Franz Schubert had syphilis. Or maybe he did not. If he did, he got it from a male prostitute. Unless he did not. Officially he died of typhoid fever, but he had symptoms of mercury poisoning. Mercury would have been a common treatment for syphilis at that time. And you could probably get it from prostitutes, male or female. Syphilis, of course, eventually makes you lose your shit and descend into something resembling madness, but perhaps that madness also gives you an insight into things that the rest of us who aren’t banging whores could never know. I’m not sure if there’s any better explanation for the last 5 years or so of Franz Schubert’s compositional life. He went from being a dude who wrote catchy songs, some lovely piano and chamber music, and some Haydn-ish orchestral music to the guy who wrote quite possibly the deepest and most heartbreakingly tragic music in human history.
At some point, Schubert knew he was dying of something. Whether it was typhoid fever or syphilis may not matter all that much in the grand scheme. Whatever the hell it was, something snapped in him and it led to things like Winterreise and the Death and the Maiden Quartet and the last three Sonatas for Piano and the Piano Trios and the String Quintet and the ‘Great’ Symphony and Schwanengesang and on and on and on. It may be a bit melodramatic to insinuate that death pervades all these works, but it isn’t the least bit an exaggeration to say that tragedy and poignancy is everywhere in this music, especially in the slow movements. I’m just going to leave all these here:
I mean, my God in heaven (Schubert was an agnostic at best, by the way). How could one man write all that? That’s fucking unreasonable.
Part of me wants to go in depth into a musical exploration of what makes these so staggering. But a much larger part of me is just gonna say “fuck it” and tell you to spend an hour with tears in your eyes and sweet sadness in your hearts. I’m gonna go do the same.