Monday, December 05, 2005


Schubert: the Tenth Symphony ("Great" C major)

The "Great" C major Symphony was written in the early months of 1828, a short time before Schubert's divine voice was stilled forever. And again there had been a lapse of six years between this and the preceding (Eighth) Symphony. A supposable Ninth Symphony presents a puzzling problem to the historian; possibly it never existed, though history persists in mentioning and numbering it.

The salient characteristic of this entire stupendous creation is Breadth. It is large in every respect---large in conception, in spirit, broad in proportions and structural plan. The many welcome repetitions, the "heavenly lengths" (as Schumann called them), the irrepressible joyous pulse of the music necessitated a canvas of very unusual dimensions. And its prevailing tone is Joy; in the slow Movement, only, is this joyful spirit of a serener type, tinged with melancholy, and yielding here and there to bursts of passion.

Its breadth of purpose demanded an Introduction, and Schubert conceived one which in extent, independence and impressiveness, forms an analogy to that of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The design is sonata-allegro, orthodox and regular, but extremely long. The Introduction is a Three-Part Song-form, enlarged to five Parts by the addition of an extra (fourth) Part, which is followed by another recurrence of the First Part, thus: I-IIA-III-IIB-III. One of the figures of this Introduction enters quite frequently and fearlessly into the texture of the Allegro; and the culmination of the whole first Movement is a jubilant intonation of the entire first Phrase of the Introduction.

The second Movement is a lyric creation of indescribable beauty, and at the same time powerful dramatic contrasts; no music could be lovelier than the two melodic Themes, and the Codetta to the first Period, with its wonderfully soothing change to the major mode; and the dramatic climax before the second recurrence of the principal Theme has rarely been equaled in intensity anywhere else in symphonic literature.

Further, this Movement (and in truth, the whole Symphony) displays mental acumen, superb mastery over structure in every respect, scarcely excelled by any other great master. Schubert may not have been a profoundly learned musical scholar, and surely he never wasted his precious time over abstruse musical problems; but his marvelous intuition, and a splendidly healthy mind, more than compensated for any fruits of sheer calculation.

An introductory phrase of seven measures precedes the principal Theme. The third measure of the latter Theme is of overruling thematic significance: the repeated e in the melody is the thematic Germ, so to speak, of the entire Movement. It appears most frequently in the rhythm of quarter-notes, but is modified at times to eighth-notes (as in the introductory measures), to sixteenths, and even thirty-second notes. It occurs upon different scale-steps, but is most persistently e-e. In various incisive rhythmic forms, and doubled in thirds, it provides the tremendous pounding throbs of the dramatic climax alluded to above. The insistent pulse of the this motive also underlies the fascinating dialog between the horn and strings, during the twelve measures which precede the first recurrence of the principal Theme.

The third Movement is a Scherzo of unusual breadth; its principal Division is enlarged to a complete sonata-allegro form, with two definite Themes---as in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which is the only other example of such form-dimensions (as Scherzo) in the literature of the symphony. Between the principal Division and the Trio an Interlude is inserted which serves as an introduction to the Trio. This introduction consists of twenty-four successive e's, chiefly by the horns and trombones, and is therefore reminiscent of the famous sixty e's leading into the principal Theme of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The melody of the Trio is one of those unforgettable lyric outbursts, in folk-song style---to which no one ever gave readier and more captivating voice than Schubert did.

The Finale, a sonata-allegro of extraordinary breadth and extent, is a revel of gladness, a genuine exuberant Ode to Joy, more jubilant and convincing than the Finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and of that fundamental simplicity that is synonymous with true greatness. The principal Theme is here again divided into two "Parts," but these are not so essentially differentiated as are the thematic "members" in the Unfinished Symphony. The four reiterated half-notes which distinguish the subordinate Theme constitute an analogy with the thematic germ of the slow Movement---a sort of echo of the latter, which may have been subconscious, or possibly intentional. The Exposition includes three Codettas, of which only the second one is of exceptional note. The Development opens with an apparently new melodic phrase, but it is a derivative of this second Codetta; the arresting feature of this melody is its close resemblance to the principal Theme of the Finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony: reverse the order of the first three tones, and the parallelism is complete (compare Beethoven's third Episode of Beethoven's Finale). Surely Schubert stood in no need of "borrowing" melodic ideas from anyone, nor was he ever known to do so. If this coincidence has any special meaning, it serves only to indicate how deeply Beethoven's musical spirit impressed that of Schubert.

The Recapitulation is transposed (to E-flat), extended, and considerably modified.


Thanks so much for this info! I'm a music student at Cambridge University and am having to write an essay on the Finale of Schubert's Great Symphony - this background has helped me to get started! Sophie
So am I ( @ Camb) and I'm doing an essay on this too! V. useful
Ni8on3 The best blog you have!
TKnGhr write more, thanks.
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