Hyperion Records

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of the Deutsch catalogue is therefore misleading and was based on a surmise of its chronology which has since been superseded.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.

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.

from notes by Brian Newbould © 1997

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