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Robert Franz

June 28, 1815 - October 24, 1892
born in Halle, Germany, composed during the Romantic period
Robert Franz was one of the most important composers of song from his time. His lieder exhibited a unique character while divulging the influence of Schubert and Schumann. Oddly, no stylistic evolution can be discerned in his songs, despite their sophistication and deft craftsmanship. Franz also produced a small body of choral music. Franz was born into a middle-class family in Halle, Germany, on June 28, 1815. He exhibited musical talent early on and studied with several teachers locally, but had to overcome the opposition of his father to make a career of music. Franz traveled to Dessau, where from 1835 to 1837 he studied organ and music theory, the latter with J.C.F. Schneider.

A period of self-education followed and embraced other disciplines, including poetry and philosophy. It was during this period, too, that Franz familiarized himself thoroughly with the lieder of Schubert and Schumann. By 1840 he was composing his first songs, and the following year he was appointed organist at the Ulrichskirche in Halle. In 1842 he took on a second post, that of conductor of the local Singakademie.

Around this time he provided manuscripts of some of his songs to Schumann. To Franz's utter surprise Schumann had them published in 1843. Besides enjoying success as an organist and choral conductor, Franz could now revel in his newfound success in song composition, but his fortunes would soon begin to change. Around the mid-1840s, he began to slowly grow deaf. While he retained some measure of hearing over the next 20 years, the problem would eventually cut short his career.

Still, Franz managed to remain active as a composer in the coming decades. Liszt would become a strong partisan and eventually publish a praiseworthy book about him in Leipzig (1872). In 1851 Franz began teaching music at the University of Halle, but had to resign this and all other posts in 1867, owing to acute hearing loss. Though he suffered from nervous disorders as well, he managed to continue composition, aided by the financial support of singer Arnold von Pilsach. Franz received other income from publication of his works and honoraria. In 1884 Franz wrote his last set of songs, bringing the total number of songs in his output to about 350. Two years later he ceased composing altogether. Franz died in Halle on October 24, 1892. ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi
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