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Hyperion Records

CDA67000 - Schubert: Symphony No 10 & other unfinished symphonies

Recording details: February 1997
Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: September 1997
Total duration: 53 minutes 26 seconds

'There is some wonderful music here. Altogether this is a fascinating disc – and not just for musicologists' (Gramophone)

'A fascinating exploration and one whose musical merit raises it above mere musicological interest' (The Scotsman)

'Brilliantly brought to life … superbly engineered with crystal-clear sound matched by faultless playing. A must for anyone with a musical soul' (Yorkshire Post)

Symphony No 10 & other unfinished symphonies
[Allegretto]  [3'04]
[Allegro vivace]  [3'06]
[Presto]  [3'08]
[Allegro maestoso]  [11'14]
Andante  [10'35]
Allegro moderato  [7'49]

Twenty years ago musicologists were not aware that Schubert's Tenth existed. The detective story leading to its revelation is told by Brian Newbould in the booklet of this CD. The manuscript was discovered in a folio in Vienna containing no fewer than three uncompleted Schubert symphonies including No 10, which the composer was working on when he died. It is therefore his very last music. Professor Newbould's work involved deciphering Schubert's sketches and then reconstructing the work and orchestrating it. In three movements, the symphony is a wonder, with a first movement containing one of Schubert's loveliest melodies, and a sombre and Mahlerian slow movement of great poignancy.

The CD also contains the other two fragmentary symphonies from the same folio—two movements of one started in 1818, and four movements of another dating from 1821.

To hear 'new' Schubert in 1997 is a wondrous thing. There is much lovely and so-far unknown music here. The quality of the Tenth should easly assure it of a place in the repertory.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
A folio of sketches by Schubert, bearing on its first page the title ‘Sinfonie’ and the date ‘May 1818’, was assumed by Otto Erich Deutsch in his 1951 Thematic Catalogue of Schubert’s Works to represent an attempt at a symphony in D major.

Deutsch gave the number D615 to this supposed symphony. The sketches in fact consist of nine different movements, most of them unfinished and all in D or closely related keys, making Deutsch’s supposition understandable. But the very quantity of the material, and the stylistic disparity of the movements, should at least have sown some doubt in musicological minds. Indeed, the cover in which the folio was found in the Wiener Stadt- und Landesbibliothek is labelled ‘Two Symphonies in D’, implying that a librarian of the late-nineteenth or early-twentieth century thought there was too much material for one symphony. It is surprising therefore that Deutsch’s listing remained unchallenged for more than a quarter of a century.

In preparation for the Schubert anniversary celebrations in 1978 the folio in question was subjected to careful scrutiny. A study of the paper watermarks and handwriting led to the discovery that three different paper types and three different periods of the composer’s handwriting were represented. Comparison with other Schubert manuscripts led to the conclusion that the folio contained work on no fewer than three different symphonies, all in D, dating from 1818, 1821 and 1828. Separate Deutsch numbers were accordingly assigned to the three symphonies in the second edition of Deutsch’s catalogue in 1978.

Schubert began thirteen symphonies and finished seven. Before the six youthful examples known as Nos 1 to 6, produced in a prolific six-year run from 1813 (when he was sixteen) to 1818, he had attempted at least one other, of which we have a forty-bar fragment. In the ten years of life left to him after No 6, he completed only one more—the ‘Great’ C major known as ‘No 9’. The immediate stimulus for the ‘Great’ was the grand holiday-trip-of-a-lifetime undertaken in 1825—a tour of the Austrian lakes and mountains which took in Gmunden and Gastein. But Schubert had been aspiring to write a ‘grand symphony’ for some years, and before this had already made four abortive attempts at a symphony since the Sixth.

Some would say that the 1822 work popularly known as the ‘Unfinished’ is not exactly an abortive attempt, since it survives, is performable, and has become one of the composer’s best-loved works. Nonetheless, its two movements do not constitute a symphony. Schubert made considerable progress with a third movement; and in any case, no composer of the Classical period—whether Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven or Schubert—would have regarded a symphony which begins in one key and ends in another as ‘complete’ (the second movement of this B minor Symphony ends in E major). The ‘Unfinished’ is, then, best described as ‘a finished half-symphony’.

It was in the ‘Unfinished’ that Schubert entered an expressive world quite new to symphonic writing, breathing the self-possessed confidence of maturity. The intervening steps from the fluent precocity of the prentice years, culminating in No 6, to the heightened mastery of Nos 8 and 9, are fascinating. A year or so before the ‘Unfinished’ came the ‘Seventh’ (in E, D729), composed directly into orchestral score but left unfinished. Before that two other symphonies were begun, though neither was finished. What unites those two efforts is that both were sketched in piano score. It seems probable that this was not Schubert’s usual habit, but that it was because he was now wishing to reach beyond his previous stylistic horizons that he adopted a cautious method which was suited to more exploratory or tentative composition.

Here is a chronological list of Schubert’s symphonies, finished and unfinished:

Symphony in D major. 40-bar fragment in orchestral score, D2B (1811?)
Symphony No 1 in D major, D82 (1813)
Symphony No 2 in B flat major, D125 (1814/5)
Symphony No 3 in D major, D200 (1815)
Symphony No 4 in C minor (‘Tragic’), D417 (1816)
Symphony No 5 in B flat major, D485 (1816)
Symphony No 6 in C major, D589 (1817/8)
Symphony in D major. Piano sketches for two movements, D615 (1818) (Recorded on this CD)
Symphony in D major. Piano sketches, D708A (1820/1) (Recorded on this CD)
Symphony ‘No 7’ in E major. Skeleton in orchestral score, D729 (1821)
Symphony ‘No 8’ in B minor. Known as the ‘Unfinished’, D759 (1822)
Symphony ‘No 9’ in C major, D944. Known as the ‘Great’ and almost certainly the ‘lost Gastein-Gmunden symphony’, D849 (1825/6)
Symphony ‘No 10’ in D major. Piano sketches, D936A (mid-Autumn,1828) (Recorded on this CD) The D number allocated to this work in the second edition of the Deutsch Catalogue is misleading and was based on a surmise of its chronology which has since been superseded. The number D985C would be nearer the mark

Symphony in D major D615
Late in 1818, soon after completing the sixth symphony, Schubert set to work on the symphony now numbered D615 in the Deutsch catalogue. It opens with gestures strongly suggestive of those which begin the slow introduction of Haydn’s last symphony, No 104, in the same key of D major. But when the initial upward-springing figure returns after woodwind responses, it is distorted with such audacity that the remote key of A flat is quickly reached. Never had such footloose abandon infiltrated the opening stages of a symphonic argument. Other remote keys soon follow before a return to the home key is signposted and the oboe presents the carefree pastoral theme of the Allegro moderato. The horn repeats the theme, and Schubert becomes absorbed in exhilarating rhythmic play until the arrival of the second theme which is clearly based on a germ generated in the course of the Adagio introduction. Schubert repeats this charming idea, different scoring being implied though not clearly indicated, and adds sequels to take him to the end of the exposition—at which point the sketch abruptly stops.

Since the sketch that follows begins on the next stave of the same sheet of music paper, it was at first assumed to represent a slow movement. It is in fact a finale: the character of the material suggests a gentle tempo similar to that of the finale of the sixth symphony, while the D major key (as for the first movement) also points to interpretation as a finale since Schubert, observing a time-honoured tradition, never set a symphonic slow movement in the same key as his first movement. The feline grace of the first theme gives way to thoughts of almost balletic inspiration. Perhaps the composer came to feel that such fluent geniality, which would not have been out of place in the Sixth, did not accord with current progressive aspirations, for the lightly-accompanied return of the first theme, as in a rondo, breaks off tantalizingly in mid-course.

Symphony in D major D708A
In the winter of 1820/1 Schubert set to work on another symphony, again choosing D major, a key which he had learned from Beethoven’s second to be advantageous for orchestral writing. This time he sketched parts of all four movements, getting far enough with the third for it to be readily completed by another hand. There is no slow introduction, but Schubert seems to compensate for its absence by building contrasts into the early stages of the first movement. A coiled-spring of a motif generates the energy to induce a quick, sonorous climax. An awesome hush follows, leading to an energetic rebuild towards another climax and in turn a lurch towards A flat major for a second subject in that singular key. ‘Singular’? This is in fact the only example in the entire Classical period in which a second subject is cast in the key a tritone distant from the home key. But Schubert has hardly presented the second limb of the tune before he quickly swerves to the orthodox key, there to dilate on the theme more expansively than even he usually would—before, once more, coming to a halt at the end of the exposition.

Schubert gives a particularly sketchy idea of his intentions in the slow movement, but before he breaks off close to what would probably have been a halfway point he takes care to notate fully a passage of rare lyrical counterpoint, its upper strands amiably interweaving and then changing places. The Scherzo begins with a motif which, once the symphony had been abandoned, would be recycled as the starting-point of the Scherzo of the ‘Great’ C major Symphony. There are other similarities with the later Scherzo, but this one is more concerned with bustling counterpoint than its heavyweight successor.

Both the Scherzo and Trio are sketched right up to the final varied reprise, which Schubert could have composed easily enough without the need for sketching.

The finale is a moto perpetuo (or almost perpetuo) in which a solo flute leads. As in the last movement of D615, Schubert reaches the first reprise of its opening theme before laying down his pen. Perhaps he lost heart when he reflected that, when he came to score the sketch, the climactic chords of remote A flat major and equally remote C sharp which he had just written could not be strengthened by the brass instruments and drums they deserve, since the imperfections of those instruments in Schubert’s day would not allow them to play any notes at all in those chords. But a more general reason for abandonment may well be that Schubert recognized that he was at a developmental stage and any work put aside for even a short time became a casualty of his hunger for ever new composing experiences which might take him towards his goal.

The two fragmentary symphonies pose more problems for the editor than the ‘Tenth’, being set down on paper in a less finite form even than that later work. In the first place, longer tracts of music consist of a single line only, requiring harmonization. Secondly, Schubert tended to transfer his thoughts from head to paper at high speed, allowing no time to check them, let alone reflect on them. This is particularly the case in the first movement of D615 where, in the early stages of the Allegro moderato, one finds harmonic effects (fully textured by Schubert in this instance) which he would perhaps have reconsidered if he had allowed himself to go back over what he had written. The present recording honours the composer’s first thoughts in every case except one.

Symphony ‘No 10’ in D major D936A
In the case of Schubert’s last attempted symphony, the reason for incompletion was clearly the composer’s death. He had put the finishing touches to Schwanengesang, the String Quintet, the last three piano sonatas and the Mass in E flat in August and September of his last year, 1828, before setting to work on this symphonic ‘swansong’, perhaps as late as October, just weeks before he died on 19 November. The number D936A given to this work in the second edition of the Deutsch catalogue is therefore misleading and was based on a surmise of its chronology which has since been superseded. Research on paper types and the circumstantial context has led to a re-dating from spring-summer to autumn of 1828. The number D985C would be nearer the mark, placing the symphony at the very end of the list of works whose date is known with reasonable accuracy.

Like the other two symphonies on this disc, the ‘Tenth’ comes to us in a piano score with sparse indications of instrumentation. In D615 a single instrument name was given at only four places; in D708A at five places; in the ‘Tenth’ there are barely two dozen such markings, some of them ‘Or.’ (for Orchester), ‘Bl.’ (for Bläser = wind), or ‘Tutti’ (all). At one point Schubert calls for ‘Tromboni’: thus it is clear that the work requires the enlarged Romantic orchestra of the ‘Unfinished’ and ‘Great’ rather than the standard Classical ensemble used in the early symphonies and the D615 and D708A fragments.

There are only three movements. For his third movement Schubert set out to write a scherzo, but as work progressed the movement came to resemble more and more a finale. It is in fact a rondo in duple time, but with triplets present as reminder of the scherzo provenance. After his first continuity draft had degenerated into a working sketch he began again, omitting the title ‘scherzo’. After sketching this movement he returned to make an amendment to the slow movement. Thus there is circumstantial support for the view that Schubert’s final intention was a three-movement symphony.

The first movement, whose structure has to be deduced by painstaking interpretation of the sketch, is evidently a sonata-form movement on a grand scale, with a lyrical second subject in the cellos which is pure Schubert. The slow movement combines the poetic vision of the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony with the desolation of Winterreise (1827), but its textures and atmosphere also prophesy Mahler. The finale is a tour de force of counterpoint, involving devices little used in the earlier symphonies such as double counterpoint, canon, augmentation and fugato, and towards the end a simultaneous combining of the two themes.

These contrapuntal preoccupations, taken together with the fact that Schubert made use of paper on which he had already worked some quite separate counterpoint exercises, tend to confirm the dating of the work (primarily established by the type of paper on which it was written), since it is known that the composer decided to take a course of counterpoint lessons with Simon Sechter in his last weeks, though he lived to attend only the first lesson, on 4 November.

The realization of this sketch for performance is fraught with problems—of decipherment, of orchestration (since in the style of the last two movements especially so much is new and there are no helpful precedents to study), and of structure (for in the outer movements Schubert did not write down the music in one sequential span, but left shorter sections whose order he sometimes indicated by special home-made continuity signs).

There can be little doubt that, if Schubert had lived to continue work on this symphony, he would have revised it as he went; we cannot visualize what its final shape might actually have been. But the last work of a great composer, especially if it contains ideas to treasure, arouses natural curiosity. And orchestras tend not to play sketches. A performing version is necessarily speculative, even if it aims to preserve the spirit of the conception as Schubert left it, spurning any temptation to revise it on his behalf. But perhaps conscientious speculation has some value if the alternative is that the composer’s deathbed intimations remain ink-and-paper fossils beyond the reach of curious ears.

Brian Newbould © 1997

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