FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphony No 8 in B minor, D.759 (Unfinished) (1822)

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphony No 8 in B minor, D.759 (Unfinished) (1822)

 i.    Allegro moderato

ii.    Andante con moto

Schubert was the son of a Viennese suburban schoolmaster who was poor but enlightened, so although the composer’s early life was deprived in terms of a comfortable home, by the age of 11 he was a chorister in the Imperial Chapel and receiving a sound training from Beethoven’s teacher, none other than the composer who had been Mozart’s great rival, Antonio Salieri. Even at this early age the creative fires burned within Schubert particularly in the field of setting poetry, and although his first official works date from the age of 15, sketches for songs have been found from his time in the Chapel which fed into mature compositions. By the age of 18 he had already written nearly a quarter of his eventual nine hundred-plus works, including dozens of Lieder (Art-songs) and five delectable, Mozart-inspired symphonies, but life remained difficult, however, partly because he found it hard to make money from his talent. The only performances of his works which he was able to obtain were by local amateur artists, which earned him little or nothing; in addition his health was poor and he had to be supported financially by friends, which caused him severe depression. He also failed to establish what might have been at least some regular income since he had a complete aversion to teaching music, although he had been a schoolteacher for a while as a teenager.

 

Nevertheless music poured from him almost as if he knew all along that his time on earth would be limited, and he graced almost every genre from chamber music and song to religious music and even opera, together with symphonic orchestral music – although wouldn’t it have been wonderful, given his exalted gift for melody, to have had a Schubert concerto or two?

 

In 1821 he made extensive sketches for a 7th Symphony, in E major, but failed to complete it – so in fact there are two Schubert Unfinished symphonies. There have been a number of completions of No 7, although some editors have actually numbered the B minor symphony as No 7we know the B minor as No 8 from the original version of the most comprehensive catalogue of Schubert’s works, that by the scholar Otto Deutsch, published in England as recently as 1951, but revisions of Deutsch are suggesting now that No 8 really should be No 7 – old habits die hard however! Incidentally, Deutsch’s chief challenge was that only about a hundred of the composer’s works were actually published in his lifetime. In fact we owe the discovery of many of his works to musical detectives such as Mendelssohn, Liszt, Brahms and our own Sir Arthur Sullivan, who on a trip to Vienna in 1867 unearthed no less than six of the nine symphonies and a number of other works. The Great C Major symphony, No 9, had been found mouldering in a drawer by Robert Schumann in 1838 ten years after Schubert’s death.

 

So, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Some eighteen years after Beethoven’s Eroica had broken the symphonic mould, now came Schubert’s B minor in a new mould all of its own, in its way an elemental experience just as potent as the Eroica. The scarcely-relieved tragedy of the first movement and the bleak lyricism of the second offer a complete emotional experience, heralding the burgeoning Romantic movement. Its apparent structural incompleteness has always been an enigma, however, particularly since Schubert lived for a further six years after its composition. Theories abound. Was he just too busy to complete it? Was the onset of the syphilis from which he was to suffer for those last years of his life a debilitating force just at the wrong time as he worked on the latter movements? It seems the theory that he came to feel that the work was perfect in only two movements does not hold water – for one thing it ends in the wrong key, E major, only part-way through what might have been projected as a symphonic key-structure – so it seems most likely that the work remains incomplete by accident.

Reinforcing this theory is the fact that, having dedicated the work to the Graz Musical Society, Schubert somewhat ill-advisedly gave the score as it stood to his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a member of the Society, but Hüttenbrenner failed to pass the score on and only revealed that he had it 43 years later in 1865 when he was 76 and, perhaps, realised that he ought not to reach the end of his life without revealing his secret, in case the work proved to be a masterpiece. His confidant was the conductor Johann von Herbeck, a staunch advocate of Schubert, who would conduct the premiere in December 1865, but even he refused to acknowledge the lack of subsequent movements and apparently added the hopelessly inappropriate finale of the D major Third Symphony.

 

It seems that the score entrusted to Hüttenbrenner comprised the two movements we know, together with some sketches for a third movement, the first two pages in full score and the remainder in short score, missing most of the Trio section. It seems also that these pages were torn from the main body of the score and found separately. In fact in 2003 the MSO gave the first British performance of a completion of the Scherzo and Trio by Laurence Wright, a former teaching colleague of MSO principal trumpet Bob Steele. Sketches possibly for a last movement were, it is thought, pressed into service instead for his opera Rosamunde. There have been many completions of the latter two movementsbut the overwhelming majority of performances present the two movements alone as an organic whole, the first orchestral evidence of Schubert’s very own, hugely powerful voice.

 

Allegro moderato: Cellos and basses intone a darkly tragic prelude to the bleak first subject, which is sung by oboe and clarinet accompanied by muttering strings. Drama simmers close to the surface, but as a crisis finally materialises, made still more powerful with the addition of trumpets, trombones and timpani, the horns and bassoons offer some solace, introducing the lyrical second subject, first in the cellos. Peace reigns only briefly, however, and after the exposition repeat the development takes us into desolation and anguish. Following the recap of the main themes the coda finishes the movement almost in nihilism.

 

The Andante once again offers some comfort at the start, horns and bassoons introducing the consolatory first theme against a lyrical counter-melody in the cellos, but the mood changes rapidly into anger, and then becomes bleaker as the first violins are left alone to herald anxious syncopation as a bed for questioning woodwind, and soon conflict rules.  Finally the work ends in cold-comfort, perhaps revealing the composer’s sense of impending doom.

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828) Symphony No 5 in Bb, D485 (1816)

i Allegro
ii Andante con moto
iii Menuetto; allegro molto
iV Allegro vivace

Schubert was born in a suburb of Vienna a matter of months before Napoleon the Treaty of Campo Formio transferring several Austrian territories to France. Musically the 27-year-old Beethoven was beginning to carry all Vienna before him, writing the C major Piano Concerto that very year. By the time Napoleon had met his Waterloo and the Treaty of Vienna had brought European peace in 1815 Schubert was already a prolific composer over halfway through his tragically short life, and in that annus mirabilis alone, although still ostensibly a part-time composer, he completed no less than 200 of his eventual 900-plus works (including 140 songs) and served notice to an albeit rather indifferent public that the Romantic era was well-established.

1816 began with Schubert actually as a full-time schoolteacher, having taken the post aged 15 when he was forced by the sad death of his mother to leave his choral scholarship in order to earn for the family, but during the year he was prevailed upon to become a full-time composer,  completing his  Fifth Symphony later in the year; although it still proclaims his veneration for Mozart the melodic and harmonic gifts which so distinguish his work in lieder and piano music, to mention just two genres which he graced, are very much in evidence.

Like Mozart, but very much unlike Beethoven, Schubert was a rapid worker, and the Fifth Symphony was written within a month in September / October 1816. Mozart was .indeed very much his idol, and on 13 June, shortly before he started the symphony, he wrote in his diary: 0 Mozart! Immortal Mozart! What countless impressions of a brighter, better life have you stamped upon our souls! The scoring is similar to that of Mozart’s Symphony No 40, and the work is the only one of Schubert’s  symphonies which doesn’t  employ clarinets, trumpets or timpani; it is also his first to date which doesn’t start with a slow introduction. Indeed its complete freshness – the antithesis of the tragic Mozart 40 – and the natural ease of its melodies have made it one of Schubert’s most popular symphonies.

Since he was not able to enjoy the same patronage and comfort that Haydn, example, had received from the Esterhazys, Schubert could only expect to have these works performed by local amateur groups with which he was associated. Indeed it is thought that he himself and his brother Ferdinand played viola and violin respectively in the first performance of Schubert was born in a suburb of Vienna a matter of months before Napoleon Bonaparte brought an end to the first phase of the French Revolutionary Wars, the B flat symphony shortly after its completion together with a collection of music officials, merchants and men from various professions, led by a professional leader/concertmaster, Otto Hatwig, who  played at the Vienna  Burgtheater.

Schubert was very poor all his life at promoting himself and making money from his talent, and so the Fifth Symphony, like many other of his compositions, remained a relatively parochial affair until well after his death – indeed the London premiere would not take place till 1873.

The first movement opens in fact with a sunny four-bar introductory phrase in woodwind and strings which leads into the first main theme, a cheeky rising-arpeggio figure which will also colour the developm nt. The second subject proceeds elegantly, also with a touch of dottedness. Unusually the recap begins not in the home key but in the subdominant, E flat.

The second movement shows Schubert completely at ease with himself. The main theme is a heartfelt song, and the only cloud on the horizon is a characteristic sideslip into a slightly darker key, C flat, as the development starts.

The Menuetto is not of the genteel species but full of energy in minor mode, beginning in G minor and surprisingly chromatic. The Trio section is gentler, sunny and completely in major mode, beginning in G major.

The final Allegro molto is busy and full of tingling energy, with a more elegant second subject . Each half ends with a cadence figure in scampering triplets, bringing to a close a completely delightful work guaranteed to usher in the joys of Spring!

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