Saturday, December 03, 2005


Schubert: Early Symphonies

Schubert's First Symphony (D.82), in D, was composed in 1813, shortly after Beethoven had completed his Seventh and Eighth, and when Mendelssohn and Schumann, who were to become the next bright stars in the symphonic firmament, were very small boys, unconscious of the power they were destined to exert.

This First Symphony is in no wise remarkable, save in that it is the product of a boy of sixteen. Schubert's uncontrollable flood of melody overruns it---as yet in rivulets only---but otherwise it gives but little recognizable promise of what was to succeed it. Then came a second (D.125), in B-flat, and a third (D.200), in D (both in 1815). These record remarkable progress; but it was the next following Symphony, No. IV (D.417), known as the Tragic (C minor, 1816), which first revealed some of the qualities of Schubert's outstanding genius in the larger sphere of tone-expression.

There has always been much confusion in regard to the number and order of his Symphonies. This was a natural consequence of the comparative indifference of the public, though most largely owing to Schubert's own indifference. A "little thing" like a Symphony, floating on the immense current of his productive flood, did not mean much to him; it was written, shoved to one side, buried under piles of manuscript, stowed away after his death, in dusty drawers, until some eager, appreciative hand drew it forth and gave it back to the musical world. Schumann knew of only seven, obviously the last, he called it "No. VII." Others still insist on limiting the number to eight. But it seems to be the tradition that there were ten---though his biographer Kreissle appears (in 1860) to have known of only eight; all but one of the ten are accessible, though not all are published. The list is as follows:

No.I (D, finished in October, 1813;D.82), No.II (B-flat, March,1815;D.125), No.III (D, May, 1815; D.200), No.IV (the Tragic, C minor, April, 1816;D.417), No.V(B-flat, October 1816;D.485), No.VI (Little C major, February, 1818, D.589), which Schubert spoke of as a "grand" (large) Symphony, No.VII (in E, begun in August, 1821, left in partly sketched form---not completed), No.VIII (the Unfinished, B minor, begun October 30, 1822;D.759), No.IX (the Gasteiner, C, 1825), and No.X (the Great C major, March, 1828,D.944). Of these, No.IX, though persistently cited, seems to be irretrievably lost; some authorities have ventured the conjecture that it may have been merely a revision of the one in C, No.VI, and neglected or destroyed by Schubert himself, as of insufficient novelty.


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