Composition before death

by jaeyoungshin

Many times, composers’ circumstances and mind influence the music. This is why when we learn about some composers’ music, we also learn their brief biographic background or certain situation they were in when they wrote certain pieces.

Of course, composers react differently to similar situations. When composers face a devastating situation, some respond by expressing their doomed fate and melancholy mood. However, some actually express hope and optimism that they will overcome or at least learn something out of it.

Personally, I find the latter much more inspirational. With this post, I would like to propose one inspirational and hopeful work from Schubert that he composed near death. Schubert was a talented composer but unfortunately not a steady one in terms of age. His health already started to deteriorate in midst of his creative activities. By the late 1820s, Schubert already confided to some friends that he was near death. Schubert eventually died in Vienna, at age 31 on November 1828. His official diagnosis of death was a typhoid fever, but his exact death is still controversial with various theories that he might have died with syphilis or mercury poisoning.

But above all, the important fact is that he managed to compose a beautiful song when he knew he was clearly dying. It is symphony no.9 in C major, which is usually called “the great.” Although it is now known that he drew a rough sketch in summer of 1825, he finished this piece in the last month of his life. One can see from its nickname of the music, “the great,” that this piece conveys a majestic, hopeful feeling. but I always feel uplifted and excited when I hear this piece. It is not easy to imagine that Schubert wrote this song in his bed near death. It certainly celebrates lives rather than mourn about it.

What do you think? Would you be able to compose a hopeful song when you are dying? Do you agree that knowing this background information allow you to understand the piece better?