1822: Schubert: Symphony No. 7 (UNFINISHED) in B minor, age 25

Mr. Peabody Says:

Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony is one of the world’s most loved symphonies. It has always truly felt incomplete to me, as if two magnificent movements should have had at least one more. Many people have tried to write more to complete it, totally unsuccessfully. So perhaps it is really complete.

Schubert started in this in 1822, but although he lived for another six years he never wrote more. There is a scherzo nearly completed in piano score and with only two pages orchestrated, but it just does not work. The problem may not be the potential orchestration. Perhaps the composer realized that what he wrote simply had to stand alone.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada


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

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. The problem is that so much of Schubert’s music remained unpublished in his lifetime, and facts were missing. There are not nine symphonies, yet for a long time the number seven was missing, with the last symphony given the number nine and leaving either seven or eight blank. This is clearly number seven, since the other symphony, “The Great”,

1st movement:

It starts with a mysterious theme, and it is one of the most instantly recognizable themes in music. At this time I will write nothing about keys, form or details because it’s not necessary. Maybe later. For now I prefer to leave this one alone and remain mesmerized by the beauty.

2nd movement:

Once again, I think nothing is necessary at this time. It’s just too good. Maybe I’ll write something later.

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 I think maybe it does, 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 maybe the story stopped before it was completed. And yet it is amazingly convincing as it is.

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. And they have used Schubert’s own piano score, it could be that the music did not work, never could work, and Schubert himself knew it.

1 thought on “1822: Schubert: Symphony No. 7 (UNFINISHED) in B minor, age 25

  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?

Leave a Reply