Franz Schubert

The 10 Symphonies
Symphonic Fragments, D 615 & 708A

The restoration of Schubert’s symphonic works

The performing versions by Brian Newbould of the six unfinished works included in this set of recordings are conceived with the aim of completing each work as Schubert himself might have done had he returned to his sketches. The completion of the Eighth Symphony, the realisation of the Tenth, and the orchestration of the fragments are first recordings. In the notes which follow Professor Newbould traces Schubert’s progress as a symphonist from his schooldays till his death at the age of 31.

Schubert’s symphonic career spanned a mere 18 years, during which time he set about writing a symphony at least 13 times. His endeavours occupied him, intermittently, from 1811 when he was a lad of 14 to the last weeks of his life in 1828. Yet of the 13 attempts, only seven yielded complete, finished symphonies: for whatever reason, six symphonies were begun but left unfinished. Those he did finish are now, for the most part, well-loved repertory pieces which offer scarcely any clue as to why the others should have been abandoned. It is only in the last quarter of the twentieth century that all the fragmentary works have been identified, transcribed, and made ready for performance.

In 1808 the 11-year-old Schubert entered the choir of the Imperial Kapelle, and was enrolled at the school attached, which was part of the Vienna Stadtkonvikt. Pupils of the school formed an orchestra which assembled every night after supper to play an overture or two and a symphony. As a second violinist, becoming a first violinist probably within two years, Schubert played a repertory mainly of Haydn, Mozart, and early Beethoven. His friend Josef von Spaun, a senior chorister and member of the orchestra, later recalled that Schubert had already composed symphonies by 1812, but destroyed them saying that they were only preliminary studies. Certainly in the years 1811-13 he composed no fewer than five overtures, probably for this school orchestra. Of the symphonies, one fragment survives from the year 1811, a slow introduction and the opening of an Allegro amounting to 30 bars in all (listed as D. 2B in the Deutsch catalogue of Schubert’s works). It is significant that one of the boy violinist’s favourite works, according to Spaun, was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D, for this 1811 fragment – which is in full score – owes an unmistakable debt to that model. Moreover, of the 13 symphonies Schubert was to commence, six were in D, as were all five overtures of 1811-13. Beethoven had evidently shown the beginner what an effective key D major was for orchestral composition, and the lesson stayed with him.

The first complete symphony, in D major, dates from October 1813 and initiates a group of six which span the years up to 1818. These are symphonies rooted in eighteenth-century practice, clearly pre-“Eroica” in scale, proportion, and sonority. Naturally the boyhood experience of playing so much Haydn and Mozart had lent the young composer an initial stylistic focus, yet each of these prentice works has Schubert’s individuality stamped on it, and it is surprising that the idiosyncratic musical manners of Beethoven are not more in evidence than they are. Dvořák said of these symphonies, “... the more I study them, the more I marvel”. Even in Dvořák’s day, one had to study them more in score than one could in performance, and it is uncertain whether Schubert himself heard many of them played at all. No. 1 was played by the school orchestra; No. 2 was dedicated to the school’s headmaster, and Schubert’s friend Josef Doppler later gave a set of manuscript instrumental parts to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. As to performances of Nos. 3 and 4, there are no clues. Sonnleithner, another friend of the composer, tells us that Nos. 5 and 6 were both composed for Otto Hatwig’s “music salons” – semi-public concerts by an orchestra in which Schubert played the viola. Manuscript parts of both works were subsequently acquired by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.

After the Sixth Symphony in 1818 there came a period of crisis. The ultimate aim was to produce a “grosse Symphonie”. Before that could be achieved, in 1825-26 with the “Great” C major, the quest for a new symphonic voice entailed four abortive attempts. The fourth of these apparently foundered in the course of its third movement, though the first two movements were complete down to the last detail and have a special place in the repertory and in our affections as the “Unfinished” Symphony in B minor. Here, in 1822, a new voice was decidedly attained, though that voice was to say such different things three years later in the C major Symphony as to sound almost like a new voice again.

By tradition, the “Great” C major Symphony has been assigned to the last year of Schubert’s life, 1828, while the symphony which Schubert is known to have worked on while on holiday at Gmunden and Gastein in 1825 has been presumed lost. Modern scholarship has now re-assigned the “Great” to 1825: it is the “Gastein” Symphony. At the same time it has come to light that this was not the last symphony undertaken by Schubert. On or on the way to his death-bed in 1828 he began a further symphony which shows him poised to cross yet new stylistic frontiers. But death intervened, leaving the sketch in a far from definitive state.

Symphony No. 1 in D major, D. 82

1. Adagio – Allegro vivace
2. Andante
3. Allegro
4. Allegro vivace

Listening to the fluent and resourceful First Symphony one can easily believe that its youthful composer had already had some practice in symphonic writing. The full Classical orchestra, though with only one flute, is used confidently and colourfully. The outer movements run their course somewhat breathlessly and with a touch of forgivable boyish garrulity. There is no doubting Schubert’s ability to sustain a mood of exuberance. In fact he tends to employ the wind players more continuously here than in the later symphonies, and never again did he work his trumpeters at such an altitude.

The Adagio introduction, a feature of most of Schubert’s symphonies, is here no mere preface, to be forgotten when the Allegro gets under way. It returns in the middle of the movement, but in the prevailing Allegro tempo, to herald the recapitulation. The following Andante reminds us that Schubert was moved by Haydn’s slow movements, as Spaun tells us, though the sentiments owe something to Mozart too. The minuet is still more obviously Haydnesque, but the joie de vivre of the finale is prophetically Schubertian. Curiously, the finale’s second subject echoes that of the first movement, which in turn pays homage to Beethoven’s “Prometheus”.

Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, D. 125

1. Largo – Allegro vivace
2. Andante
3. Allegro vivace
4. Presto

Schubert discovers a new sort of energy in the outer movements of his Second Symphony. It is not simply a matter of short notes and fast tempos, of which, after all, the previous symphony had its share. Brilliance now gives way to “bite”. Well-placed accents contribute, and Schubert becomes increasingly aware of the power of dissonance, both as an expressive resource and as an energising force. There is a new trenchancy in the scoring of tutti passages, with massed violins often set against incisive counter-rhythms in the wind choir. The seeds of the tensions implicit in the Fourth Symphony are perhaps sown here.

The introduction is short, the following Allegro long – its climaxes having a power befitting the scale of the design. After this, a set of variations (the only instance in all the symphonies) seems to evoke a bygone Classical serenity, until the fourth variation plunges into the relative minor key, audibly anticipating the dark and weighty minor-key thrust of the minuet. The finale boasts Schubert’s most engaging symphonic tunes so far, and its central development is remarkably rich when one considers that its sole topic is the first theme’s initial dactylic rhythm.

Symphony No. 3 in D major, D. 200

1. Adagio maestoso – Allegro con brio
2. Allegretto
3. Menuetto (Vivace)
4. Presto. Vivace

These early symphonies give little indication of the problems which symphonic writing was to present to Schubert later on: least of all does the Third. It is the shortest symphony so far, was composed in large part within eight days, and trips along with a grace and spontaneity all its own. There is, even so, a subtlety in the relationship between the slow introduction and the first movement proper. While the Allegro con brio begins with a theme which looks forward 10 years to the “Great” C major rather than backward to the introduction, its fortissimo sequel (which recurs later and is the only fortissimo idea in the whole movement) emphatically restates a figure which evolved in the introduction - a swift scale-ascent extended by repeated notes.

None of Schubert’s slow movements dallies less, or develops its material less, than the delicate Allegretto. It is daringly succinct, and that is its charm. The minuet adopts a peculiarly sonorous manner, with resolute upbeats. In contrast, the racy finale begins with its feet scarcely touching the ground. But the miracle of this 6/8 tour de force, as gradually becomes clear, is that it so deftly combines speed with elegance, lightness with solidity.

Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D. 417 “Tragic”

1. Adagio molto – Allegro vivace
2. Andante
3. Menuetto (Allegro vivace)
4. Allegro

Tragic it is not, if we have in mind Shakespeare or Goethe. But in the context of Schubert’s early orchestral œuvre, and between works as sunny as the Third and Fifth Symphonies, the Fourth certainly presents a darker face. Had our composer lived 40 years earlier, we should have called this his Sturm und Drang symphony. Like Haydn, Schubert chose a minor key only for symphonic utterances of a special kind, and did so infrequently.

After the sombre introduction, impassioned and often strenuous violin writing tends to dominate the following Allegro. But Schubert’s innate lyricism is not to be suppressed, either in the intense, songful phrases of the second subject, or in the second movement, whose main sections set off warmly harmonised consolatory melody against the turbulent outbursts of the alternating sections. Although the minuet is in a close major key, it derives tensions of its own from the tortuous chromaticism and perverse slurring of its theme. Schubert’s dependence on string tone in this work is particularly evident in the C minor finale, where the violins seldom cease from their lyrical outpourings or restless quavers. When C major is attained at the close, it is as formal resolution rather than Beethovenian triumph.

Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, D. 485

1. Allegro
2. Andante con moto
3. Menuetto (Allegro molto)
4. Allegro vivace

No Schubert symphony stands closer to its eighteenth-century forebears than the Fifth. Uniquely, it dispenses with the clarinets, trumpets, drums, and second flute, not to mention the second pair of horns enlisted for the “Tragic.” Classical restraint prevails and Schubert achieves, throughout, a winsome lightness of touch. There is, besides, a formal clarity which, hand in hand with melodic purity, seems to be reaching out towards Mozartian ideals.

Instead of an introduction we have a mere four-bar “curtain”, opening on to one of the most familiar and lovable of Schubert’s symphonic themes. This curtain felicitously reappears, in new lights, at the beginning of the development section. That Schubert was to become a master of transitions is clearly foretold in the second movement. The minuet is quite evidently affected by the memory of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, which the boy Schubert played and loved, as Spaun testifies. And Mozart seems to live on in Schubert’s finale, too. If Beethoven (who had already composed eight of his symphonies) had never lived, one cannot think that this Schubert finale – or the Fifth Symphony as a whole – would have been any different.

Symphony No. 6 in C major, D. 589

1. Adagio – Allegro
2. Andante
3. Scherzo (Presto)
4. Allegro moderato

The Sixth Symphony, unlike the Fifth, could only have been written in the wake of Beethoven’s exploits. It is as though Schubert, having turned aside from the line of development charted by his first three symphonies to attempt an intense minor-key Fourth and an intimate, scaled-down Fifth, was temporarily unsure which way to turn next. The Sixth has something of the character of a notebook chronicling his faintly detached examination of the possibilities. And the first path he opts for is to adopt the key of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, well known from his school orchestra days, and its broad tonal plan (as Roger Fiske has pointed out), and to allow that composer’s early style to resonate in his mind and for the time being direct his thinking.

As the invention progresses, however, two things happen. He finds that he cannot rid his reflexes of Rossini, whose operas had recently created such a stir in Vienna: and, movement by movement, he comes to sound more like Schubert – Schubert, though, at a crossroads. Thus, although his labelling of the third movement as a “Scherzo” (for the first time in one of his symphonies) is the most overt homage to Beethoven in the whole score, the very genre seems to unlock a new side of Schubert’s own personality. And in the finale, once the pretty Rossinian tune has given way to a truer Schubertian voice, we encounter distinct pre-echoes of gestures that are to characterise the “Great” C major Symphony and other late works, several years through the looming style-barrier.

Symphony in D major, D. 615

(Fragments orchestrated by Brian Newbould)
1. Adagio – Allegro moderato
2. Allegretto

The way ahead was difficult. A few months after the Sixth Symphony, Schubert attempted another symphony but evidently lost heart after sketching two fragments in piano score. The symphony begins with an imposing, searching slow introduction in D minor, but as it leads into an Allegro moderato the promise of new horizons is dissolved in bland retrospection.

Schubert abandons the movement at the end of its exposition, but proceeds to sketch another on the very next line of his paper. One may expect it to be a slow movement (there is no tempo marked), but it is in fact a finale. For one thing it is in D major, and Schubert would not set a slow movement in the symphony’s title-key. It was destined to be a rondo or sonata-rondo, but the music breaks off tantalisingly just as the graceful opening theme makes its first return.

Symphony in D major, D. 708A

(Fragments orchestrated and scherzo completed by Brian Newbould)
1. (Allegro vivace)
2. (Andante con moto)
3. (Scherzo: Allegro vivace)
4. (Presto)

Schubert’s activities as an aspiring opera composer increased in the years 1819-20 and there was a two-year gap before he turned to the symphony again. This time he again abandoned the first movement having sketched in piano score the exposition only. The second movement and finale he planned to a similar extent, but the scherzo he left in a sufficiently advanced state for it to be completed by the addition of about 60 bars of recapitulation. Its trio is missing a mere half-dozen bars.

Schubert is yet to take a decisive step forwards from the style of his earlier symphonies, but he does experiment in this half-finished score. Perhaps the nature of these experiments helps to explain why he could not bring himself to finish the work. The remote key of the second subject in the first movement posed severe problems for him, while the bold excursions to distant keys in the finale would have brought him up hard against the limitations of the brass instruments of his day. One regrets particularly that the slow movement, with its expressive lyrical counterpoint, was not finished, and one values the scherzo as more than a preliminary exercise for the scherzo of the “Great” C major.

Symphony No. 7 in E minor/major, D. 729

(Realisation by Brian Newbould)
1. Adagio – Allegro
2. Andante
3. Scherzo (Allegro)
4. Allegro giusto

A few months after D. 708A, Schubert was at work on another symphony. Again he did not finish it, but the sketch of the Seventh is quite unlike any other symphonic sketch by Schubert. He evidently composed directly into orchestral score, without first drafting a piano score. In this way he completed a slow introduction and the first subject group of a first movement proper. Finding that the labour of filling in all the instrumental parts on 14 staves of score was checking the pace of his thought, he then proceeded to write one instrumental line only, usually for the first violins or a leading woodwind instrument. Occasionally fragments of bass line or other parts would be sketched in. In this manner he continued to the very end of his four-movement symphony, writing “Fine” with a flourish at the final double-bar. Thus we have a complete symphonic structure of some 1300 bars, of which about 950 exist as a single line of music only.

The Seventh Symphony forms a fascinating link between the early and late symphonies, anticipating the “Unfinished” and the “Great” in its transitional passages rather than in its themes, which, in the outer movements at least, still bear witness to Schubert’s admiration of Rossini. It looks forward also in its inclusion of three trombones, not present in the first six symphonies. In fact, since there are four horns, not two, this is Schubert’s largest symphonic orchestra: and he exploits its sonority from the start, in an introduction which tellingly sets off the new amplitude of the tutti against more delicate scoring.

The themes of the Allegro are closely related to those of the introduction. They are long themes, spun out into large paragraphs, and indeed the movement shapes itself on a grand scale, despite the omission of the first theme from the beginning of the recapitulation. A similar elision occurs in the finale, which again gives extended treatment to ideas of some span. The Andante is intimate and poetic, without strong contrasts. The scherzo, however, is weighty and grandiose. In this respect it looks ahead to the scherzo of the “Great” C major, as it does also in the manner of its transition from scherzo to trio.

Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 “Unfinished”

1. Allegro moderato
2. Andante con moto
3. Scherzo (Allegro)
(Completed and orchestrated by Brian Newbould)
4. Allegro molto moderato
(from “Rosamunde”)

Within a year of laying aside his Seventh, Schubert was sketching his Eighth Symphony in piano score. He composed and scored two complete movements, began a scherzo but probably never finished it, and left behind him no trace of a finale. It remains a mystery that he should have offered the resultant half-composed work to the Styrian Music Society at Graz in gratitude for an honorary diploma conferred on him by that society. No less puzzling is the subsequent action of Anselm Hüttenbrenner, the society member into whose hands the manuscript passed, who hoarded it for some 40 years, evidently well aware of its importance yet doing nothing to secure a performance of it. The first performance was given on December 17, 1865 under Johann Herbeck.

At the outset the cellos and basses lead us into a new symphonic world. In this first movement, drama and lyricism merge as facets of the one mode of utterance, which is Schubert’s new-found own. Hanslick, at the première, heard this whole movement as “a sweet stream of melody” – so perfectly integrated are the more dynamic elements of Classical sonata form. The same voice speaks with an extra degree of intimacy in the second movement, with its long woodwind solos unfurling above magical harmonic shifts in the strings.

For the third movement, we have an entire scherzo sketched in piano score, and a melody line for the first section of the trio. There are also two pages of Schubert’s orchestration of the scherzo. If this movement is to be completed, with the purpose of enabling the authentic material of the sketch to be heard, then the only realistic (if audacious) solution is to compose a second half for the trio based on the first, as Schubert would have done.

The idea of playing the big B minor Entr’acte from “Rosamunde” as this symphony’s finale is not new: it was done at the first London performance of the work. Given that it seems too long for its role in “Rosamunde”, is in the same key as the symphony and uses the same orchestra, adopts the design of Schubert’s earlier symphonic finales yet is distinctly closer in spirit to the Eighth Symphony than to anything earlier, it could just have been the original finale.

Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944 “Great”

1. Andante – Allegro ma non troppo
2. Andante con moto
3. Scherzo (Allegro vivace)
4. Allegro vivace

Having suffered four symphonic miscarriages in a row, yet having achieved something of a stylistic breakthrough despite it all, Schubert was soon cherishing an ambition to conceive a “grosse Symphonie”. After preparing himself for the task by composing the Octet and the Grand Duo, he produced his new offspring in the years 1825-26. It was to be the only symphony he completed in the last 10 years of his life; but it was not performed till 11 years after his death, when Mendelssohn conducted it at Leipzig.

The two horns in unison announce a work of spacious dimensions. In the “Great”, space is implied by, among other things, multiplication. Tiny rhythmic cells proliferate in myriad repetitions, energising broad phrases which themselves multiply into huge paragraphs. To this tireless continuity is added a rhythmic drive that carries all before it: for the “Great” is as much a celebration of rhythm as Beethoven’s Seventh is. Unlike the torso of the “Unfinished”, a slowish symphony in triple time, it moves briskly in duple time, with a slow movement that is not very slow at all and a three-in-the-bar scherzo throughout which one may count a larger two (one, two, three, two, two, three, one...).

Beethoven, whose Seventh Symphony was well known to Schubert, was an inveterate formal experimenter and would surely have approved Schubert’s neat way of bringing his first movement full circle. Both composers liked to integrate a first movement proper with its slow introduction. The solution here is to recall the opening theme at the very end without reverting to the introductory tempo. It forms the ideal climax, pushing, with the minimum of superfluous rhetoric, right into the last cadence. Equally the deaf possessor of acute inner hearing would have relished the decisive role in thematic development given to the three trombones, most notably in soft unison entries.

The second movement reconciles extremes of lyricism and dynamism as no other Schubert slow movement does. Symptomatically, the powerful climax reached early in the reprise, followed by the most vibrant silence in all Schubert, leads on to moments of supreme lyrical magic. Tchaikovsky tried to, but could not do this sort of thing better.

The scherzo and trio combine weight with vitality in a manner only hinted at in the scherzo of the Seventh Symphony. If that imposes a special obligation on the finale, Schubert sees it as opportunity rather than obligation. Vast, yet seemingly fuelled by a single sustained impulse, his last movement renews the symphony’s unique thrust with a pulsating onward sweep which, here as before, incurs no neglect of detail in its course.

Symphony No. 10 in D major, D. 936A

(Realisation by Brian Newbould)
1. (Allegro maestoso)
2. Andante
3. Scherzo (Allegro moderato)

In August and September 1828, Schubert was putting the finishing touches to “Schwanengesang”, the String Quintet, the last three piano sonatas, and the Mass in E flat, on many of which he had been working for some time. It was probably at the beginning of October that he undertook his symphonic “swan-song”. This was to be the sixth symphony he left unfinished. Whatever the reasons for Schubert abandoning other symphonies – perhaps he was by nature easily sidetracked, or was deterred by the difficulty of securing performances of symphonies after he had left school, or experienced compositional problems as in the scherzo of the Eighth – it may be assumed that the cause of incompletion in the case of the Tenth Symphony was his last illness and death. He died on November 19.

All that survives is a sketch of three movements in piano score. For his third movement, Schubert set out to write a scherzo. But as work progressed the movement came to resemble more and more a finale. It is, in fact, a sort of rondo in 2/4 time, but with a 6/8 overlay. A remarkable feature is its preoccupation with counterpoint. Schubert had made little use of contrapuntal devices in his previous symphonies, yet here he employs double counterpoint, canon, augmentation, and fugato, finally combining simultaneously his two themes. Significantly, he worked some separate counterpoint exercises on the same sheets of paper as the symphony sketch. This tends to confirm the dating of the work. He decided to take a course of counterpoint lessons with Simon Sechter in his last weeks, and lived to attend only one lesson, on November 4.

The first movement, whose structure is not clearly indicated in the sketch, is evidently a sonata-form movement on a grand scale, with a lyrical second subject in the cellos which is pure Schubert. The slow movement combines the poetic vision of the Eighth Symphony with the desolation of “Winterreise” (1827): its bare textures seem to anticipate Mahler.

The “realisation” of this sketch for performance is fraught with problems – of decipherment, of orchestration (since in the work’s style so much is new and one has no helpful precedents to study), and of structure. If the world is to hear what are possibly the last notes Schubert penned, one has to face these problems and accept that any performing version must be an act of speculation.

Brian Newbould, Professor of Music, University of Hull