Schumann's excitement over the lost work extended to Felix Mendelssohn who performed a version of the work in 1839. Schumann wrote a glowing review of the work and referred to its heavenly length.
Schubert wrote a work beyond the capabilites of his contemporary orchestras as well as orchestras of the near future, for it took many years before the work would be performed in its entirety. Even with cuts, many orchestras refused to play it. To add to the confusion it was first numbered as Symphony No. 7 when it was published in 1840, as Symphony No. 8 in the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe, and as Symphony No. 9 in the catalog of Schubert's works published by musicologist Otto Deutsch in 1951. The fact that many of Schubert's manuscripts were unpublished at his death and that he neglected to catalog his own works helped create confusion in the numbering of his works that continues today.
The work got its nickname 'The Great' to differentiate between Symphony No. 6 in the same key of C major. Symphony No. 9 is in four movements:
I. Andante - Allegro ma non troppo - Solo horns begin the extended introduction with the first theme which is then taken up by the strings. A secondary theme that is related to the first theme is played in the low strings, after which different versions of the two themes are repeated. The first theme returns and leads to transition material to the beginning of the exposition of the movement which begins with a theme in quicker tempo. The second theme is taken up by the woodwinds, then there follows a progression of thematic material. Themes have their say in the development section in most creative ways before the recapitulation begins with the first theme and the others repeated. The final section of the coda recalls the opening theme of the introduction as the movement comes full circle.
II. Andante con moto - An extended, lyrical first theme is countered by a more rhythmical second theme. The themes are repeated, after which a more passionate version of the first theme grows until it comes to an end with a climax punctuated by timpani. The two themes return in different guises until Schubert again comes full circle by ending the movement as it began in A minor.
III. Scherzo: Allegro vivace - Schubert's scherzo dances in C major, the trio a waltz in A major. As with the two previous movments Schubert fills the third movement with melodies that are played, repeated and developed at length.
IV. Allegro vivace - There are two main themes in this sonata form movement, but those themes consist of their own melodic parts. What Schubert has done in this movement and the entire symphony is to enlarge the themes and transform them into long, sometimes complex melodies. The first theme begins with a call to attention, continues with running strings accompanying woodwinds, and ends with a full close and short pause before the second theme begins. The second theme also has a running figuration for the strings while the woodwinds play the melody. There are further extensions of this theme until both main themes are heard again in their entirety. The development section deals with selected parts of the themes instead of the entire theme itself. The recapitulation repeats all the elements of the two themes with some getting a change of key. A coda continues to expand some of the melodic material with a short episode where strings, horns and bassoons hammer out an accented C for 4 measures with the full orchestra answering in different keys. Violins chatter away with the full orchestra until the final C major chord.