Symphony No. 8 in B min D. 759 ‘The Unfinished’ (1822)
Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)
- Allegro moderato
- Andante con moto
Born in Vienna, Franz Schubert was a child prodigy. Taught by the infamous Salieri, he excelled on violin, piano and as a boy soprano. Briefly a school teacher (allegedly to avoid military service), Schubert subsequently dedicated his life to music, supported by his Bohemian friends. His gift for lyricism led to the greatest body of lieder ever created. However, Schubert saw the symphony as the best vehicle to preserve his music for posterity. Living at the close of the classical era, Schubert built his first seven symphonies firmly on classical traditions. His sixth sought to emulate the power of Beethoven, but failed. His seventh was never orchestrated. Only in his eighth did Schubert eventually throw off the shackles of classicism and give both the romantic within him and his powers of lyricism full reign.
Written in 1822 (two years before Beethoven’s ninth), the two movements combine long and beautiful melodic lines with orchestral colour, perfect form and a new-found depth of emotion. No-one other than Beethoven had dared give the trombones melodies, or favoured the woodwinds over strings for long sweeping melodic lines.
Why the symphony was never finished is a mystery. Schubert composed over 50 works a year, (more than 1,000 in his short lifetime) and, perhaps dissatisfied with the sketches for the third movement, put the score aside to complete his Wanderer Fantasy. He never returned to it, though later completed his ninth symphony, another masterpiece. Schubert presented the manuscript of the eighth to Josef Hüttenbrenner in gratitude for his election to the Graz Styrian Society. 42 years later, Josef approached Johann Herbeck to perform some of Josef’s brother’s works with the Vienna Musikverein. As a sweetener, he presented Herbeck with some of Schubert’s manuscripts. And so the ‘Unfinished Symphony’ was eventually premiered, 37 years after Schubert’s death.
Performed: 15 & 22 March 2015