Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was the first true Romantic composer. His works are characterized by an unprecedented depth and intensity of emotion. He had a gift for lyrical melody, which shows most clearly in his more than six hundred songs. He forged new trails in compositional technique as well, experimenting with form and harmonic relations. These characteristics show most clearly in his final works, including the late chamber works, the "Unfinished" and "Great" Symphonies, and the final three Piano Sonatas.
Schubert lived in Vienna, the capital of the European musical world, his entire life. Born to a schoolmaster, he had little formal training in music theory. After following his father's profession for three years, in 1817 he decided to go it alone as a freelance composer. He was successful enough to maintain a living, but he was shy and unskilled in the art of self-promotion, and thus never achieved anything close to the fame that posterity would award him. In 1822 he contracted syphilis, which in those days was a death sentence. This condition had if anything a positive effect on his output: from 1824 to 1828 he enjoyed one of the most remarkable bursts of creative genius ever witnessed, composing his greatest masterpieces of chamber, orchestral, and vocal music. He died in 1828 still largely unknown to the public, and it is only through the efforts of Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann that his works achieved widespread recognition.