Schubert After Dark

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SCHUBERT DIED in November 1828, long before his final resting place, the Viennese cemetery known as Zentralfriedhof, was opened in 1874. At first, he was buried in the local cemetery of Währing, near the grave of Beethoven, whom he had idolized. In 1888, the remains of both composers were transferred to the Zentralfriedhof, an occasion marked by festivities that included thousands of amateur choral singers.

In the summer of 2003, anticipating a pilgrimage to the cemetery for the first time, my expectations were at a high pitch—the Zentralfriedhof is considered the “Père Lachaise of Vienna”—but the Schubert monument proved a bit of a disappointment. The architect had opted for a drearily conventional Greco-Roman style, one modified by late 19th-century German romanticism. It’s a tall slab of white marble surmounted by an ornate triangular pediment and flanked by two graceful, though slightly effete, Ionic columns. Winged cherubs flutter at the bases. The relief sculpture in the slab depicts one of the Muses holding a lyre and crowning a bust of Schubert with a laurel wreath. One reference mentions “the delicate images in stone, reflective of Schubert’s sense for beautiful melody.” But the whole thing, as sincere as it was, struck me as an example the Viennese flirtation with kitsch.

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