Franz Peter Schubert (31.01.1797 – 19.11.1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his early death, arising from from typhus and syphilis, Schubert left behind a vast output of fine music. He wrote more than 600 songs (or lieder), more than a dozen string quartets and 21 piano sonatas; he completed seven symphonies, with many more left unfinished; he wrote operas, masses, piano trios and duets. Yet there was only one public performance of his music during his lifetime.
His most important works include the Piano Quintet in A major, D667 ‘The Trout’ (see Work 6 in our collection), his last three Piano Sonatas Nos. 19 – 21, his two great song cycles Winterreise D911, Die schöne Müllerin, D795 (see Work 62 in our collection), his String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’ (see Work 72 in our collection) and his two outstanding symphonies: the Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 ‘Unfinished’ and the Symphony No. 9 in C major, D944 ‘The Great’.
Schubert would almost certainly be amazed to learn that he has come to be regarded as a great symphonist. His first two symphonies were written for his school orchestra, in which he played the violin and sang in the choir, and the next four for an amateur group assembled by the composer. All were intended to be heard once and then forgotten! However his last two symphonies have justifiably gained status as masterpieces of the symphonic repertoire.
The Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944, known as the ‘Great’ is the final symphony completed by Franz Schubert. The Great is Unusually long for a symphony of its time, a typical performance of the work lasts just under an hour although it can be much shorter depending upon the tempo chosen and whether the repeat sections, indicated in the score, are observed or not. D 944 is often considered Schubert’s finest piece for orchestra, this symphony is certainly one of his most innovative pieces. The symphony is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A and C, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in C, 2 trumpets in A and C, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings. Whilst Beethoven had used the trombone for effect in Schubert’s two final symphonies the trombones become essential members of the orchestra playing throughout the piece, and even receive important melodic roles.
In terms of recordings the listener is spoilt for choice. There is a truly electrify live account from Günter Wand and the Berliner Philharmoniker, a controversial account from Roger Norrington and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra that splits opinion, a restrained, but revealing account from Jonathan Nott and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. Ultimately we find ourselves turning towards Claudio Abbado for whom Schubert remained one of his favourite composers throughout his life. There is a hugely enjoyable account that he recorded with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe but if we had to select one performance it would have to be Abbado’s ‘live performance’ with the Orchestra Mozart recorded in a series of concerts at the Auditorium Teatro Manzoni, Bologna in 2011.