About this Recording
8.550145 - SCHUBERT: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 8 / Rosamunde
English 

Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)

Symphony No.8 in B minor (Unfinished) D. 759
Symphony No.5 in B flat major D. 485
Rosamunde D. 797

 

Vienna has always claimed Franz Schubert as its own. Of his immediate predecessors, Haydn came from the village of Rohrau, Mozart came to the city from provincial Salzburg, while Beethoven travelled there from his native Bonn. Schubert was born in Vienna and spent most of his life there. His family, however, were from another part of the Habsburg empire. Schubert's father, Franz Theodor, was from Moravia and his mother from Silesia. The former had joined his elder brother as a schoolmaster in the capital, while the latter's father had been driven there after financial troubles at home.

Franz Schubert, born in 1797, was the fourth surviving child of 14 born to his mother. His musical abilities were fostered as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, a position that brought with it the chance of a decent education at the Staatskonvikt and also an association with the old Court Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri, whose influence on him was considerable. In 1812 his voice broke, but this need not have ended his schooling. Faced, however, with a choice between music and academic study he chose to leave, and in 1814 entered a school for the training of teachers. His father's school was, after all, the customary family business, demanding the assistance of his sons. In 1815 he began work as an assistant to Franz Theodor, only to abandon both home and career, at least for the time being, the following year.

Schubert's childhood had been dominated by music. He played the piano and the violin, and there was a family string quartet, in which he and two of his older brothers were joined by their father, an amateur cellist and allegedly the least proficient of the group. At school he had led the student orchestra and acquired close familiarity with contemporary repertoire. Above all, though, he w rote songs, settings of words by famous poets or by writers who had become his friends.

In 1816, at the age of 19, Schubert left home to live with his friend Franz von Schober. A year later he was home again at his father's new school. In 1818, after serving as music teacher to the daughters of Prince Esterházy in Hungary, he returned to Vienna to share rooms with another friend, the poet Mayrhofer, later moving back once more to his father's school-house. He was to return briefly to Hungary for part of the summer of 1824, at a time when his health had been seriously impaired by the venereal infection that was to cause his death in 1828.

During his brief life Schubert enjoyed the friendship of a circle of young poets, artists and musicians, many of them dependent on other employment for a living. He never held any official position in the musical establishment, nor was he a virtuoso performer, as Mozart and Beethoven had been. The latter, who was to die one year before Schubert, had long been forced to relinquish his earlier career as a virtuoso, but kept and was kept by a group of rich patrons, and, increasingly, by his manipulation of music-publishers. Schubert, by the time of his death, seemed only to have started to make an impression on a wider public. Much of w hat he had written had proved eminently suitable for intimate social gatherings. His larger scale works were often to be played by amateurs, since he never had at his disposal a professional orchestra, nor, in general, had he or his friends the means to hire one. The only public concert devoted to his work was given in Vienna nine months before his death. The venture, supported generously by members of Schubert's circle, was financially successful and in the same year publishers had started to show a more active interest in music, much of which was to have a strong appeal in a period that saw a considerable development in domestic music-making.

Schubert's Symphony in B minor was the work of 1822 and only two of the expected four movements were finished, with part of a scherzo. These movements were not played in Schubert's life-time, but were rediscovered 43 years later and given their first performance in Vienna in 1865. The manuscript had been given by Schubert to his friend Josef Huettenbrenner as a present for his brother Anseim in Graz. The latter had later arranged a piano duet version of the movements, which he and his brother played together. For years the manuscript remained in Anseim Huettenbrenner's possession, its existence only known to a few, until it came to the attention of the conductor Johann Herbeck.

Later writers have offered various explanations of the fragmentary nature of the symphony, none completely convincing. It has been suggested. improbably, that four movements were actually completed and sent to Anseim Huettenbrenner, who then lost two of the movements. More plausibly others have found a reason for not finishing the symphony in the composer's preoccupation with other work. Certainly Schubert could never be sure that larger scale works would ever be performed. It might be added that in 1822 Schubert contracted venereal disease and that the serious nature of this incurable disease and its probable fatal outcome affected him very deeply.

The fifth of Schubert's nine numbered symphonies was written in 1816 and was performed in October, a month after its composition, at the house of Otto Hatwig, a violinist in the Burgtheater orchestra. The musicians concerned were otherwise amateurs from the group that had been accustomed to meet at the house of Schubert's father. The music is in the tradition of what Schubert in his diary that year described as the magic sound of Mozart, the immortal. It is scored for flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns, with strings, while the Unfinished Symphony was to make use of a larger orchestra that included clarinets, trombones, trumpets and drums. The first movement leads us through the charm of its principal melodic material to an excursion into stranger keys, until a recapitulation that opens with the first theme in the key of E fiat, before the original key of the movement is restored. There follows a slow movement that is in that essentially Viennese operatic idiom of which Mozart was the greatest exponent, succeeded by a lively Minuet and Trio in the keys of G minor and G major respectively. The symphony ends with a finale that contains all the dramatic contrasts that the customary form encourages.

Rosamunde, Fuerstin von Zypern, was staged at the Theater an der Wien in 1823. The play, by the blue-stocking Helmina von Chezy, was hastily written and was a dramatic disaster, receiving only two performances, its name remembered only because of the association with Schubert, who, with equal haste, provided music for it. The full score included choral items, which were well enough received by audiences. The Overture was borrowed from an earlier work, Alfonso and Estrella, although the so-called Rosamunde Overture was borrowed from Schubert's opera Die Zauberharfe. It is, however, the entr’acte and ballet music that have won lasting popularity. The Rosamunde theme was used in the following year as a theme for variations in the A minor String Quartet and later re-appeared once more in the B flat Impromptu.


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