Schubert – Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D. 417 The Tragic
Symphony No. 4 in C minor The Tragic D. 417 (1816)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
- Adagio molto – Allegro vivace
- Menuetto: Allegro vivace
Born in Vienna, Schubert was the gifted son of a schoolmaster who also gave Franz his initial lessons in the violin, while he learned the piano from his elder brother, Ignaz. Later, Franz was tutored by the local choirmaster who simply conversed with his talented student and “watched him with silent astonishment”, unable to add anything to his already prodigious knowledge. From age 11, Franz attended the prestigious Stadtkonvikt boarding school, where the school orchestra sight read an overture and symphony after each evening meal! Schubert thus gained intimate knowledge of the symphonies of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, and so was comfortable writing in this form from a much earlier age than other composers such as Brahms. Although best remembered for his vast output of songs, Schubert was determined to make his mark as a symphonist.
By the time Schubert wrote his 4th symphony at age 19, he had already written some of his most memorable songs such as The Earl King and Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel. The nickname The Tragic was applied by Schubert himself, but its origin is a mystery. Although this is his first symphony in a minor key; its mood is more of yearning and hope than tragedy. Perhaps the title reflects the young Franz’s recent disappointment at rejection of his application for a position that would finally free him from the boredom of teaching at his father’s school.
As with the first three symphonies, the fourth resembles those of Haydn and Mozart, but now using much bolder harmonic shifts. A melancholy introduction yields to a tempestuous first movement that always seems to be striving for something higher. The lovely theme of the 2nd movement also appears in a piano impromptu, and the Menuetto, in a brighter major key, includes a lightly orchestrated and cheerful Trio section. The irrepressible Finale is the longest and most intricate of all Schubert’s movements until his famous Unfinished symphony.
Performed: 1982, June 2008, March 2016