Symphony No.8

Franz Schubert

Symphony No.8 in B minor

D759 • “Unfinished”

Recommended recording

Curated by Guy Jones, Head of Curation

About this work

Early in 1822, Schubert was at the zenith of his career and he began writing a monumental Symphony in B minor. By the end of that year, he had scored the first two movements and sketched a third. He contracted syphilis late in that year and for a time was completely incapacitated, which was when he stopped work on the symphony and set it aside. By spring, he had recovered some of his strength. He was accepted for honorary membership in the Styrian Music Society at Graz in Austria. As part of his acceptance, he sent the two completed movements of the B minor Symphony to its director, Anselm Hüttenbrenner, who promptly stuffed them into a drawer and forgot them. It languished there until 1860, when Hüttenbrenner's younger brother Joseph came upon it, and recognizing it as a lost treasure, began badgering Viennese conductor Johann Herbeck to perform the piece. The work was finally performed December 17, 1865.

The symphony itself is both large and understated. From the first, ominous opening bars, it is evident this is not the youthful Schubert who earlier crafted six lightweight symphonies. Confident and audacious, Schubert begins the 14 minute first movement by laying down a cornerstone in the basses, upon which is layered a gentle, wafting melody which gradually accumulates mass and power to a quick conclusion. This all turns out to be an introduction, and one of the composer's most brilliant melodies ensues. This, too, quickly becomes larger and more dramatic and an effective bridge leads back to the beginning. An intense, soaring center section, almost triumphant in its great chords, leads to a final reprise of the opening and the great movement ends solemnly.

The 11 minute Andante con moto movement begins with a marvelous melody, presented straightforwardly with no ornamentation, and this leads seamlessly to another marvelous woodwind melody. Great, broad shouldered strides carry the music to a new key where the themes are repeated. Tranquillity returns with the first themes and after a summation of what has passed, the movement -- and the work -- marches quietly to its end.

Done