1818: Schubert: Symphony No. 6 (LITTLE) in C major

SATURDAY, November 14, 2020 – 5:15 AM

Symphony No. 6 (LITTLE) in C major, age 21

Schubert composed this between October 1817 and February 1818, so it was done shortly after his 21st birthday and largely completed at age 20. It is nicknamed the “Little C major” to distinguish it from his later 8th symphony, in the same key, which is known as the “Great C major”.

Instrumentation:

  • two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets (in C), two bassoons
  • two horns (in C), two trumpets (in C)
  • timpani (in C and G)
  • strings

Andrés Orozco-Estrada

1st movement

It’s in C major with an introduction with a typical slow intro, then it moves to sunny C major. Today I know from listening to many of Haydn’s symphonies that the whole idea of a slow intro to a 1st movement was really solidified by Haydn. It is part of what I now think of as the “Haydn formula” – a slow intro before a fast movement, usually in major that will have a big finish.

There is nothing heavy, brooding or negative about this, so it’s a very uplifting movement. I’ve never heard any of this symphony before, and I’m both pleased and surprised at how wonderful this whole symphony is. Were any of Schubert’s symphonies anything less than very good? In my opinion: No!

2nd movement

A better marking might be “andantino”. In keeping with the mood of the 1st movement, this is light, relaxing and in general charming. Moving to F major is quite traditional, so there are no surprises in the key.

3rd movement

This has a lot of the Beethoven sound, and it’s important to remember that Schubert was born 27 years after Beethoven. Beethoven was born in December, and Schubert was born in Jan. However, because he died so young, he only lived 20 months longer than Beethoven. So this very young Schubert was composing at a time when Beethoven was a rock star. Schubert was around age 15 when Beethoven’s 7th and 8th symphonies appeared, and he did not write his 9th until 1822-1824. So by the time Beethoven wrote his final symphony, Schubert had already written most of his.  I would think that Beethoven, if he had heard this, would have been both flattered and amazed.

4th movement

After the very Beethoven-like 3rd movement, this to me is typical of Schubert’s unique voice, but it also sounds a lot like Haydn. How well did Schubert know Haydn’s symphonies? I’d guess very well, since by the time he was born the world knew not only a great deal about Haydn but also about his London Symphonies

There is something so incredibly charming and catchy about the writing, and it’s always good to remember that no composer every wrote better melodies than Schubert, as we know from his songs. Since most of this was written before his 21st birthday, this is essentially the work of a teenager. That’s not too often mentioned, so when talking about the greatest prodigies Schubert’s name has to be at the top of the list.

More info

There is more information about this symphony HERE and HERE.

3 thoughts on “1818: Schubert: Symphony No. 6 (LITTLE) in C major

  1. “The light that shines twice as bright lasts half as long” — Schindler, on Beethoven’s death. The real freaks die young. Mozart, Schubert, even Chopin, and Beethoven too. Very few old bold musicians of this caliber. Very few sane ones too.

    This thing was a right righteous romp to listen to. Exhilarating, even!

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