Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Schubert - Symphony No. 8 In B Minor 'Unfinished'

Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 may be the most famous unfinished work in the symphonic repertoire. The two completed movements of the symphony were completed in 1822, as well as a third movement scherzo in piano score with two pages in full score. There has been theories, rumors and downright guesswork as for the reasons the symphony remained unfinished, with none of them more than conjecture.  Because of the depth of feeling and drama of the work it has been called the first Romantic era symphony by some.

The history of the first performance of the work begins shortly after the two movements were completed in 1822. In 1823 Schubert was given an honorary diploma from the Granz Music Society, and in return the composer was going to dedicate a work to the society.  Schubert sent the first two movements of the symphony to Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a prominent member of the group.  There is no evidence that Schubert had any other contact with Hüttenbrenner or that he completed any of the other movements for the work. Indeed, Hüttenbrenner never let anyone else know he had the manuscript until 1865. Why Hüttenbrenner sat on the manuscript for so many years is not known. He finally showed the work to the conductor Johann von Herbeck, the conductor of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. Herbeck premiered the two movements and tacked on a movement from an earlier Schubert symphony as a finale, in 1865 in Vienna.  The work was a complete success despite the addition of the finale, and has been an audience favorite ever since.

The six symphonies Schubert composed before the Unfinished don't resemble it in depth or drama, but Schubert could be a quite dramatic composer when he chose to be as can be heard in his lied Der Erlkönig as well as music in other forms. One theory is that the composition of the symphony coincides with Schubert's diagnosis of syphilis. Considering such a diagnosis in those times was a sentence of suffering, perhaps madness, and certain death, may have been a reason for the dark tone of the music. The symphony is scored for pairs of woodwinds, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, strings and timpani.
Johann von Herbeck

I. Allegro moderato - It may appear strange that the tempo indication of this movement is allegro moderato, for the music that begins the movement doesn't seem to fit. But Schubert's point in the tempo designation is to make sure that there should be at least some speed to the movement, otherwise the music would sound too heavy to the point of plodding.  Of course just how moderately fast is subject to a conductor's interpretation.  The work opens with the dark cellos and basses playing pianissimo in their lowest ranges. The actual first theme of the movement is carried in the woodwinds while the violins play an agitated accompaniment along with the lower strings. a four-bar transition played by the horns shifts the music from B minor to G major for the second subject that is heard in the cellos over a syncopated accompaniment. A theme group is played after the second theme until a variant of the second theme is played. Transition material leads to the repeat of the exposition. The development section begins with a short transition before the cellos and basses play the opening bars of the symphony again but this time in E minor. The rest of the development concentrates on the first theme and its parts and is punctuated with sforzandi and string tremolos. The syncopated accompaniment of the second theme does show up a few times also. The recapitulation is mostly the usual repetition of themes, only the second theme modulates to D major instead of B major, the parallel major to the home key of B minor.  The music does modulate to B major until the first theme in B minor appears and is expanded into the ending of the emphatic final cadence.

II. Andante con moto - Two bars of introduction lead to the E major first theme of the movement, first played by the strings. This theme has a contrasting section of marching staccato strings until it resumes. A second theme is played in C-sharp minor by the clarinet over a gently syncopated accompaniment by the strings. This theme also has a contrasting section of music played fortissimo before the theme begins again.  All of this serves as the exposition. There is no development section, as the themes are repeated with modulations to other keys and variants. After this plays out, a new theme appears that is derived from the opening measures of the movement. The transition to the second theme that is played by the violins earlier is repeated and varied along with parts of the other themes, and the movement comes to a peaceful close in E major.

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