For music-lovers, “Schubertiade” has become a winged word that evokes recitals featuring Romantic Lieder and chamber music. That was already the case on a December evening in 1826. The law student Franz Hartmann, originally from Wurzburg, wrote in his Vienna diary: „I went to Spaun’s, where a truly great Schubertiade took place! The list of guests was quite impressive: the Arnets, the Witteczeks, the Kurzrocks, the Pomps, the mother-in-law of state chancellery clerk Witteczek, then Frau Watteroth, Betty Wanderer, Kuppelwieser the painter and his wife, Grillparzer, Schober, Schwind, Mayrhofer along with his landlord Huber, then the tall Huber as well, Derffel, Bauernfeld, Gahy (who splendidly played piano four hands with Schubert), Vogl (who sang almost 30 wonderful songs), Baron Schlechta and a number of Imperial court clerks and secretaries were all present. Finding myself in a particularly agitated mood, I was almost moved to tears by the trio in the 5th March, which invariably reminds me of my dear, dear mother. After the music was over, we all enjoyed splendid conversation, then we danced.”Quite early on, a circle of art-loving friends had gathered around Franz Schubert, the former Vienna boarding pupil and trained schoolteacher who – unlike his father and his brother – had chosen to flee the daily pedagogical grind and its inevitable disenchantments under the Austrian Restauration to find his vocation as a freelance musician.
The first person to coin the term “Schubertiade” for musical soirées was his friend Franz von Schober. In 1817, Schober had introduced the timid, modest composer to an artistic nature entirely different from his own: the singer Johann Michael Vogl, 24 years his senior. Tall, with a resounding, projecting, self-assured voice, Vogl left the Vienna Court Opera in November 1822 to devote himself entirely to Schubertian artsong, accompanied by none other than the composer himself. “The way he sings and I accompany him, those moments when we seem to merge and become one, are something new and undreamt-of”, Schubert wrote from Salzburg on 12 September 1825 to his brother Ferdinand. Such magical moments of congenial musicmaking must have occurred quite often at the Vienna Schubertiades, those private soirées for their circle of friends. A convivial aesthetic experience was desired by all, but it wasn’t the only reason they congregated. A Schubertiade also offered these citizens the chance to withdraw, in private, from the zealous, restrictive surveillance of the Metternich regime. With artistic means they could express their unease vis-à-vis the State’s chilling, authori- tarian apparatus while taking less risks – resorting to parables from Antiquity and painting emotional landscapes that seemed to be merely personal at first glance.