Franz Schubert

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Symphony No. 5, Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished," and German Dances

The music of Franz Schubert is cherished for its beautiful flow of melody, melody that runs through the composer's songs and instrumental compositions like a clear and inexhaustible stream. His compositions are firmly rooted in the Classical period. Endowed with extraordinary skill and lyric genius, Schubert poured forth music at an astonishing rate for most of his brief career. But he received only scant recognition during his lifetime and subsisted in near-poverty throughout his adult years.

Gerard Schwarz, Conductor
New York Chamber Orchestra



1.     Symphony No. 5 Allegro   

2.     Symphony No. 5 Andante con moto 

3.     Symphony No. 5 Menuetto: Allegro molto 

4.     Symphony No. 5 Finale: Allegro vivace 

5.     Symphony No. 8 Unfinished Allegro moderato 

6.     Symphony No. 8 Unfinished Andante con moto

7.     German Dances Movements I – III 

8.     German Dances Movements IV-VI   

9.     Listener’s Guide to Schubert’s Early Career 

10.   Listener’s Guide to Symphony No. 5 Movement I

11.   Listener’s Guide to Symphony No. 5 Movement II

12.   Listener’s Guide to Symphony No. 5 Movement III

13.   Listener’s Guide to Symphony No. 5 Movement IV

14.   Listener’s Guide to Symphony No. 8 Introduction

15.   Listener’s Guide to Symphony No. 8 Movement I

16.   Listener’s Guide to Symphony No. 8 Movement II

17.   Listener’s Guide to German Dances  

18.   Listener’s Guide to Schubert’s Life  


Schubert’s Life


 The music of Franz Schubert is cherished for its beautiful flow of melody, melody that runs through the composer’s songs and instrumental compositions like a clear and inexhaustible stream. But Schubert was more than just a gifted melodist. He was also the creator of exquisite symphonies in the classical tradition.

 Franz Schubert was born near the end of what has come to be called the Classical period in music, and his compositions were firmly rooted in the style of that time. His life, however, might have been imagined by a tragic poet of the nascent Romantic era. Endowed with extraordinary skill and lyric genius, Schubert poured forth music at an astonishing rate for most of his brief career. But he received only scant recognition during his lifetime and subsisted in near-poverty throughout his adult years. Moreover, he created much of his finest work while living under what was effectively a death sentence. At age 25 Schubert contracted syphilis, an incurable and usually fatal disease in his day. Although the slow progress of the illness allowed him to survive and work for another six years, it brought his life to a harrowing end at age 31. By that time Schubert had produced over a thousand compositions, the best of which rank among the great masterpieces of Western music.

 A native of Vienna, Schubert was born in 1797, the youngest of four brothers who survived past infancy. His father was a schoolmaster of decidedly modest means. But home life provided a healthy dose of intellectual stimulus, and musical opportunities. From his father, the future composer learned to play the violin, and from his brother he learned his way around the piano. Thanks to what seems to have been an exceptional native aptitude for music he quickly surpassed both of them. Nor could his first music teacher outside the family, a local organist named Michael Holzer, keep up with the boy. “If I wished to instruct him in anything fresh,” Holzer recalled, “he already knew it. Consequently I gave him no actual tuition but merely conversed with him and watched him in silent astonishment.”

 Schubert’s musical talent, and particularly his fine singing voice, won him a place in the choir of the imperial Austrian court chapel, an ensemble that exists today as the famed Vienna Boys’ Choir. With it came a scholarship to the “Kaiserlich-konigliches Stadtkonvict” (the Imperial-Royal City Seminary School). This award assured Schubert of not only a good general education but a chance to enrich his musical understanding. In addition to the training routinely provided to the choirboys, the formation of  a student orchestra gave Schubert invaluable experience. Rising to the first chair of the violin section, he also had opportunities to conduct this ensemble. More importantly, the orchestra’s repertory brought Schubert into intimate contact with works by Haydn, Mozart and the young Beethoven, his predecessors in the line of the Viennese Classical masters.  Their orchestral music proved an incalculable influence, forming the basis for his own compositions of this type.

Schubert began to compose during his student years.   A series of early piano pieces, songs and chamber music culminated with the writing of his First Symphony in 1813.  But despite the talent evidenced by these and other works, Schubert seemed destined for the life of a school teacher.  Bowing to pressure from his father he left the Seminary  School and undertook a brief course of instruction at a training academy for teachers.  He then went to work in his father’s school.

Schubert chafed under the duties of teaching school, resenting the loss of time for composing.  The young musician had now begun to tap a rich vein of inspiration, and during the next several years a string of splendid composition s flowed from his pen. These included some inspired songs, such as “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel” and the “The Erl-King”, both settings of verses by Johann von Goethe, the leading German poet of the day; several operas, all failures on dramatic grounds; several more symphonies; sacred compositions, and a spate of piano pieces and works for small ensembles.  Schubert wrote all of these in his spare hours.

 At the same time, a circle of sympathetic and devoted friends was forming around the composer. During the years that followed, these companions provided Schubert with invaluable moral and material support. At their urging he eventually abandoned teaching in order to devote himself entirely to composition, and it was at their gatherings that much of his music received first performances. Schubert’s friends frequently organized musical soirees, informal house concerts at which the composer’s latest songs, piano pieces or other works were heard. “Schubertiades”, and they have acquired legendary stature in the history of Viennese culture.

 Although highly regarded by those closest to him, Schubert found professional success in the larger world elusive. He did manage to attain a certain reputation through his songs and small-scale instrumental pieces. Thanks to the growth of a prosperous Austrian and German middle class devoted to music, there existed a ready market for pieces suitable for house concerts and other forms of domestic music-making. Many of the compositions that Schubert managed to have published were intended for this milieu.

 Opera had long been the most promising route to fame and wealth for composers, but Schubert’s efforts to create a successful opera ended repeatedly in failure despite the often excellent music with which Schubert endowed them. Schubert had little feeling for the theater, dramatic structure or the type of story that can work as an opera, and he greqyently wasted his talents on hopelessly weak librettos. As a result, Schubert existed in chronically precarious material circumstances.

 The year 1822 brought the disaster that would wreck Schuberts’s life: his infection with syphilis. He was soon grievously ill and eventually hospitalized in the spring of 1823. In time the worst symptoms abated, as they typically do, but as Schubert regained his strength, the disease went on silently undermining his constitution. This did not prevent him from resuming his work, however. By 1824 Schubert was approaching his full maturity as a composer and producing new work at a prolific rate. The ease with music which poured from him was often remarked by his friends. “If you go to see him during the day,” one wrote of Schubert, “he says ‘Hullo, how are you? – Good’ and goes on writing.”

 The composer’s output of the next four years included a number of outstanding works: several very effective sonatas and the popular Impromptus for piano; some more fine songs; two string quartets (including the famous “Death and the Maiden” Quartet); an Octet for winds and strings; and his final symphony, known as the “Great” C Major. But as impressive as this musical harvest seems, it pales in comparison with that of 1828, the composer’s last year.

 At the end of 1827, Schubert’s disease had resurfaced and he now suffered intense headaches, weakness, fevers and mood swings, all with increasing frequency. Perhaps sensing that his time was not long, the composer now wrote at a feverish pace and with startling brilliance. The astonishing body of work that Schubert produced during his final twelve months includes some of the treasures of the 19th-century music: ”Schwanengesang”, his final cycle of songs; “The Shephard on the Rock,” a famous song with accompaniment by clarinet and piano; two Piano Trios that rank with those of Beethoven and Brahms as the finest examples of that genre; a String Quintet that stands among the glories of the chamber music literature; and a trio of piano sonatas that alone among such works of the 19th century deserve comparison with the sonatas of Beethoven.

 By autumn, Schubert was seriously ill. His brother Ferdinand took him into his house and nursed him as best he could. There was not much to be done, however, and on November 19,1828, the composer died. According to his wishes, his body was buried close to Beethoven’s grave. In 1888, the remains of both composers were moved to Vienna’s Central Cemetery, where they now repose side by side.

Schubert and the Viennese Classical School


 During the last half of the 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th, Vienna was the musical capital of Europe. At carious times in this period, the city was home to four great composers – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert – who exerted a profound influence on musical form.

 While Haydn and Mozart were not the originators, they were certainly the principal developers of what we have come to know as the Classical style. Through their work such important compositional genres as the string quartet, the piano concerto and, especially, the symphony attained their characteristic features and a peak of perfection within the context of 18th-century musical values. They also demonstrated what strong, coherent compositions could be built through the thoughtful development of a few thematic ideas by using such musical structures as rondo and sonata form. And they married this formal beauty to an expressive musical language marked by great elegance yet capable of powerful and passionate utterance also.

 Beethoven began his career writing in a similar manner but soon began to expand the musical forms and language of the Classical school in significant ways. His works became larger in scale than any of the 18th-century models and brought a new poetic depth to the musical language of their day. Whether conveying struggle and strife, rapture and exultation, earthy humor or an essentially spiritual serenity. Beethoven brought an unprecedented intensity of expression to his work. That intensity, for which he did not hesitate to sacrifice the refinement of the older Classical style, became his principal legacy to the generation of composers that followed him.

 The youngest of the four Viennese Classical masters – and, incidentally the only one of them native to the Austrian capital – Schubert followed in the musical footsteps of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven in turn. These composers significantly influenced his early works, which reflect their compositional style and procedures. His Fifth Symphony, heard on this recording, reveals an almost Mozartian grace and elegance. Both this composition and the many others that Schubert wrote during the early stages of his brief career show his mastery of sonata form and thematic development that Haydn and Mozart had elevated to a high artistic level. But during the last six or seven years of his brief life, Schubert began to absorb something of Beethoven’s innovations. In time, he became the first composer to match both the expanded Classical forms and the new depth of expression Beethoven had introduced. Indeed, no other musician came so successfully to terms with Beethoven’s legacy until Brahms reached his maturity, nearly half a century later.

 None of this, however, is intended to suggest that Schubert was merely the imitator of his illustrious predecessors. For though he took the compositional forms and procedures of the Viennese Classical school as the framework for his musical invention, Schubert brought his own distinctive qualities to everything he wrote. Chief among those qualities was his lyric genius. Schubert was the greatest melodist among the Viennese Classical masters, and perhaps the greatest of all major composers. His melodic gift made him a superb composer of songs, but it informs his instrumental works as well. Schubert also developed a distinctive harmonic language. He employed a rich harmonic palette that allowed his music to move through different tonal regions with great skill, often touching on unexpected harmonies as it did so. He also had a penchant for juxtaposing major and minor harmonies at close quarter, thereby conveying a sense of bittersweet poignancy.

 Finally, there is the great breadth of his musical thinking, Schubert’s melodic gift allowed him to spin long, beautiful lines, and his harmonies often unfold at a leisurely pace. The result is a sense of spaciousness evident particularly in his slow movements, but to lesser degrees throughout his late works, No wonder the composer Robert Schumann, upon discovering Schubert’s “Great” C Major Symphony, wrote admiringly of its “heavenly length”.

 Scubert was the last of the Viennese Classical masters. By the time of his death, in 1828, the revolutionary spirit of Romanticism had fired the imaginations of the most ambitious musicians, who now sought out more extravagant modes of expression and more dramatically conceived compositional forms. Although most of Schubert’s music lay unknown for decades after his death, it was eventually rediscovered and came to exert an important influence on the music of the late 19th century. Brahms (who helped edit many of Schubert’s compositions for publication), Dvorak, Bruckner and Mahler all learned from Schubert’s harmonic procedures and his expansions of Classical forms, particularly the symphony.


Schubert’s Musical Milieu 


 During the Classical period, the titled nobility of the Hapsburg empire, who make the Austrian capital their home, considered music an important adjunct to their lives, and they cultivated it in various ways. The emperor supported an opera company that drew on the finest talent in the empire, The imperial court also maintained its own chapel with a well-trained choir, and it was through this ensemble that Schubert received much of his early musical training. Instrumental music, however, tended to be performed in domestic situations. Many of the great noble houses kept musicians in residence – a string quartet, perhaps, and in some cases even a small orchestra – and private house concerts were a common milieu for making music. Some public concerts took place, mainly benefit performances for various charities, but these were exceptional rather than the rule.

  Throughout the 18th century and the first decade of the nineteenth, composers relied on aristocratic patronage for their livelihoods. Haydn and Beethoven both found support among the princes, counts and archdukes of the Hapsburg nobility. Mozart sought the same, and died impoverished because he could not secure it. But with the turn of the 19th century, things began to change. A rising middle class with a taste for music created new opportunities for composers, who began to find a market for piano pieces, chamber music and songs suitable to the growing ranks of amateurs. At the same time, Austria’s declining fortunes in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars significantly reduced the aristocracy’s ability to indulge a passion for music as it had before.

 As a result, the focus of Vienna’s musical life had changed significantly by the time Schubert was active. House concerts still provided the most common venue for music-making, but these nor occurred more often in middle-class homes than in the mansions of the nobility. It was for this milieu that Schubert composed the vast majority of his works. The famous “Schubertiades” organized by his friends heard the first performances of his many songs and piano works. Until late in his career, even his symphonies were conceived for domestic situations. For several years Schubert played in an amateur chamber orchestra that met regularly at the home of Otto Hatwig, a prominent Viennese musician. The group read the symphonies of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, and it was for this ensemble that Schubert composed his Forth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. He apparently conceived his late symphonies for public performance, but those works went unplayed until long after his death.


Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major


 Schubert was not yet 20 when he completed this intimate work in the autumn of 1816. As already described, he created if for the amateur chamber orchestra that met in the home of Otto Hatwig, and it was here that the Fifth Symphony received its only performance during Schubert’s lifetime. The circumstance for which it was intended surely determined the symphony’s modest scoring. Only a singly flute and pairs of oboes, bassoons, and horns complement the usual sting choir; clarinets, trumpets, trombones and percussion are conspicuous in their absence. Yet Schubert uses this reduced contingent to his advantage, providing it with music whose intimacy and delicate scoring would hardly be appropriate to a larger ensemble.

 The Symphony follows the Classical four-movement plan established by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Further details of its unfolding are provided by the accompanying Concert Notes booklet, and in the Conductor’s Guide Disc.


Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, Unfinished


 Only six years separate Schubert’s Fifth and Eighth Symphonies. Yet these two compositions seem to belong to different eras. Whereas the Fifth Symphony looks back to the Classical style of the eighteenth century, the “Unfinished” partakes of the spirit of nineteenth-century Romanticism. It is an altogether bolder and more impassioned work, with intimations of deep tragedy as well as redeeming beauty.

 Schubert’s B Minor Symphony is far from unique in having come to us incomplete. Indeed, the composer left a number of instrumental works unfinished, among them a Symphony in E Major (No.7) and another started in the last months of his life; a large Piano Sonata in C Major; the imposing “Quartetsatz”, clearly the beginning of an abortive string quartet; and many lesser pieces. Knowing this, however, sheds little light on why Schubert failed to complete his B Minor Symphony after making such a splendid start. Certainly there was time enough. Although he would pass from this life at an appalling young age, Schubert had six years between the autumn of 1822, when he wrote what we possess of this work, and his untimely demise.

 A number of theories have attempted to explain Schubert;s failure to finish the symphony. Some have speculated on the composer’s mounting discouragement in the face of public indifference to his talent, others to an alleged lack of confidence. At least one biographer has ventured that, having contracted syphilis around the time he was writing the work, the composer subsequently associated the disease with the composition. It has even been claimed that Schubert actually did finish the work, and that a friend, having been entrusted with the score, lose the third and fourth movements. Ultimately, however, neither these nor any other hypotheses can be proved, and it seems unlikely that we will ever have a definitive answer to the question of what might have become of this composition.

 Incomplete though it is, the Eighth Symphony remains one of the most moving symphonic works from the early 19th century, and a very advanced one in the context of its time. Here for the first time was a composition worth to stand beside Beethoven’s symphonic music. The deep pathos we encounter in Schubert’s B Minor Symphony, its broad harmonic tonal terrain and the ambitious scale of the movements all mark this “Unfinished” Symphony as a worthy successor to Beethoven’s middle-period works.


Six German Dances


 Like Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven before him, Schubert composed a considerable quantity of dance music. Most of it was scored for piano or piano duet. The six dances that make up this collection date from 1824 but were lost until 1931. Schubert had left this work in a scoring for piano. But editors at Universal Edition, the Viennese publishing house that acquired it, recognized the music as a type often arranged for larger ensembles. They therefore commissioned Anton von Webern to orchestrate the dances. Webern, a musician of radically Modernist tendencies, might seem an unlikely candidate for this task, his own compositional style being far removed from Schubert’s easy lyricism. But Webern had a deep knowledge of and love for the music of the past, particularly that of the Viennese tradition. He therefore accepted the task and fulfilled it skillfully and conscientiously.

 Scored for an orchestra of Classical-period dimensions, Webern’s transcription is generally faithful to the style of nineteenth-century Viennese dance music. The six dances flow together to form a single movement, a unity that impressed Webern. While transcribing them, he wrote to a colleague of his pleasure at seeing “how these six dances (seemingly written so hurriedly) were produced in one cast. Lovely, tender, beautiful ideas! So much has become clear to me during this work.”