Franz Schubert’s Unfinished 8th Symphony and Missing 7th
I always thought, along with most people, I’m sure, of Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor as his “Unfinished” symphony. It is one of his best-known, and certainly one of his greatest works. Apparently, however, there are several more symphonies that were not completed. In our “Summer with Schubert” series on Symphony @ 7, we’re presenting the symphonies of this great Austrian composer on Thursday evenings. Last week, we made it to No.6, the Little C Major Symphony, and this week we jump to No. 8. What happened to 7?
Well, it can get a little murky. Most of the “complete” sets of Schubert symphonies seem straight forward enough, 1-9, except for the missing No. 7. But it’s more odd than that. There’s an unfinished Tenth (that has been finished by someone else), and there was some controversy over the numbering of 8 and 9. No. 9, The Great C Major Symphony, was referred to at one point as either No. 7, or No. 10, and the one we definitely know as No. 8 today (Unfinished) was designated as either No. 7 or 9. Yes, it is a confusing mess!
But, not to worry. We’ll stick with the familiar numbering for our series on Classical 101. It turns out in 1821 Schubert did begin to write a 7th Symphony but never completed it. He wrote out a melody line for all four movements but only orchestrated the beginning of the opening portion of the first movement. Brian Newbold made a completion, orchestrating the rest of it, making it one of those hybrid pieces we’re not sure how to regard sometimes. I’ve never heard it, and we don’t have it in our library, so we’ll move on to No. 8.
In 1822, Schubert did complete and fully orchestrate two movements for the symphony we know and love as the Unfinished (although that has also been “completed,” adding two movements that existed in only sketches). The two movements Schubert wrote show a remarkable depth of feeling and expressive power. For reasons we don’t know, he set them aside and never came back to them. He had long admired Beethoven’s symphonies and had emulated him in his earlier symphonies (along with Mozart and Haydn), but in these two abandoned movements Schubert achieved a comparable greatness in orchestral writing.
It wasn’t until long after Schubert’s death that these beloved symphonic fragments had their first public hearing, and that was in Vienna in 1865. Today, most people feel that these two movements can stand alone in concert and provide a rich and fulfilling musical experience just as they are.
Next week, we’ll have the Great C major Symphony, but we won’t stop there. To give Brian Newbold his due, the following week we’ll wrap up our series with his completion the Tenth Symphony to give you a sample of one of the less known of the “unfinished” symphonies.
In the meantime, here’s a bit of the one we do know: