1818: Schubert: Symphony No. 6 (LITTLE) in C major, age 21

Mr. Peabody Says:

Try starting here: 15:35 III Scherzo: Presto  Trio: Piu lento, C major – E major – C major

This is relatively short, and channels Beethoven, whom Schubert absolutely idolized.

Schubert composed this between October 1817 and February 1818, so it was done shortly after his 21st birthday and largely completed at age 20. This is why the composers Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn are so often mentioned as extraordinary prodigies who were fully mature master musicians long before the age of 21

The 6th of his symphonies 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”.


  • 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.

What strikes me is that although Schubert was born 12 years before Mendelssohn and died in 1828, when Mendelssohn was only 19, the younger composer at some point had to have heard the older man’s music, although probably not the symphonies, since so much of Schubert’s music was ignored in his lifetime. Mendelssohn was nine years old when this was written. But somehow he picked up the lightness and playfulness we hear here.

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., so the real difference was around 26 years. 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? 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.

Note also how much Puccini’s sound resembles this movement, which shows that the so called “Italian” sound had a lot in common with the earlier German influence.

Essentially a teenage work:

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.

More info

There is more information about this symphony HERE and HERE.

3 thoughts on “1818: Schubert: Symphony No. 6 (LITTLE) in C major, age 21

  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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