The Romantic Symphony

CD 8 of 24

Some musical historians have gone so far as to call the Eighth Symphony of Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828), or, as it is more popularly known, the “Unfinished Symphony”,  “the first truly Romantic Symphony” through its then novel use of harmony and orchestral timbre. Agree or disagree, the fact that we are able to have this discussion at all was almost rendered moot by this semi-symphony never seeing the light of day – the story of why reads a bit like a mystery novel.

Schubert was friends with Anselm Hüttenbrenner, whose brother received from Schubert the score of the symphony, perhaps as a token of appreciation for his assistance in seeing Schubert being awarded an Honorary Diploma. The brother, Josef, takes this partial score to Anselm, who arranges it for piano duet. This was in 1825, and there it sat until 1865, when conductor Johann Herbeck, on a visit to Anselm, finds out about this work tucked away, no doubt in the proverbial sock drawer, and gives the piece its world première - 40 years after Schubert wrote it! 

So why was it unfinished? Some speculate that Schubert’s syphilis was becoming debilitating. Others say that he was distracted by the composing of the “Wanderer” Fantasy, one of his famous piano masterworks. Still others say it was actually finished – a sketched out third movement was found – and that the fourth movement was actually his Overture to Rosamunde. As with most 200-year-old unsolved mysteries, the truth will likely never be proven.
Oddly enough, Schubert would write a complete Ninth Symphony, four movements and all, carrying the nickname “The Great”. Yet as great as his Ninth was, he was never to write a Tenth. In fact, it would be a while before any composer of stature would compose a  Tenth Symphony. It was as if no one could write that much music that would come near the magnificence of Beethoven – that is until Johannes Brahms. Brahms (1833 – 1897), while not actually writing ten symphonies, did compose symphonies that were favourably compared to the monumental works of Beethoven.

Brahms got off to a late start when it came to writing a symphony. Beethoven was 30 when he wrote his first, Haydn was 26 and one suspects that Mozart wrote his first while still in the womb, but Brahms had reached the ripe old age of 43 before writing his. It was not that he was a late comer to composing, he was renowned for his piano and chamber works and he had written a few works for orchestra, but he knew how high he needed to leap to match the heights attained by Beethoven and he wanted to ensure he could match that before presenting his first to the world. After an incubation period of many years, the symphony was premièred in 1876. Following its première, the conductor Hans von Bülow called it “the Tenth”, confirming that the symphony could withstand comparison to Beethoven’s works. With its intense opening and its great fourth movement melody (Track 6 – 5:43), reminiscent of the Ode to Joy theme from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the parallels were there for all to hear, or as Brahms so indelicately put it, “any jackass can see that!”

Geniuses can get away with saying anything.


Recommended Tracks

Recommended Tracks

Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828):
Symphony No.8 in B Minor, D.759 - "Unfinished" | 1. Allegro moderato
Bernstein · Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828):
Symphony No.8 in B Minor, D.759 - "Unfinished" | 2. Andante con moto
Bernstein · Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897):
Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68 | 1. Un poco sostenuto - Allegro - Meno allegro
Bernstein · Concertgebouw Wiener Philharmoniker


(Please find our recommended audio excerpts for this CD on the bottom of the "Overview" page.)

      1. Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
        Symphony No.8 in B Minor, D.759 - "Unfinished"
        1. 1.
          1. Allegro moderato
        2. 2.
          2. Andante con moto
          Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Leonard Bernstein
      2. Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
        Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
        1. 3.
          1. Un poco sostenuto - Allegro - Meno allegro
          Wiener Philharmoniker, Leonard Bernstein
        2. 4.
          2. Andante sostenuto
          Gerhart Hetzel, Wiener Philharmoniker, Leonard Bernstein
        3. 5.
          3. Un poco allegretto e grazioso
        4. 6.
          4. Adagio - Piu andante - Allegro non troppo, ma con brio - Piu allegro
          Wiener Philharmoniker, Leonard Bernstein
    Playing Time 01:18:48