Schubert’s Symphonies

Which Schubert symphony would you choose?

Out of Schubert’s thirteen symphonies, only seven were fully completed. This leads to problems with numbering the works. Do we just number the completed ones, or all of them? Do we arrange them in order of starting, or completion? Different publishers still disagree about which number to use. The best guide is the complete catalogue of Schubert’s works, first published by Otto Deutsch in 1951, which gives each work a “D” number, from D1 (a fantasy for piano duet composed in 1810 when Schubert was 13) through to D956 (the great String Quintet in C major).

The first five symphonies were all written when Schubert was quite young, the last being finished when he was just 19. These youthful works show the influence of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, with touches of Romantic melody and harmony. They are exquisite achievements, full of lyrical and harmonic delights without ever being ground-breaking. You can hear Orchestra of Square Chapel performing Symphony No. 3 here!

Symphony No. 6 The Little C major (D589): A charming, operatic party-piece.

Symphony No. 7 in E major (D729): Only exists as a draft.

Symphony No. 8 in B minor The Unfinished (D759): With only two complete movements, this is Schubert’s most-loved symphony. Quoting reviewer Eduard Hanslick: “a sweet stream of melodies, in spite of its vigour and geniality so crystal-clear that you can see every pebble on the bottom

Symphony No. 9 The Great C major (D944): A huge work, and one of Schubert’s most innovative. The first performance was brought about by Robert Schumann, who praised the work’s “sheer musical mastery” and “heavenly length” and “brilliance and novelty of the instrumentation, the breadth and expanse of the form, the striking changes of mood, the whole new world into which we are transported“.

Which is your choice?

Orchestra of Square Chapel have performed Symphonies Nos. 3 and 8 twice each, and No. 6 once. Our next target – yes, it’s the big one – is Symphony No. 9 in ourĀ Sunday June 19th concert.

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