Franz Schubert Symphony No. 8 in B minor commonly known as the “Unfinished Symphony” (German: Unvollendete), D.759 ***Claudio Abbado conductor in Ferrara 1989 1. Allegro moderato in B minor 2. Andante con moto in E major 14:56 ***Karl Leister solo clarinet 17:17 *****************************************************************************
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Franz Schubert‘s Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D.759 (sometimes renumbered as Symphony No. 7, in accordance with the revised Deutsch catalogue and the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe), commonly known as the “Unfinished Symphony” (German: Unvollendete), is a work that Schubert started in 1822 but left with only two movements—though Schubert lived for another six years. A scherzo, nearly completed in piano score but with only two pages orchestrated, also survives.
Many have theorized that Schubert may have sketched a finale that instead became the big B minor entr’acte from his incidental music to Rosamunde, but all evidence for this is circumstantial. One possible reason for Schubert’s leaving the symphony incomplete is the predominance of the same meter (triple meter). The first movement is in 3/4, the second in 3/8 and the third (an incomplete scherzo) also in 3/4. Three consecutive movements in basically the same meter rarely occur in symphonies, sonatas or chamber works of the most important Viennese composers.
Schubert, Symphony No. 8, third movement, first page, facsimile, 1885, in J. R. von Herbeck’s biography
Schubert’s eighth symphony is sometimes called the first Romantic symphony due to its emphasis on expressive melody, vivid harmony and creative combinations of orchestral tone color despite the architecturally imposing Classical structures of its two completed movements highlighted by the dramatically climactic development section of the first movement based solely on its quietly sinister opening theme.
To this day, musicologists still disagree as to why Schubert failed to complete the symphony. Some have speculated that he stopped work in the middle of the scherzo in the fall of 1822 because he associated it with his initial outbreak of syphilis—or that he was distracted by the inspiration for his Wanderer Fantasy for solo piano, which occupied his time and energy immediately afterward. It could have been a combination of both factors.
In 1823, the Graz Music Society gave Schubert an honorary diploma. He felt obliged to dedicate a symphony to them in return, and sent his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a leading member of the Society, an orchestral score he had written in 1822 consisting of the two completed movements of the Unfinished plus at least the first two pages of the start of a scherzo. This much is known.
What may never be known, is how much of the symphony Schubert actually wrote, and how much of what he did write he gave to Hüttenbrenner. The following exists:
The first two movements, complete in full score
The first two pages of a scherzo in full score
The rest of the scherzo (except for the missing second strain of the trio) exists in a separate manuscript in short score (not sent to Hüttenbrenner, but found among Schubert’s copious manuscripts after his death and carefully preserved by his devoted schoolteacher brother Ferdinand), but nothing of any fourth movement. A fourth movement finale in the home key (B minor) would have been the norm for any symphony written at that time, but there is no direct evidence that Schubert ever started work on it. It has, however, been surmised that the most extended Entr’acte from Rosamunde (also in B minor, in the same style of the first movement and with the same instrumentation as the symphony) was indeed that fourth movement, which Schubert recycled by inserting it into his Rosamunde incidental music composed in early 1823 just after the Wanderer Fantasy.
The Schubert scholar Brian Newbould, who harmonized, orchestrated and conjecturally completed the piano sketch of the scherzo, believed this to be true; but not all scholars agree. Pages appear to have been torn out after the beginning of the scherzo in the full score sent to Hüttenbrenner, in any event.
That Hüttenbrenner neither had the work performed, nor even let the society know he had the manuscript is curious and has spawned various theories. Was he given an incomplete score by Schubert and was waiting for the rest before saying anything? If so, he waited in vain throughout the six remaining years of Schubert’s life. After Schubert’s premature death in 1828 (of typhus as a complication of syphilis), why didn’t Hüttenbrenner then make the existence of the manuscript known? Do the torn pages suggest he had somehow damaged the piece and managed to lose, or even inadvertently destroy, the last two movements? Was guilt therefore the reason he kept silent about the work’s existence for 37 years after Schubert died? Could personality factors like introvertedness or jealousy have been at play here?
Old age and approaching death seem to have influenced Hüttenbrenner to reveal the work to an important and gracious visitor at long last (in 1865, when he was 76 and had only three more years to live). This was the conductor Johann von Herbeck, who premiered the extant two movements on 17 December 1865 in Vienna, adding the brilliantly busy but expressively lightweight perpetual-motion last movement of Schubert’s 3rd Symphony in D major, as an inadequate finale, expressively quite incompatible with the monumental first two movements of the Unfinished.[original research?] The performance was nevertheless received with great enthusiasm by the audience. The score of those two movements was not published before 1867.
The Unfinished Symphony has been called No. 7 (recently, for example, in the New Schubert Edition) instead of No. 8 as it usually is, since the other work sometimes referred to as Schubert’s 7th (in E major, completed by Felix Weingartner) was also left incomplete but in a different way, with at least fragments of all four of its movements in Schubert’s hand.
The completed portion
The two complete, and completely orchestrated movements, which are all of the symphony as it is performed in the concert repertoire, are:
First movement: Allegro moderato in B minor
It opens in sonata form, softly in the strings, followed by a theme shared by the solo oboe and clarinet. A typically laconic Schubertian transition consists of just four measures for the two horns, effectively modulating to the submediant key of G major (mm. 38-41). The second subject begins with a celebrated lyrical melody in that key, stated first by the celli and then by the violins (sometimes drolly sung to Sigmund Spaeth‘s words as “This is … the sym – phoneee … that Schubert wrote but never fin-ished”) to a gentle syncopated accompaniment. This is interrupted by a dramatic closing group alternating heavy tutti sforzandi interspersed with pauses and developmental variants of the G major melody, ending the exposition.
An important moment in the first movement occurs in measure 109 (and repeats in the recapitulation in measure 327). In these measures, Schubert holds a tonic ‘B’ pedal in the second bassoon and first horn under the dominant F♯ chord, that evokes the end of the development in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. Unfortunately, a well-meaning but inexperienced editor removed this dissonance by altering the second bassoon and first horn part. Conductors must check these parts carefully to make sure that the ‘B’ pedal is intact.
Unusual for sonata form, the development section begins with a quiet restatement of the opening theme in the subdominant (E minor) (a tonality usually reserved for near the end of a sonata form movement somewhere in the recap or coda) and rises to a prolonged climax in the same key, starting with a dramatic variant of the first theme in the full orchestra with prominent trombones. The expected relative (D) major of the tonic (B) minor first appears only at the end of that climax, and then again for the second subject of the recap (in place of the expected tonic B major)—instead of much earlier, in the second subject of the exposition, as customary. The flutes and oboes then resume their melodic role at the end of that dramatic outburst, transitioning to the recapitulation.
The recapitulation consists mostly of orthodox sonata-form restatement of the themes, except that Schubert restates the melodious second theme in the mediant D major instead of the usual B major (parallel to the tonic B minor). The dramatic closing section, however, does end in B major, and leads to a coda in the tonic B minor. This recalls the opening theme for still another, final, dramatic reworking to pave the way for the emphatic concluding chords.
Second movement: Andante con moto in E major
The second movement alternates two contrasting themes in sonatina form (sonata form without development, with a quietly dramatic, elegiac, extended coda that could be characterized as a concluding development section). The lyrical first is introduced by the horns, low strings, brass, and high strings playing in counterpoint. The plaintive second, in minor, after four simple unharmonized notes in transition spelling out the tonic chord of the relative C-sharp minor quietly by the first violins, begins in the solo clarinet in C-sharp minor and continues in the solo oboe in C-sharp major in an example of the major-minor juxtapositions that are a hallmark of Schubert’s harmonic language.
A dramatic closing theme in the full orchestra returns to C-sharp minor, but ends in D-flat major (the enharmonic equivalent of C-sharp major). A short transition back to the tonic E major ushers in the recapitulation—notable for how it restates the second theme in the subdominant A minor (instead of the expected tonic parallel E minor) begun by the oboe and continued by the clarinet (vice versa to their roles in the exposition). The coda starts with a new theme that is simply an extension of the two-bar E major cadential figure that opens the movement. This gives way to the laconic triadic first-violin transition motto, which leads to a restatement of the first theme by the woodwinds in distant A-flat major followed by the motto again leading back to the tonic E major for a final extended transformation of the first theme, leading in term to a final extended version of the opening cadential figure that reappears to close.
Third and fourth movements
The fragment of the scherzo intended as the third movement returns to the tonic B minor, with a G major trio. The first thirty measures are preserved in full score, but the entire rest of the scherzo proper (both strains) only in short score. Only the first strain of the trio exists, and that as a mere unadorned, unharmonized single melodic line. The second strain is entirely absent.
After Hüttenbrenner’s release of the two completed movements of the Unfinished to Herbeck, some music historians and scholars took much trouble to “prove” the composition complete even in the truncated two-movement form, and indeed that abbreviated structure alone has captivated the listening public to consider it as one of Schubert’s most cherished compositions. The fact that classical tradition was unlikely to accept that a symphony could end in a different key from the one it began in (with the B minor first movement and the E major finale by default incomplete), and the even more undeniable fact that Schubert had begun a third movement in B minor (of which the score he gave to Hüttenbrenner included precisely 30 bars of fully orchestrated scherzo and 112 succeeding bars in short score), stands against the view that the two completed movements are self-sufficient and can legitimately stand alone by themselves.
Reviewing the premiere of the symphony in 1865, the music critic Eduard Hanslick wrote:
When, after a few introductory bars, clarinet and oboe sound una voce a sweet melody on top of the quiet murmuring of the strings, any child knows the composer and a half-suppressed exclamation “Schubert” runs hummingly through the hall. He has hardly entered, but it is as if you knew his steps, his very way of opening the door… The whole movement is a sweet stream of melodies, in spite of its vigor and geniality so crystal-clear that you can see every pebble on the bottom. And everywhere the same warmth, the same golden sunshine that makes buds grow! The Andante unfolds itself broadly and [even] more majestically [than the opening Allegro]. Sounds of lament or anger rarely enter this song full of intimate, quiet happiness, clouds of a musical thunderstorm reflecting musical effect rather than dangerous passion… The sonorous beauty of both movements is enchanting. With a few horn passages, an occasional brief clarinet or oboe solo on the simplest, most natural basis of orchestration, Schubert achieves sound effects which no refinement of Wagner‘s instrumentation ever attains. (translated from the original German)
He ended by stressing that the symphony is among Schubert’s most beautiful instrumental works.