulietta Guicciardi. She’s my pupil, aged 19 and a rare beauty.
I stand little chance; she is a countess, I’m a music teacher’s son. Though surely we live in modern times? I hope I live to see the day when such distinctions are meaningless.
Beethoven would avoid venturing out in fear of bumping into someone and being unable to comprehend what they say
24 May 1802 I’ve come to Heiligenstadt, a peaceful village north of Vienna, on the advice of Dr Johann Schmidt, who says I need to escape the city and avoid all work to improve my hearing.
This is intolerable. Without my work, my life is hollow. But my soul is soothed by the orchards here, which are in full blossom.
17 June 1802 Heiligenstadt is a balm. No one knows me. I can avoid all society without appearing rude. In Vienna I rarely venture out for fear I’ll bump into someone and not be able to comprehend what they say.
In another profession I might cope with this infirmity, but it’s a terrible handicap! If my enemies knew of my deafness, what terrible mischief they’d make.
14 July 1802 I can’t help it. I’m working every day in Heiligenstadt. I have finished a violin sonata, two piano sonatas and my Second Symphony – a piece with verve.
My breakfast, lunch and dinner is music. Maybe this country sojourn is making me stronger.
To create true art out of music, to reveal the mysteries of creation – is that not God’s purpose?
3 October 1802 To what depths I have sunk. I am deaf. I am deaf. I am deaf. I can no longer escape it. Withered on the vine, my hearing, the most treasured of my senses, has gone.
How can I partake of company when, if we were to walk together and they hear a shepherd singing, I would hear nothing? Nothing.
I’ve come so close to ending my life. It’s only my art that holds me back. I have within me more art, and it is my duty to usher that into the world.
I shall return to Vienna and, by the grace of God, produce more.
June 1804 News reaches that Napoleon Bonaparte has declared himself Emperor of France and wishes to be crowned by the pope.
Beethoven (portrayed in 1820) wanted a modern, large orchestra for people to hear his music instead of stately homes
Perfidy! I had hoped Bonaparte would usher in liberty across Europe. But he is the basest of men.
He, too, will tread underfoot all the rights of Man, indulge only his ambition, and become a tyrant! I had dedicated my Third Symphony, so nearly finished, to him.
No more! I have torn his name off the title page. I will call it Eroica [Heroic] instead.
December 1804 Eroica has been heard in public for the first time, at Prince Lobkowitz’s palace – in his drawing room.
I worry these stately homes aren’t the best places to hear my music; we need to find a building that can house a modern, large orchestra.
My beloved former pupil, the incomparable Josephine Brunsvik, was there. She’s widowed, after Count Deym died earlier this year.
Oh, to ask her to consider me to be her new husband! But she dare not risk losing her status, title and guardianship of her children for a humble composer.
Why do I fall for women I cannot have?
She loved the funeral march in the second movement. She said it is a worthy memorial to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It is a lament for liberty.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
BORN December 1770 (exact date unknown), Bonn, Germany.
DIED 26 March 1827, aged 56, Vienna, Austria.
FAMILY One of seven children born to Johann, a singer who also gave music lessons, and Maria Magdalena.
Only three of the children survived beyond infancy.
A towering figure who battled alcoholism, illness, an unhappy love life and a final decade of deafness to make some of the most famous works ever written.
His Fifth Symphony has the most famous opening notes in classical music, while his Ninth ends with the glorious ‘Ode To Joy’.
4 December 1805 Napoleon has defeated Austria at Austerlitz. What a calamity! Vienna will soon be awash with French troops; the price of everything is rising alarmingly.
Prince Lichnowsky says I should escape with him to his estate in Silesia. He is a rare thing in his social class – he does not see me as a composer who serves his court, but as an equal. He’s one of my most faithful friends and loyal patrons.
16 September 1806 Lichnowsky is an intolerable fool. He insists on toadying to the French and has invited Napoleon’s officers to his estate.
What a scene was caused last week by his insistence on treating these men like conquering heroes. He asked me to perform for them in his ballroom.
When I refused, he tried to pull rank. ‘Do not forget who is the prince and who is the teacher’s son from Bonn,’ he said.
In a rage I picked up a dining chair to smash over his head. The intervention of Count Oppersdorff prevented me from spilling Lichnowsky blood.
I stormed out and returned to Vienna. On entering my apartment I found the bust of the lumpen Lichnowsky, which he had given me and was atop my dresser.
I took great pleasure in smashing it to the ground. Two days later and I have not calmed down.
I can’t believe I dedicated my Second Symphony to him. He forgets – there are hundreds of princes in Europe but only one Beethoven.
23 December 1808 What can I say about last night? I spent months organising my benefit concert, determined to improve my finances since the battle of Austerlitz caused prices to soar.
I’ve been so busy trying to pack out the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, which can fit nearly 2,000, to make a good return, but I couldn’t afford to heat it – which was foolish as it was devilishly cold.
Beethoven (depicted) angrily smashing the bust of his friend Prince Lichnowsky after an argument as he battled with rage
The concert started at half past six. By the time it finished at half past ten, some had left to find warmth.
No matter. I premiered my Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and my fourth piano concerto – I was the soloist, even though it is a supreme effort to hear the orchestra.
I fear my performing days are over. I offered up The Gloria from my Mass In C and finished the night with another new work: Fantasy For Piano, Orchestra And Chorus.
The orchestra struggled – they had refused to rehearse with me. I fail to understand why players object to my criticism. It’s always helpful.
The Fantasy finished with a poem celebrating the power of music to bring peace and joy. Is that not what I do every day?
I was pleased with how my Fifth Symphony went down. Those opening notes, the hammer blows, I could feel in my bones even if I couldn’t hear them.
Are those notes fate knocking on the door? I don’t know; I know I want my art to help people glimpse the infinite.
5 July 1812 I’m in Teplitz, in Bohemia, taking the waters to improve my health. I was thinking of travelling to Karlsbad for a few precious hours with Antonie Brentano, the arts patron who lights every Viennese salon.
She’s in Karlsbad for the summer. But that’s foolish: she’s married to a merchant. Another woman whose heart I cannot capture.
All of Prague and Vienna have come to Teplitz for the summer. The Hapsburg royal family, to whom you have to bow and scrape, are around every corner.
What rot! But I did meet the poet Johann Goethe, a god among men. If my music can match his poetry, I’ve achieved all I desire.
6 July 1812 I couldn’t sleep last night. I only think of my beloved Antonie – her precious love has made me the happiest, and the unhappiest, man. Could we ever be together? I fear not.
Beethoven (depicted) died soon after starting work on Tenth Symphony of unknown causes
January 1813 I’ve asked Johann Maelzel, ingenious inventor of mechanical devices like the metronome, to make me some ear trumpets – I hope they help me, but I fear it’s too late.
Between 1813 and 1822 Beethoven continued to write, but his output slowed considerably.
February 1822 The pain in my chest has incapacitated me for weeks and I struggle to write. Wine dulls it a little.
April 1822 I’m working on my Ninth Symphony. I want to use voices, and I’ve found the perfect words for them to sing: poet Friedrich Schiller’s Ode To Joy.
A suitably German work. Vienna is obsessed with Italian composers such as Rossini, all trills, ruffs and silliness.
Piano Sonata No 14 In C Sharp Minor, ‘Moonlight Sonata’, 1801
One of 32 sonatas, and his best-known work for solo piano, it starts with a dreamy, slow movement.
Symphony No 3 In E Flat Major, The Eroica [‘The Heroic’], 1804
Dynamic Romantic music, it is considered the greatest symphony of all time.
Symphony No 5 In C Minor, 1808
Starts with the most famous four bars in classical music. It’s often adapted, including for the disco track A Fifth Of Beethoven, used in Saturday Night Fever.
Symphony No 9 In D Minor, ‘Choral’, 1824
Beethoven’s last complete symphony includes the glorious final movement, the Ode To Joy.
I desire to celebrate mankind. And using poetry with an orchestra is the new art form we need. Not music, not words, but both together!
10 November 1822 Anton Schindler, my secretary, is making a fuss about my rooms, saying, ‘No normal man can work amid dirty plates, discarded clothes and wine bottles’. I am no normal man. Without wine I cannot write.
February 1824 I was determined that my Ninth Symphony should premiere in Berlin: a German city for a German masterpiece.
But friends have petitioned me to stage it in Vienna, so the Theater am Kärntnertor will have it. And I shall conduct, even though it is 12 years since I’ve been on a stage.
8 May 1824 I may not hear, but I can feel sounds. Last night I felt the great eruption as the chorus sang Ode To Joy. Remarkable.
At the end, the contralto Caroline Unger, who performed perfectly, turned me round to see the applause.
I hadn’t realised an audience could love it so. Handkerchiefs, hats, all sorts were thrown into the air, and we had five standing ovations.
18 December 1826 I’m in great pain and the doctors must cut open my abdomen to reduce swelling.
27 February 1827 The pain is intolerable and the doctors treat me like a carcass on a butcher’s chopping block.
2 March 1827 I’ve started work on a Tenth Symphony, but I fear I may not be able to finish it.
He died soon after, but the exact cause of death is unknown.
Sensual dancing, bawdy tales… Richard Strauss pushed the boundaries of decency in his work, and the public loved it
We join him in 1884 in Berlin, as a 20-year-old conductor recently taken under the wing of Hans von Bulow, the finest conductor of his generation.
18 November 1884 Tonight I am to stand on a podium for the first time and conduct a piece I have written for Hans von Bulow’s orchestra. His appreciation of my talent is moving.
1 August 1886 I’m back in Munich after spending four months in Italy. I travelled from Bologna to Naples, and on to Rome then the charming island of Capri.
I’ve sketched out a symphonic fantasy that incorporates the sounds and folk tunes of Italy: Aus Italien. It’s a timid experiment at a tone poem, the sort that Liszt wrote.
2 March 1887 I conducted the premiere of Aus Italien in Munich. Someone told me there were catcalls and jeering from the audience but I didn’t hear any; I thought it a grand success.
Richard Strauss (depicted with a dancer from Salome) had to keep correcting the tenor of his first opera who struggled with the final scene of Act I
24 January 1888 The Berlin audience is much more appreciative than in Munich. I had to take a bow at the end of each movement of Aus Italien, it was remarkable.
Glorious. The difference between North German intelligence and South German philistinism!
6 February 1892 Music critic Otto Neitzel has called me the ‘outstanding living composer’. Well, who else is there? Bruckner? Tchaikovsky? Are they as interesting? I think not.
12 March 1894 Rehearsals today for my first opera, Guntram, were eventful. I had to keep interrupting Heinrich Zeller, the tenor, who just cannot nail the final scene of Act I.
He says there are too many notes. In the afternoon, the soprano, my pupil Pauline de Ahna, complained that she had not been interrupted.
I told her she was perfect and did not need interruptions. She replied, ‘But I want to be interrupted!’ then threw the piano score at me, stormed off the stage and locked herself in the dressing room.
I had to chase after her. Once I returned, the musicians asked if I had reprimanded Pauline; I replied, ‘I’m going to marry her!’ That shut them up.
I’ve been in love with her for some time. She’s very complex, a little perverse, a little coquettish but I think we shall be very happy together.
10 September 1894 Today, I married my beloved Pauline. She has told me she will not be a housewife; I don’t want her to be.
I wish her to remain my harshest critic, my musical soulmate, a voice for whom I write great music.
18 April 1896 I’m working hard on Thus Spake Zarathustra, a tone poem based on the philosophy of Nietzsche.
I hope my prologue, Sunrise, captures his idea of the individual entering the world, or the world entering them. If you can’t achieve that with an orchestra, why are you writing music?
Richard Strauss (pictured in 1894) believed his Salome was the greatest creation in Europe of the decade and would change opera forever
27 November 1896 The premiere of Zarathustra tonight in Frankfurt was an event of great importance – and a glorious triumph.
It is the most perfect of my pieces, rich in content, and individual in character. It deserves to be heard in America and across Europe.
Germans are only interested in light and agreeable pieces. I don’t want to compose for that miserable bunch, but for people who understand great art.
9 February 1903 I’ve returned to Berlin again to see Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, about the woman who demanded John the Baptist’s head on a plate.
Decadent Berlin adores Wilde, particularly since he was jailed for indecency; his death three years ago has only made him more of a star here, unlike in buttoned-up Britain, where his name isn’t mentioned in polite society – ludicrous!
This is a play that needs music and I am the man to discover that music. It has everything: sex, death, lust, decapitation, dance, drama. What an opera it would make – oh, how it would shake audiences to their core!
BORN 11 June 1864, Munich,
DIED 8 September 1949, aged 85, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
FAMILY Son of Franz, principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich, and Josephine.
Born into the steam age and dying in the atomic one, he lived through two world wars and the rise of Nazi Germany.
He was a leading conductor and writer of songs, operas and tone poems – music to illustrate the words of a poem or story – such as Thus Spake Zarathustra, the ‘Sunrise’ opening of which was used in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
15 November 1904 Rehearsals of my Salome are going well, except Marie Wittich, in the title role, refuses to perform the Dance Of The Seven Veils, saying it is indecent. She’s so bourgeois. We’ll have to get a dancer in.
10 December 1905 After months of delay, Salome premiered last night, in Dresden. The audience was ecstatic, completely scandalised, engrossed – 38 curtain calls.
The greatest artistic creation Europe has seen this decade. I’ve changed opera for ever.
20 February 1911 Special trains are being laid on to take audiences to Der Rosenkavalier [The Knight Of The Rose] in Dresden.
It’s my new opera, a fine comedy, that some say is a pastiche of Mozart. Yes, it’s set in old Vienna, yes it’s bawdy, but it’s a wonderful showcase of the female voice, and a clever work on sex and class.
Isn’t the best art about sex and class? Milan, Rome, Vienna: all clamouring to put it on. A huge success!
31 July 1914 I’m absolutely convinced there will be no ‘World War’. There’s talk of delaying my opera Die Frau Ohne Schatten [The Woman Without A Shadow], but that would be most tedious.
Hugo von Hofmannsthal, my long-term librettist, has been called up as a reservist. This is intolerable. Just because an archduke has been shot.
11 December 1919 I’ve accepted a job at the Vienna State Opera. It’s a poisoned chalice, but I need the money after losing all my savings in the war.
I’d invested heavily in Great Britain and the enemy sequestered it all. Fortunately, I’m being offered 80,000 krone a year [£48,000 today], plus 1,200 krone [£720] for each opera I conduct.
Strauss (as he might have looked) received a signed photo of Adolf Hitler for his 70th birthday
The staff have signed a letter to say my salary is exorbitant and ask if I have no sensitivities about the poverty in Vienna. Of course I do, but if they want talent, they’ll have to pay for it.
5 March 1933 The Nazi party have won the election. I find them contemptible. Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister, is a disgrace to German honour and the talk of Jews being worse than rats makes my skin crawl.
Franz, my son, is married to Alice, the daughter of a Jew. And Stefan Zweig, who is writing the libretto of my next opera, Die Schweigsame Frau [The Silent Woman], is a Jew too.
It will be a bright and breezy comedy, with a serious message about music being under threat. Apt for now.
18 March 1933 The authorities have asked me to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic, because my Jewish colleague Bruno Walter is blacklisted – his concert at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on the 16th was forbidden. I said yes.
I hate to see concerts cancelled. Zweig says I don’t appreciate the greatness of my position, as the father of Germany’s musical soul, and I shouldn’t give the Nazis respect.
12 November 1933 Goebbels has appointed me the president of the Reich Music Chamber. I didn’t have a choice in the matter, but if I can do good by being in charge of Germany’s musical life, is it so bad?
11 June 1934 My 70th birthday. Goebbels and Hitler have sent me signed photographs. The Fuhrer wrote on his: ‘To the great composer Richard Strauss, with deepest veneration, Adolf Hitler.’
He’s an ass, but at least he still appreciates musical talent.
26 June 1935 The authorities have insisted on taking Zweig’s name off the posters for Die Schweigsame Frau. I have said, ‘Under no circumstances.’ He’s written a fine libretto.
30 June 1935 After just three shows, the opera is now banned. I’ve appealed, but they are ignoring me.
Don Juan, a tone poem, 1888
A short but exciting piece for an orchestra, about the amorous Don Juan.
Thus Spake Zarathustra, a tone poem, 1896
Its nine sections are based on chapters in Nietzsche’s novel of the same name.
Salome, an opera, 1905
The shocking story based on Oscar Wilde’s play that made Strauss a star. Includes the Dance Of The Seven Veils.
Der Rosenkavalier, opera, 1911
A bittersweet comedy of romantic love set in Vienna.
Four Last Songs, 1948
Moving songs for soprano and an orchestra that face up to the approach of death.
I daren’t kick up too much fuss, for fear that Franz and Alice will be in trouble.
My dear grandsons Richard and Christian have already been beaten up for being ‘halfbreeds’. I want to protect my family.
10 March 1942 Pauline and I have settled in Vienna, where Nazi governor Baldur von Schirach promises he will keep Franz and Alice safe if I help restore Vienna’s cultural glory. What can I do with bombs falling and so few musicians able to perform?
3 October 1943 Munich has been bombed and the opera house, where I started my career, is destroyed. This is the greatest catastrophe of my life.
11 June 1944 My 80th birthday. I have fallen out of favour with the Nazis. Everything is collapsing. We have decided to return to our villa in Garmisch- Partenkirchen in Bavaria.
30 April 1945 American soldiers tried to requisition our villa. I told them I was the composer of Der Rosenkavalier and Salome, and they have kindly agreed to leave us alone.
7 October 1945 Pauline and I are subject to a ‘denazification’ tribunal, to determine whether we helped the Nazis. We’re exiled to Switzerland until this whole thing blows over.
10 June 1948 We have been exonerated. I’m now very old, but I have my music and my wife. Some things are untarnished from all the chaos of recent years.
I’m working on songs, based on works by the poet Hermann Hesse. They will go well with the setting of Im Abendrot [At Sunset] that I composed in May.
These four songs are my final work. And what is more apt than one called When Falling Asleep? They are a farewell to life, and a thank you to Pauline for her love.
I’m a tired soul longing to take flight into the night.
Soon after Strauss’s 85th birthday he began suffering heart failure and died. Pauline died eight months later.
WINE, WOMEN AND SONGS
Incredibly prolific and talented, Schubert seemed set for a long, glittering career – but his vices led him to an early grave
We join the 17-year-old Franz in 1814, still scratching a living as a primary school teacher in Vienna, and yearning after the local silk weaver’s daughter Therese Grob.
17 October 1814 I earn no money from teaching these wretched children their letters and sums – 80 florins a year [£2,000 today] is hardly enough to live on.
And there’s no way I’ll get permission to marry the lovely Therese Grob on that salary.
Oh, she is an angel! But the blasted Austrian law insists that I need to be able to prove I can support a family before they will grant a licence to marry.
At least during the afternoons I can compose in peace in the school room.
Schubert (depicted) worked as hard as he played, composing hundreds of songs in his short life before his death from typhoid fever
5 March 1815 I am writing like a demon. The cathedral has asked me to compose a Mass to celebrate its centenary.
I’ve asked if Therese can be the soloist; she has such a pure soprano voice to go with her buxom bosom.
Papa is so proud he has given me a piano as a celebration present for the commission. This is helping me to compose even more quickly.
16 October 1815 I wrote eight songs yesterday. My dear friend from my schooldays, Joseph von Spaun, says that my quill is on fire at the moment and if I carry on writing at this pace I will have composed 20,000 bars of music by the end of the year.
I’ve already finished two Masses, a symphony, a string quartet, about seven piano works and lots of songs. Oh, how I love setting the work of the great German poet Goethe to music.
5 March 1816 Spaun has written to Goethe on my behalf, sending the great man some of my songs. But we haven’t heard anything back.
23 April 1816 Goethe has sent back my songs without any comment. Nothing. Worse – I have just been told by Therese’s widowed mother that she cannot sanction a marriage on my pitiful salary.
Spaun and my other best friend, the poet Franz von Schober, helped me drown my sorrows at the inn.
They say I should give up teaching and become a full-time composer.
And Schober says the cure for a dark mood is always to be found in the bottom of a bottle and in the arms of a wench. But that is Schober’s answer to everything!
1 July 1818 I have landed a job! 76 florins a month [£1,900] to be musical tutor this summer to the two daughters of a certain Count Esterhazy.
He’s not the same Esterhazy who was patron to the composer Joseph Haydn, but a cousin of his, I think.
They say I will also have to partake in family musical entertainments. It sounds fun, though it is a beast of a journey to travel all the way to their summer estate in Zseliz, to the east.
8 July 1818 I have arrived at Zseliz. It is certainly different from Vienna. I am staying in their servants’ quarters, where my main companions are the cook, who is a bit of a rake, a lady’s maid, and Pipi, an exceptionally pretty chambermaid whom I intend to get to know better.
Shubert was heavily supported by Johann Michael Vogl who he believed was more successful than him
29 July 1818 What an idyllic existence. I rise from my bed early, I wander the gardens, have breakfast and then compose like a god for an hour before teaching Marie, 16, and Caroline, 13, who is the more talented of the two girls.
After lunch I have time to compose, then I tend to walk in the gardens, before I accompany the countess (a fine contralto) and the count (a decent bass but a terrible bore) for an hour’s worth of singing.
I return around 10pm to the servants’ quarters and the delights of Pipi. All good. Except I have run low on socks and had to write home for some more.
7 September 1818 I am starting to miss Vienna and the gossip of Schober, Spaun and the gang. But I am writing lots – a requiem and several piano duets since I’ve arrived.
I have run out of handkerchiefs, which is tedious. I must write home for more of those, too.
5 August 1819 I’ve been back in Vienna for just nine months and now Johann Michael Vogl, the baritone, has dragged me on holiday to Steyr in upper Austria.
Though he is 30 years older than me and more successful, he always goes out of his way to support me.
BORN 31 January 1797, Vienna, Austria.
DIED 19 November 1828, aged 31, in Vienna.
FAMILY He was the 12th child of 14 born to schoolmaster Franz and Maria, a housemaid.
He may have died young, but Schubert was a prolific composer of 600 songs or ‘lieder’, nine symphonies and superb chamber music.
He showed his talent early and at ten he joined the Imperial Court chapel choir. The diminutive (5ft 1in) Schubert followed his father into teaching, but hated it so much he turned to music.
Despite being hailed by many of his contemporaries as one of the best composers of his generation, he died penniless.
He says I deserve it after the success I have had this year with my songs being performed at public concerts.
There’s heavenly countryside here and such a pretty river. Vogl seems to know all sorts of people and has found us lodgings in a house with eight girls, nearly all of them pretty.
We are having such fun already – the flirting that goes on across the breakfast table!
8 August 1819 Most lunchtimes Vogl performs my songs at the house of Sylvester Paumgartner, who is a wealthy mine owner and not a bad cellist. Quite large audiences gather for these concerts.
15 August 1819 Another commission! I was talking to Paumgartner about how much I was enjoying the morning walks here in Steyr, and he suggested I should write a piano quintet using my song The Trout as the theme for some variations.
Why not? [Schubert’s Piano Quintet In A Major is commonly known as the Trout Quintet.]
21 November 1822 I have so far completed two movements of a new symphony in B minor, a key that I always associate with loneliness.
I am hoping it will have a tragic quality about it, but I’m struggling with the scherzo [a lively section of the piece].
Schober is banging at the door, insisting I come out to the tavern for an evening of fun.
He is shouting through the keyhole that to deny yourself pleasure is a sin. I will tackle the third movement tomorrow. Adieu, dear diary!
22 November 1822 My head feels like Marie Antoinette’s after the revolution. Last night was debauched and degraded and Schober dragged me off to a brothel. I hope I haven’t caught anything.
Gah! When will I ever finish this symphony?
2 January 1823 Not a good start to the new year. I feel terrible, have swollen glands and I still haven’t finished that B minor symphony.
Schubert’s ill health made him very melancholy in his final years as he desired nothing but to hear Beethoven’s String Quartet In C Sharp Minor
15 February 1823 The doctors have confirmed my worst fear – I have syphilis. B****y Schober and his women of the night! What hell am I in? I have been confined to my room and given a mercury ointment.
18 May 1823 I am in Vienna’s general hospital surrounded by fellow victims of venereal disease. My hair is falling out. My mood is blacker than coal.
12 February 1824 My health has taken a turn for the worse. My doctor insists that I adopt a regime whereby I must fast and refrain from drinking wine.
And then in three days I must alternate my daily meals between veal cutlets and a cooked dish of bread and water.
The only drink I am allowed is tea. The suffering… I am, at least, able to work and have just finished a string quartet with variations on my Death And The Maiden song, with its lyric, ‘Leave me thou grizzly man of bone!’
7 April 1824 Imagine a man whose health will never be right again and who is in sheer despair over this; imagine a man whose most brilliant hopes have perished, to whom the happiness of love and friendship have nothing to offer but pain at best, whose enthusiasm for all things beautiful threatens to disappear. I am a miserable, unhappy being.
29 March 1827 Oh blackest day. We buried the immortal Beethoven today. Will the world ever know another composer of his stature and almighty talent? I had the great honour of being one of the 36 torchbearers, holding a candle with black ribbons as we processed through Vienna.
11 October 1827 I have nearly finished the second cycle of my Winter Journey songs. Schober, Spaun and others say they are quite dumbfounded by their gloomy mood. So? These songs affect me so deeply. They will soon realise these are some of my finest works.
3 January 1828 I must get my head down and stop drinking. Eduard von Bauernfeld, my friend, the playwright, says that my name is on everybody’s lips and that I should not be so lazy.
He says I must put on a concert of my own work and that the public will scramble for tickets. One thing is true – if the concert is a hit, I might be able to put up my fees to publishers as everyone will want to buy my music.
The public know my songs such as Erlkönig, based on the Goethe poem about a child being carried off by a fairy king, and my duet Light And Love, but do they know my serious stuff?
27 March 1828 My concert was a big hit last night. It was the first anniversary of Beethoven’s death – a nice touch, no? – and the audience applauded me warmly.
Piano Quintet In A Major, ‘Trout’, 1819
Fun and inventive piece for piano and strings.
Symphony No 8 In B Minor, ‘Unfinished’, 1822
A dramatic and lyrical symphony of just two completed movements.
String Quartet No 14, ‘Death And The Maiden’, 1824
Harrowing and unrelenting, the best of Schubert’s late quartets.
Ave Maria, 1825
Played at the wedding of Harry and Meghan by cellist Sheku Kanneh- Mason, as requested by the bride.
Plus, I have pocketed a profit of 320 florins [£8,000]. Not bad at all. I hope the reviews are good.
9 May 1828 All of Vienna is in a frenzy for Niccolo Paganini, the violin virtuoso. I took my friend Bauernfeld to a performance last night. We shall never see the likes of him again. Diabolically heavenly.
Afterwards, we went to the tavern and drank too much – I picked up the tab. I still have stacks of money left over from my concert, but I heard that Paganini is able to charge five silver florins for each seat at his concerts.
Unbelievable! That is five times the going rate and his face appears on snuff boxes, handkerchiefs and silver canes already. Oh, to enjoy a tenth of his success.
7 June 1828 I am attempting to compose another Mass, but sometimes it seems to me that I no longer belong to this world.
29 September 1828 I have completed three piano sonatas and a string quartet in the last few weeks. The notes dance, but my body fails.
7 October 1828 My health is a little better and the doctor recommends fresh air. So I am on a three-day walking trip to visit Haydn’s grave in Eisenstadt with my brother Ferdinand and two friends. It is a 50-mile round trip.
19 October 1828 The Society of Friends of Music, Vienna’s most influential private musical society, plans to play my Symphony In C in December. I hope this could be my Paganini moment!
30 October 1828 A nasty incident with some fish in a tavern. I took one mouthful and had to spit it out: it tasted vile.
I am ill, I have eaten nothing for 11 days and drunk nothing. I totter feebly from my chair to bed and back again.
There is no pain, but I feel so exhausted that I feel I may fall through the bed.
4 November 1828 More doctors, more infernal doctors with their bills. I could have been a wealthy man, if it weren’t for the doctors’ bills.
14 November 1828 All my strength is leaving me. All I now desire is to hear the immortal Beethoven String Quartet In C Sharp Minor. Bauernfeld says he will hire some players. Good fellow.
Schubert died five days later of what is thought to have been typhoid fever, but he was also in the later stages of syphilis.
THE BRILLIANT BACKSTREET BOY
Brahms grew up among the poor, performing in drinking dens – and ended up a celebrity
The complex romantic life of Johannes Brahms – falling in love with unsuitable women and their daughters – can overshadow his legacy as a great composer.
During his lifetime, he was ranked as the third great German ‘B’ alongside Bach and Beethoven, though he attracted critics and enemies, not helped by the fact he could be prickly and argumentative. Tchaikovsky called him a ‘talentless b*****d’.
In recent decades he has fallen slightly out of fashion, compared with the other Bs. But the huge variety of his work – choral pieces, songs, a requiem, piano concertos, chamber music and symphonies – means he is still regarded as one of the finest composers of the 19th century. His music manages to be both traditional and innovative.
He was born in Hamburg in a poor neighbourhood, where cholera outbreaks were frequent. His father was a jobbing musician who played his trumpet and double bass in the music halls and drinking dens of Hamburg.
Johannes Brahms’s (depicted) German Requiem, completed in 1868 was considered groundbreaking at the time
As a child Johannes was a talented pianist who grew up performing in these seedy venues; by his teens he had graduated to concert halls and was scratching a living from performing in Hamburg and touring nearby towns.
His lucky break came, aged 20, when he met Joseph Joachim, a violin prodigy based in Hanover.
Joachim, two years older than Brahms and very successful, declared, ‘His compositions already betoken such power as I have seen in no other musician of his age’.
Joachim wrote to Robert Schumann, then one of Germany’s leading composers, urging him to meet the young Brahms.
BORN 7 May 1833, Hamburg, Germany.
DIED 3 April 1897, aged 63, Vienna, Austria.
In 1853, Brahms went to Dusseldorf to pay homage to Schumann. At this stage, Brahms was a far cry from the portly, heavily-bearded man he was to become.
It is this image of the grand old man of German music, with bushy whiskers, that many of us have of Brahms, mostly because he was photographed this way often in the 1890s.
But as a young man he was dashing, clean-shaven and devilishly handsome, with a mane of blond hair.
No wonder Schumann’s wife, Clara, then aged 34, is said to have fallen in love with him.
In 1854, after Schumann attempted suicide during a bout of mental illness and took himself off to an asylum, Brahms moved into the Schumann house to help Clara with the household accounts and look after the seven surviving Schumann children, while Clara, a pianist, performed to earn money.
Shortly after, he wrote to his friend Joachim saying he loved Clara and, ‘I am under her spell. I often must restrain myself forcibly from just quietly putting my arms around her.’
After Schumann died in 1856, Clara returned the deep affection, writing intense love letters. But nearly all biographers believe their love was platonic and never went further than ardent letters.
Brahms would give his manuscripts to Clara for comment before he sent them off to his musical publisher.
Piano Concerto No 1 In D Minor, 1859
Brahms was a virtuoso pianist himself, and this work was intended as a tribute to Robert and Clara Schumann.
A German Requiem, 1868
Grief-stricken by the death of his mother, he wrote this in memory of her.
Hungarian Dance No 5, 1869
One of his best-known dance tunes.
Violin Concerto In D Major, 1878
A joyful, energetic work, one of the most popular in the violin repertoire.
Symphony No 4, 1885
His final, grand and gripping symphony.
Clara for her part became intensely jealous when Brahms would fall for another woman, which he did often – including, astonishingly, Julie, one of her own daughters.
Brahms admired Julie from afar, but he did tell her mother that he loved her daughter, writing a deeply poignant choral and orchestral work, Alto Rhapsody, which he presented to Clara on the day Julie married her husband.
Brahms himself never married, though he was a user of prostitutes.
By the 1860s, he had moved to Vienna where, with a bust of Beethoven in his study and a picture of Bach above his bed, he started to write music that paid homage to the past greats while trying to forge a new sound.
It took him 15 years to write his first symphony, endlessly ripping works up and starting over.
When it premiered in 1876, the conductor Hans von Bulow called it ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’, so close was it to the German master’s Ninth Symphony, written 50 years before.
Other works include his Violin Concerto In D Major, dedicated to Joachim, who premiered the work in 1878, another piece in homage to Beethoven.
Brahms’s German Requiem, completed in 1868, was considered groundbreaking – taking the classical Latin Mass and making it quintessentially German.
The text is taken from the German Lutheran Bible but misses any mention of Christ (Brahms was agnostic), which annoyed the clergy at Bremen Cathedral where it was premiered. But it was a big hit, cementing Brahms’s finances and securing his celebrity.
He died in 1897, a year after Clara Schumann, to whom he remained close until the end.