Schubert – “Unfinished” Symphony No. 8, B-minor

by Max Derrickson

Franz Schubert  (1797-1828)

“Unfinished” Symphony No. 8, B-minor
1. Allegro moderato
2. Andante con moto

If we think of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony as one of the works that ushered in the Romantic era, we would certainly consider Schubert’s  Symphony No. 8 as doing so.  However, the work, incomplete, was not even discovered until 1865.  None-the-less, it showed where Schubert was heading.  The work stands in some contrast to the symphonies being composed at the time in 1822.

There was some mystery surrounding why this extraordinary work was left incomplete before Schubert’s early death some 6 years later.
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Still, the first movement is something of a revelation.  The unearthly opening, the mysterious and brooding theme in the low strings is a moment of sheer genius.
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It grows in splendid orchestral color, and remains infused with a growing urgency and tragedy.  At the end of the 1800’s, Johannes Brahms was given Schubert’s symphonies to edit for the critical edition.  Even to Brahms, the work was startling, and he edited out some of Schubert’s harmonic inventiveness.

The second movement continues this poignant musical journey, and here Schubert innovates even more daring harmonic exploration.
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But we have just these two completed movements, and in a way, it is almost fitting.  The symphony opens up another realm of creation that would be hard to answer.