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.
from notes by Brian Newbould © 1997