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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUBERT: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2
"They play both these works most winningly."
Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Symphony No.1 in D Major, D. 82
Symphony No.2 in B Flat Major, D. 125
Franz Schubert was born in Vienna in 1797, the son of a schoolmaster who had settled in the city some fourteen years before. He showed early musical ability, exercised in the family quartet with his father and older brothers, and in 1808 was successful in winning a place as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, enabling him to continue his general education at the Staatskonvikt, a school of the highest prestige. It was here that he was exposed to a wider musical world and began to compose. At the Konvikt he could profit from the presence of the old Kapellmeister Salieri and broaden his practical experience by playing the violin in the student orchestra, which he sometimes led. His voice broke in 1812 and he rejected the offer of a scholarship for further study, instead entering the Normal School of St. Anna to train as an elementary teacher. In this capacity he joined his father in the school-room in 1815. The following year he was unsuccessful in an application for a position as music teacher at the Normal School in Laibach (Ljubljana) but left home to lodge instead with his friend Franz von Schober.
The remaining years of Schubert's life were spent predominantly in Vienna, more often than not in the company of friends. There were occasions when he returned briefly to teaching at his father's school, but as a composer he proved increasingly prolific, particularly in the writing of songs, welcomed among his own circle and winning him gradually a wider reputation, Some of his songs proved immediately successful, particularly through the advocacy of his friend, the singer Michael Vogl, and there were commissions for the theatre and publication of piano pieces and songs well suited to the new domestic market. His last years, however, were clouded by illness. A syphilitic infection, in those days incurable, took its intermittent course, and he died in November 1828, twenty months after the death of Beethoven. While the latter had from the first enjoyed distinguished patronage and had had an early career as a virtuoso pianist, Schubert had occupied a different position, part, rather, of the society of Biedermeier Vienna.
Lacking the esteem and patronage from which Beethoven had profited, Schubert published relatively little and consequently left a great deal of music to be rediscovered posthumously. His orchestral writing was clearly influenced by the repertoire of the Staatskonvikt orchestra, which included symphonies by Mozart and Haydn, as well as the earlier Beethoven symphonies. The family quartet tackled four-part versions of Haydn symphonies and the ensemble grew so that by 1815, under the leadership of the violinist Otto Hatwig, it could muster some twenty string players, as well as double woodwind and percussion, providing an orchestra for which Schubert, who played viola, wrote his earlier symphonies and overtures.
Alternative numbering for Schubert's symphonies has led to occasional confusion. After an early sketch for a first movement in or about 1811, Schubert had tackled the form seriously by 1813, completing his Symphony No.1 in D major by 28th October that year. His Symphony No.2 in B flat major was written between 10th December 1814 and 24th March 1815. Problems of numbering arise, however, with the symphonies written after 1821, which include a sketched score for an E major Symphony in August that year, sometimes described as No.7, the two movements of the so-called Unfinished Symphony, sometimes described as No. 8, and the final Great C major Symphony, consequently known, with this numbering, as No.9. Clearly, if the E major and Unfinished symphonies are not counted, then the last great symphony becomes No.7, with a further adjustment of numeration if the sketched E major Symphony is disregarded.
Schubert's Symphony No.1 in D major, with its echoes of late Mozart and of early Beethoven, is said to have been first performed by the orchestra of the Konvikt as a leaving present in honour of the director, Innocenz Lang. It is scored for flute, with pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and drums, with strings. Following the example of Haydn, the first movement opens with a slow introduction, followed by an Allegro vivace in the now customary tripartite form. The exposition has its two contrasted subjects, while the central development ends with a return of material from the introduction. It is not difficult to detect the influence of Beethoven in the melodic material and of Mozart in occasional textures and turns of phrase. The strings open the gently lilting G major Andante, with its change of mood in a second section. The original key very properly returns for the Minuet, now a scherzo rather than a dance, with its contrasting Trio, with all the air of a Ländler. The first violins introduce the principal theme of the Finale and are also entrusted with the first announcement of the more lyrical second subject. The whole is triumphantly developed, providing a symphony of clear optimism, to the score of which Schubert added the words finis et fine, thus marking the end of his school career.
The Symphony No.2 in B flat major shows clear influence of Beethoven, whose A major Symphony and Battle Symphony were performed in Vienna in December 1814. The first movement again starts with a slow introduction and proceeds to an Allegro vivace with two well contrasted subjects, splendidly developed. The second movement Andante is a set of variations, in which full use is made of the wind section of the Konvikt orchestra, which gave the first performance of the work. The theme is unpretentious, Singspiel rather than opera, its varied versions leading to a dramatic excursion into the minor, to be relieved by music of a gentler cast, in which wind and strings mingle. The C minor Minuet is energetic, no longer music for dancing, its mood lightened by a more lyrical Trio. The last movement is urged forward with all the energy of an opera buffa final ensemble.
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SCHUBERT: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2