Schubert's production of polyphonic songs and choruses extended chronologically almost as widely as that of the lied. At the age of 15 he modelled a comic trio, Die Advokaten (d37; TTB and piano), after a work by Anton Fischer (although in the tradition of Mozart's Das Bandel); only months before his death he composed Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe (d954; two tenors, two basses, chorus and wind) for the dedication of the new bells in the Dreifaltigkeitskirche in the Alservorstadt. He completed more than 150 such works, amounting in length to some 30% of his lieder output. The fledgling tradition of part-singing in Vienna was consolidated in 1809 in Berlin with Zelter's founding of the Liedertafel, a men's organization modelled loosely on the Meistersinger guilds. The practice spread quickly throughout the German-speaking regions and Schubert became its most important Viennese representative. Almost two-thirds of Schubert's partsongs or choruses are for men's voices, reflecting the essential child-rearing duties assigned to women in Biedermeier Europe. About a fifth are for mixed voices, and only half a dozen call for women's voices. The remainder are either unison or unspecified. In practice, many works could be performed with either one, several or many voices to a part, blurring any hard and fast distinction between solo and choral partsongs. In these works Schubert presents a rich variety of dispositions, including SATB, SAT, STB, TTB, TTBB, TTBBB, TTTTBBBB, SA, SSA, SSAA, chorus, double chorus, often spiced with additional combinations of soloists. The songs divide almost evenly between unaccompanied and accompanied. Schubert had a particular gift for inventing apt and varied vocal sonorities; in Lied im Freien (d572; TTBB) the outer sections are set in sprightly homophony punctuated by appoggiaturas to celebrate the coming of May. The second stanza's focus on the play of light and shade is treated in imitation, while the leisurely strolling of the third stanza is set as a slow fugato. The accompaniments range from simple keyboard to groups of horns, strings, wind and even full orchestra.
Many of these songs and choruses are occasional pieces. Ten carry generic drinking-song titles such as Trinklied, Punschlied or Wein und Liebe, while others are titled Schlachtlied or Fischerlied. Yet in his partsongs Schubert was drawn to a similar array of poetry as in the solo songs. The fifth and last of his settings of Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt (d877 no.1) is the only one to mirror Goethe's scene as a duet between Mignon and the Harper, and easily surpasses the solo settings in emotional range. A remarkably high percentage of these works received their premières in Schubert's lifetime, and a goodly number were published. With its elaborate piano accompaniment, the SSAA quartet, Gott in der Natur (d757, first performed in 1827), is a hymn of praise to nature on almost as grand a scale as its solo counterpart, Die Allmacht. The more intimate Des Tages Weihe (d763) uses an SATB quartet to create a sense of gratitude more compelling than could be achieved by a solo voice. Night songs especially stimulated Schubert's colour palette. Wehmut (‘Die Abendglöcke tönet’, d825, TTBB) contrasts the monotone chiming of the bell with the magic of sunset. Mondenschein (d875), on a text by Schober and which received its première in the last year of the composer's life, exemplifies the best of Schubert's chromatic and major–minor inflections, here in a skein of aching appoggiaturas. Nachtgesang im Walde (d913; first performed in 1827) uses the echo effect of four horns to exquisite effect. Both Die Nacht (d983c) and Nachthelle (d892; first performed in 1827) highlight the upper male range to portray vividly the allure of night. Nachthelle is built around an ethereal piano accompanment that invests the choral echoes of the solo tenor with a special glow.
Geist der Liebe, d747 (TTBB; first performed in 1822), easily surpasses Schubert's solo setting of the same Matthisson poem. Ständchen (d920; alto and TTBB chorus), written for Anna Fröhlich, is at least the equal of either of Schubert's more celebrated solo serenades. Certain texts lent themselves naturally to the partsong. The collective energy of Der Tanz (SATB; d826) seems to spring off the page; and the repeated references to battle in Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué's Gebet (SATB; d815), one of Schubert's most ambitious partsongs, call for an equally collective utterance. Mirjams Siegesgesang (d942), for soprano, chorus and piano (Schubert doubtless intended to orchestrate it), is Schubert's most direct homage to Handel, whose music was frequently performed in Vienna. When reading Handel's music at the piano, Schubert is supposed to have remarked to Hüttenbrenner: ‘Oh, the daring of these modulations! Things like that do not occur to the likes of us even in a dream!’ Amateur choruses and part-singing reached their peak of popularity during the 19th century, and it is to be regretted that Schubert's partsongs, which include some of his finest inspirations, are performed comparatively rarely today.