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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUBERT, F.: Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9 (Slovak Philharmonic, Budapest Failoni Chamber Orchestra, Halasz)
Schubert’s last two symphonies are ambitious in scale and brimming with striking ideas, though only two movements of the Symphony No 8 were finished and the score rediscovered and first performed 43 years after the composer’s death. The ‘Great’ C major Symphony marks the summit of Schubert’s achievement in the form, combining his unforgettable lyrical gift with the spirit of Beethoven. Michael Halász has been acclaimed for his “delightful performances” of Schubert. (Penguin Guide on 8.553094, Symphonies 3 and 6)
Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
Symphony No 8 in B minor ‘Unfinished’ D 759 Symphony No 9 in C major ‘Great’ D 944
Franz Schubert, born in Vienna in 1797, was the fourth surviving child of fourteen. His musical abilities were fostered as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, a position that brought with it the chance of a decent education at the Staatskonvikt and also an association with the old Court Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri, whose influence on him was considerable. Schubert’s childhood had been dominated by music. He played the piano and the violin, and there was a family string quartet. In 1818, after serving as music teacher to the daughters of Count Esterházy von Galánta in Hungary, he returned to Vienna to share rooms with another friend, the poet Mayrhofer. He was to return briefly to Hungary for part of the summer of 1824, at a time when his health had been seriously impaired by the venereal infection that was to cause his death in 1828. During his brief life Schubert enjoyed the friendship of a circle of young poets, artists and musicians, many of them dependent on other employment for a living. He never held any official position in the musical establishment, nor was he a virtuoso performer, as Mozart and Beethoven had been. By the time of his death, Schubert seemed only to have started to make an impression on a wider public. Much of what he had written had proved eminently suitable for intimate social gatherings. His larger scale works were often to be played by amateurs, since he never had a professional orchestra at his disposal.
Schubert’s Symphony in B minor was written in 1822 and only two of the expected four movements were finished, with part of a scherzo. These movements were not played in Schubert’s life-time, but were rediscovered 43 years later and given their first performance in Vienna in 1865. The manuscript had been given by Schubert to his friend Josef Hüttenbrenner as a present for his brother Anselm in Graz. The latter had later arranged a piano duet version of the movements, which he and his brother played together. For years the manuscript remained in Anselm Hüttenbrenner’s possession, its existence only known to a few, until it came to the attention of the conductor Johann Herbeck. The symphony’s first movement is in sonata form, opening quietly in the strings followed by a melody played by the oboe and clarinet. The second movement moves between two contrasting themes. The first is introduced by the lower strings, brass and high strings playing in counterpoint. The second theme appears first in the solo clarinet and then passes to the oboe.
The ʻGreat’ C major Symphony marks the summit of Schubert’s achievement in the form. The work was completed in the spring or summer of 1826, based on sketches made the previous summer during holidays in the Austrian countryside with Johann Michael Vogl, now considerably revised, with the conclusion added. He approached the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Philharmonic Society of Vienna) for a performance and there was a run-through later in the following year, before the idea of a public performance was postponed, owing to the length and apparent difficulty of the symphony. It was not until 1839 that the symphony was given its first public performance, on that occasion by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Mendelssohn. The Gesellschaft, to which Schubert dedicated the symphony, gave him an honorarium of a hundred florins.
The slow introduction to the first movement starts with a French horn statement of the theme, then taken up by the woodwind and elaborated by the strings, before an emphatic statement of the theme and a passage accompanied by violin triplets that leads to the Allegro ma non troppo. Here the principal theme is stated with some urgency, followed by oboes and bassoons declaring an E minor secondary theme that proceeds to a G major codetta before the central development. After this further exploration of the thematic material the principal theme returns in recapitulation, followed by the secondary theme, now offered by oboes and clarinets in the tonic minor. A change to the major allows a triumphant conclusion to the movement. The second movement, marked Andante con moto, is opened by the strings with a solemn A minor march, the melody first suggested by cellos and double basses before the entry of the oboe, later doubled by the clarinet. This is contrasted with a more lyrical melodic continuation in A major. The central section of the movement introduces a contrast of key and mood with a new melody based on a descending figure. The march returns, heralded by the French horn, in syncopation with string chords. The cellos, with a song-like version of the theme, lead to an A major version of the secondary theme. The A minor principal theme returns in conclusion. The strings unite in the first four bars of the C major Scherzo, answered by wind instruments and timpani in a movement imbued with the spirit of Beethoven. The strongly marked opening is counterbalanced by a lyrical element that follows. Horns, joined by trombones and clarinets, introduce the A major Trio with repeated notes, with lilting thematic material, suggesting once again a song. The repetition of the Scherzo is followed by the final Allegro vivace, loudly proclaimed, an energetic theme succeeded by the swaying theme offered by oboes, clarinets and bassoons. Subtle connections with earlier movements are apparent, in rhythms, forms of melody and contrast. The music sweeps all before it, as it takes its course to a conclusion that can bear the weight of what has preceded it.
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SCHUBERT, F.: Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9 (Slovak Phil...