Born: January 31, 1797, in Vienna
Died: November 19, 1828, of
Performed as: Pianist, singer
During the composer's lifetime:
The twin revolutions of Beethoven
and Rossini in music. Newly built
Washington, DC, becomes the
capital of the young United States.
College boy, 1808: After primary
education at his father’s
school, Schubert is accepted into
the prestigious choir of the
Hofkapelle (court chapel), which
includes free enrollment at the
Imperial and Royal City College.
Day job, 1813: Schubert has
already decided to become a
composer, but returns to his
father’s house and became a
schoolteacher to support himself.
He also studies with Antonio
Salieri, the aging imperial court
Creative fire, October 1814-1816:
Schubert hits his compositional
stride with a flurry of works: The
songs Gretchen am Spinnrade
(Gretchen at the spinning-wheel)
and Erlkönig (Elf-king) are among
150 that he writes in that year. He
also finishes two string
quartets, two symphonies, two
Masses, and four German
singspiele, or song-plays.
Turning pro: In 1819, Schubert
gives up teaching, for good.
Performances of his music slowly
increase, and he begins to publish.
By the end of 1821, he is
established in Viennese musical
Circle of friends: Many Schubert
performances take place at private
gatherings in the homes of friends
and supporters. By
1822, “Schubertiads,” or evening-
length recitals, are given
regularly, with the composer at the
Darkness and light, 1822: Schubert
shows the first signs of syphilitic
infection. He is hospitalized for a
short time in spring 1823. His
music takes a leap forward with
the “Wanderer” Fantasy for
piano, the “Unfinished” Symphony
in B Minor, the Mass in A-flat
Major, and several of his greatest
End of the road, 1828: His health
failing, Schubert also falls on hard
times financially. His compositional
production in the final months of
his life gives no indication of his
impending death. He is buried in
the same cemetery as
Beethoven, who had died a year
and a half earlier.
The Man: Schubert was short and rotund, with a high forehead and curly
hair. He was friendly, but often was uncommunicative.
Hobby: Schubert loved drink and tobacco, often partying till after
midnight, then waking up to compose from six in the morning until one in
the afternoon. He was highly sexually active
A life for art: Schubert could not manage his finances or most practical
needs. He lived immersed in his art; in his writings and reported
conversations, he often referred to himself as an outsider, alienated from
the world around him.
Operaphile: Schubert loved the theater and tried, unsuccessfully, to break
into the opera world. He wrote many stage works, most of them
unperformed in his lifetime.
Recognition: Although more than 100 Schubert publications were issued
in his lifetime, his greatest piano and chamber works remained
unpublished for decades after his death. The Symphony No. 9 was not
performed until 1839, at the instigation of both Schumann and
Mendelssohn; the “Unfinished” Symphony (No. 8) was not performed until
Born: May 7, 1833 in
Died: April 3, 1897 in
Performed as: pianist and
During the composer's lifetime:
Otto von Bismarck forges the
German Empire. The “Second
Industrial Revolution” creates
considerable middle- and upper-
class wealth, spurring arts
patronage and amateur music-
First gig, late 1840s:
Pianist, performing at social
gatherings and respectable
entertainment halls. Develops love of
books and scholarship while
completing high school and studies
with a leading, local piano teacher.
Friends for life, 1853: Brahms meets
the composer Robert Schumann and
his wife, pianist Clara Schumann.
Robert writes a rave essay on Brahms
and his music, gets him accepted by
a major publisher.
Disaster and love, 1854: After Robert
has a mental breakdown in
1854, Brahms helps Clara manage
her seven-child household, taking
charge while she earns money on
concert tours. He falls in love with
her, but after Robert’s death in1856
and a holiday along the Rhine with
her, they separate, although Clara
remains his closest friend and
Chrysalis, 1855: Dissatisfied with his
compositions, Brahms plunges into
counterpoint exercises and study of
early music. He emerges, several
years later, with formidable
composition technique and rewrites
several works previously
begun, particularly his first piano
concerto. The concerto flops at its
premiere in Leipzig in 1859 but
endures today as one of the great
works of the orchestral repertoire.
Vienna, 1862: Brahms sees Vienna
for the first time and establishes a
presence there. He becomes director
of Vienna’s Singakademie (choral
society). Moved by the death of his
mother in 1865, he writes A German
Requiem (1868), one of the major
choral works of the century. On the
success of that and his Hungarian
Dances (1868), Brahms becomes
wealthy and famous.
Better late than never, 1873:
Breaks a creative logjam by writing
two string quartets that meet his
exacting standards, and the
Variations on a Theme of Haydn.
Finally writes his First
Symphony, 1876, and nearly all of
his most famous orchestral works
afterwards, the last in 1888. He
continues to compose chamber
masterpieces, and, in his last
years, Brahms sees his music
triumph throughout Europe and
Developed cancer, while finishing a
Whisker legacy: Brahms was famous for his large beard and portly
appearance, but he was quite thin as a youth, with baby-smooth
cheeks, and didn’t grow his beard until he was 45.
Personality: Brahms was shy and reserved, but he had many friends.
Though he never married, he loved playing favorite uncle to the children
in his circle.
Famous letters: The conductor Hans von Bülow once wrote that he liked
the key of E-flat with its “three Bs, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms." “The
Three Bs” has became a catch-phrase representing musical greatness.
Fine tobacco: Brahms loved a good cigar, but hated import duties on
tobacco. He once was caught smuggling it, stuffed into stockings in his
Picky, picky: Brahms was ruthless about his own music, destroying scores
that he felt were not his best even late in his career, along with all his
Born: March 1, 1810, near
Died: October 17, 1849, Paris
Performed as: Pianist
During the composer's lifetime:
Poland struggled for independence
Polish at heart: Chopin grows up in
Poland, but his talents quickly
outgrow what the Warsaw musical
scene can offer him. He emigrates
to France in 1831, but remains
Polish to the core. Chopin writes
the first of his mazurkas (Polish
dances) in Vienna in 1830, when
the first Warsaw uprising took
place, and becomes even more
conscious of his national identity
Making a splash, 1832: Chopin
arrives in Paris when sympathy for
the Polish cause is high. His first
concert is well-reviewed, and he
catches the attention of the
younger generation of musicians in
the city, like Berlioz and Liszt.
High society: Chopin quickly expands his
social connections, and from late 1832 on
he rarely appears in public concerts. His
income derives from teaching, for which
he charges a princely sum, as well as
performances at salons. (Salons were
private gatherings at which
art, philosophy, and ideas might be
discussed. Most were hosted by socially
connected women.) After 1833 his income
is bolstered by publication of his music.
Liaison: In 1838, Chopin and the novelist
George Sand (her real name was Amarice
Dupin) become lovers. They spend the
winter in Majorca, where Chopin’s
tuberculosis is first diagnosed.
Hunkering down, 1840s: Introverted and
sickly, Chopin secludes himself in a small
circle of friends and artists, including
Mendelssohn, Berlioz, the painter Eugene
Delacroix, and the poet Heinrich Heine.
He spends summers at Sand’s manor
house, until their relationship ends in
Decline: Chopin takes an ill-advised
trip to London and Scotland in
1848, at the invitation of his pupil
Julie Stirling. He makes little money
there, however, and his health
worsens. He returns to
Paris, dying, and is attended by his
sister, Ludwika, and her family.
Last written words, age 39: "As
this cough will choke me, I implore
you to have my body opened, so
that I may not be buried alive."
I left my heart in Warsaw: Although he was buried in Paris, Chopin’s heart
was removed and buried in Poland. To this day, Chopin is still revered in
Poland as one of the country’s great cultural heroes.
A true Romantic: Chopin had a seductively otherworldly air, and loved
intellectual company and high society. He could also be cold, petty, and
In film: Chopin has been the subject of several movies: A Song to Remember
(1945), with Cornell Wilde as Chopin and Merle Oberon as Sand, is an Old
Hollywood classic, and was nominated for six Oscars. James Lapine’s
independent film Impromptu (1991), with Hugh Grant and Judy Davis in the
leads, is more detailed and less idealized. A Polish version of this story is
Chopin: Desire for Love (2002).
In his own words: "Sometimes I can only groan, and suffer, and pour out my
despair at the piano!"