1822: Schubert: Symphony No. 7 (UNFINISHED) in B minor

WEDNESDAY, October 28, 2020 – 1:50 AM

Symphony No. 7 (UNFINISHED) in B minor, age 25

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D 759 (sometimes renumbered as Symphony No. 7, in accordance with the revised Deutsch catalogue and the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe, commonly known as the Unfinished Symphony (German: Unvollendete), is a musical composition that Schubert started in 1822 but left with only two movements – though he lived for another six years. A scherzo, nearly completed in piano score but with only two pages orchestrated, also survives.

Instrumentation:

  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones
  • timpani
  • strings

Andrés Orozco-Estrada

Is it the 7th or 8th symphony?

There is a debate, so you will see this symphony with either number. The giveaway is always the label “Unfinished” or “Unvollendete”, and in fact it’s the only way I saw that this recording here was the one I was looking for.

Why only two movements?

No one knows. One idea was that by writing the first two movements both in 3/4 time Schubert felt that completing it as a symphony would not work. Another is that he got busy doing other things and never came back to finish it.

Do only two movements work?

For me no, because these two movements alone are without any doubt two of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but I am always left thinking that story stopped before it was completed.

Have other people tried to complete the symphony?

Yes. There have been several attempts. But they leave me utterly cold. They just don’t sound convincing.

1 thought on “1822: Schubert: Symphony No. 7 (UNFINISHED) in B minor

  1. I was thinking about this “is 2 enough” question and wondered, “How about just one of them by itself?” The first movement makes me think of a painter who starts a picture about a wild storm – nah, make that a gentle ‘mother and child’ – nah, storm – one painting interrupting the other. The reason these interruptions still work is because it’s consistent. The 2nd movement has a much different mostly flowing character. I think that’s why “only 2” doesn’t work. It makes it lopsided and unbalanced.

    What if Schubert just couldn’t think of a third that would balance it out?

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