Schubert was the son of a schoolmaster and received his musical education over four years, whilst a chorister at the Imperial Court Chapel. He had to leave when his voice broke and completed some teaching courses before taking a post at his father's school. He had no interest in his job, but spent much of his time scribbling melodies and leaving his pupils to their own devices!
I had wrongly assumed that the B minor Symphony was known as the Unfinished simply because it had been written at the end of his life. But the first two movements were completed in 1822, some six years before his death. A Scherzo scored for piano was nearly completed, but only two pages of this was orchestrated. Some have expressed the opinion that the predominance of the same meter of three in a bar caused him to stop working on it. There is evidence that his Entr'acte from Rosamunde in B minor, in an extended version, was intended to be the 4th Movement. At this time, he was distracted by the inspiration for his Wanderer Fantasy for piano, and poor health.
In spite of his prolific output of songs, choral works, operas etc., Schubert had little public recognition for his achievements. However, he had some excellent friends who arranged a concert of his works in Vienna in 1826, and for the first time his music met with an appreciative response.
The Unfinished or Romantic Symphony had its premier in 1865. Eduard Hanslick wrote...." After a few introductory bars, clarinet and oboe sound una voce a sweet melody on top of the quiet murmurings of the strings so that any child knows the composer is Schubert. The whole movement is a sweet stream of melodies, in spite of its vigor and geniality. The Andante unfolds itself broadly and even more majestically. The sonorous beauty of both movements is enchanting. Schubert achieves sound effects which no refinement of Wagner's instrumentation ever attains". He ended by expressing that the symphony is among Schubert's most beautiful instrumental works. We hope you agree!
Programme notes for BHSO performance, Nov 2013
Written by Monica Todd
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