One of the great works of early Romanticism is Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, D. 759 “Unfinished”. I have loved Schubert’s music for a long time. My Austrian-born piano teacher gave me a love for the Austro-German classics that remains to this day.
Why Schubert never finished this symphony is one of the great questions in music. He did, after all, finish his Ninth. A musical society in Graz had given him a diploma. Schubert felt obligated to repay this honour with a new symphony. Unfortunately, he never did finish it. It was a completely new work, in some ways beyond what was available on the instruments of the time. One thing which the Early Music movement has let us experience was how different the instruments were that Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin used. When Chopin was alive, the piano was still moving towards its final form. The Chopin piano sounds quite different from what we’re used to. The horns of Schubert’s day had difficulties accomodating some of the things he wanted them to do.
A Schubert scholar named Brian Newbould has taken on himself the task of finishing the Unfinished. I’ve heard a version of it on Naxos where the scherzo is Newbould’s own, but the last movement is a realization by the Swiss conductor Mario Venzago. I sort of have mixed feelings about all this, as Schubert never finished it beyond the two movements we now have. How Schubert would have finished it, no matter how scholarly the conjectures (and Professor Newbould is very scholarly), it is still open to debate.
BBC Radio 3 will be having a weeklong celebration of all things Schubert this week and part of next week. They do broadcast on-line, in addition to over the airwaves, so those living outside of the UK can take part as well. You can read more about this here.
Also, the BBC Radio 3 website is well worth visiting. There’s a lot to listen to. For those interested in Philip Glass, they are currently running a series of programmes on the prominent American composer. You can visit BBC Radio 3 by clicking here.