Symphony No.1

Franz Schubert

Symphony No.1 in D major


About this work

Franz Schubert was 16 years old when, on October 18, 1813, he put the final touches on his first complete symphony, the Symphony No. 1 in D major, D. 82. An impressively polished product, it doubtlessly benefitted from the young composer's two earlier, abortive efforts in the genre (also in D major) and the handful of symphonic overtures he wrote in 1811 and 1812. Like the rest of Schubert's pre-1820 symphonies, the Symphony No. 1 was not published until the late nineteenth century, when it was included in the original complete works edition. Schubert did, however, have the luxury of hearing it played during his lifetime; the obliging orchestra was possibly that of the seminary school from which the composer had recently disenrolled, or one of the ad-hoc ensembles put together in the house of Viennese music enthusiast Otto Hatwig.

The Symphony No. 1 is by far the finest piece of Schubert's to date. Though it dates from the post-Beethoven era, the Symphony No. 1 proudly displays Schubert's eighteenth century roots, established through his studies with Antonio Salieri (competitor of Mozart and admirer of Haydn). The grandiose Adagio introduction to the first movement and the Mozartian zip of that same movement's Allegro vivace main theme are unmistakably Classical in nature; as with many of Schubert's earliest works, there are countless superficial melodic nods to Beethoven, but the general manner of the work shows that, beyond such similarities of contour and inflection, Schubert yet had little access to the musical operations that lay at the heart of the master's symphonies.

Parts of the invigorating first movement's lengthy second subject were later deleted by the composer, presumably in the interest of structural balance, but are sometimes restored in performance. Somewhat unusually, the music of the Adagio introduction returns later in the movement to usher in the recapitulation. The Andante that follows is a light-footed movement, the graceful opening melody of which is countered by a marchlike second subject. The minuet (Allegro) returns to the boisterous D major of the first movement; its trio is an episode of great instrumental color, especially admirable for its woodwind scoring. The finale (Allegro vivace) bursts forth on a lively, much-ornamented idea in the violins; the vigorous coda that ends the Symphony is of a forcefulness and stiff harmonic fiber well outside the limits that Schubert's eighteenth century idols prescribed for themselves.