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Thread: Schubert as a "Great" Symphonist

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    Senior Member peeyaj's Avatar
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    Default Schubert as a "Great" Symphonist

    Reading thru the thread of "Greatest Symphonists", I was struck by the outright dismissal of TC's members on Schubert's importance and contributions to the symphonic literature. Perhaps it is the prevailing thought that Schubert, as the greatest of songwriters, struggles in large instrumental forces, and cannot equal with Beethoven in that genre.

    But, scholars and critics dismissed this ephemeral claim.Yes, Schubert created six symphonies on the style of Haydn and Mozart, but his last two symphonies, the "Unfinished" and "Great" were some of the greatest and most popular in classical music. These two symphonies heralds the new sound of the symphony in the Romantic era and according to Wikipedia..

    "Schubert’s first few symphonies may be works in progress. But the “Unfinished” and especially the Ninth Symphony are astonishing. The Ninth paves the way for Bruckner and prefigures Mahler."

    and according to this, on both Eroica and Unfinished: http://www.dorak.info/music/sform.html

    On the other hand, the first movement of the Unfinished, despite being in sonata form with its themes (first and second subjects) and structure (well-articulated exposition, development, recapitulation and coda), does not observe the tonal plan of the sonata principle. The second subject is not recapitulated in the tonic but in the relative major. The tonal conflict is created by moving away from the tonic but not resolved by returning to it. The 'drama' of the movement is then provided by the contrasting themes. The more tuneful nature of the second subject is one of the first signs of what was going to come in the Romantic period. Both symphonies herald different aspects of the Romantic sonata form. Therefore, the differences cannot be attributed to a higher tendency of either composer to Romanticism.

    The major difference between them, that is the unusual tonal plan of the Unfinished, reflects the decreasing importance of the conventional tonal plan of the sonata principle in Romantic music. In Romantic music, key relationships are less important than thematic relationships. The contrast between the themes and their lyrical nature are more relevant. This shift of emphasis is emerging in the Unfinished. It is no surprise that the keys Schubert chose for his second subject in the Unfinished are the submediant and the mediant. The third relationships as the device of moving from the tonic, often seen in Beethoven, were a potent means for Schubert to enrich his harmonic scheme [p. 434 in Ref.3]. He used the submediant key to set up the tonal conflict in the exposition also in his Tragic Symphony in a minor key [p.74 of Ref.5]. He does what he likes but not what the Classical conventions impose. In retrospect, these modifications can be called forward-looking as later in the nineteenth century, such tonal deviations became a norm in Romantic music.

    And listen:

    [yt]www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkYjTEqGeJA[/yt]


    [yt]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HU_giDkzwb0[/yt]


    Thoughts???

    Dvorak..


    In originality of harmony and modulation, and in his gift of orchestral coloring, Schubert has had no superior....

    I have just observed that mastery of form came to Schubert spontaneously. This is illustrated by his early symphonies, five of which he wrote before he was twenty, at which, the more I study them, the more I marvel. Although the influence of Haydn and Mozart is apparent in them, Schubert's musical individuality is unmistakable in the character of the melody, in the harmonic progressions, and in many exquisite bits of orchestration. In his later symphonies he becomes more and more individual and original. The influence of Haydn and Mozart, so obvious in his earlier efforts, is gradually eliminated, and with his contemporary, Beethoven, he had less in common from the beginning. He resembles Beethoven, however, in the vigor and melodious flow of his basses; such basses we find already in his early symphonies. His "Unfinished Symphony" and the great one in C are unique contributions to musical literature, absolutely new and original, Schubert in every bar. What is perhaps most characteristic about them is the song-like melody pervading them. He introduced the song into the symphony and made the transfer so skilfully that Schumann was led to speak of the resemblance to the human voice (Aehnlichkeit mit dem Stimmorgan) in these orchestral parts.

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    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    Schubert just needed to live longer and maybe write a couple of money-spinning operas which could have given him the time and space to allow him to take complete control of his affairs. Had he done so and found success rather than have to sell even his finest works for peanuts I could imagine him taking time out to archive his works properly, maybe to the point of disowning some early symphonies and other fledgling works and consigning to the fire all those fragments which were only published after his death. At least he left us with two fine symphonies that were stamped with his own identity, two very promising ones and four others which certainly don't displease, despite their derivative nature. Taking into account the imperious body of work that he managed to shoehorn into his final five or so years we can only assume and hope that he would have forged ahead even further had he lived another 30 years whether it be writing symphonic works or anything else - maybe perhaps to the point of overshadowing the new kids on the block such as Mendelssohn and Schumann. On reflection, I think it's more regrettable that his early death stopped him from writing a real blockbuster of a piano concerto (had he ever felt like writing one) but there were surely some great symphonies to follow. Schubert's early death is one of art's greatest swindles.

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    The 'Unfinished' ends just in time. The 'Great' does not.
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    Quote Originally Posted by elgars ghost View Post
    Schubert's early death is one of art's greatest swindles.
    A perfect summary of music's ultimate tragedy. No loss is so keenly felt as this one.
    To think that the C major symphony, the Quintet, the last 3 quartets, the last 3 piona sonatas were all written by a man not thirty (or only just), and then, nothing more.
    Schubert truly was the music world's greatest loss.
    GG

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    Senior Member Rasa's Avatar
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    Honestly, the fifth symphony is a great listen aswell.

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rasa View Post
    Honestly, the fifth symphony is a great listen aswell.
    Yes it is. The 3rd is a good time too.
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    Senior Member peeyaj's Avatar
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    Even Dvorak admits that Schubert is the greater symphonist than Schumann and Mendelssohn would be. He also reflects Schubert's influence on his symphonic writing.

    Schumann wrote, after finding the score of Great C Major, that it is the ''greatest instrumental work since the death of Beethoven.''

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peeyaj View Post
    Even Dvorak admits that Schubert is the greater symphonist than Schumann and Mendelssohn would be. He also reflects Schubert's influence on his symphonic writing.

    Schumann wrote, after finding the score of Great C Major, that it is the ''greatest instrumental work since the death of Beethoven.''
    Sure that wasn't 'greatest' as in 'longest'?
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    Senior Member peeyaj's Avatar
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    Here's the quote of Dvorak regarding Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann.

    Of Schubert's symphonies, too, I am such an enthusiastic admirer that I do not hesitate to place him next to Beethoven, far above Mendelssohn, as well as above Schumann. Mendelssohn had some of Mozart's natural instinct for orchestration and gift for form, but much of his work has proved ephemeral. Schumann is at his best in his songs, his chamber music, and his pianoforte pieces. His symphonies, too, are great works, yet they are not always truly orchestral; the form seems to hamper the composer, and the instrumentation is not always satisfactory. This is never the case with Schubert.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    Sure that wasn't 'greatest' as in 'longest'?
    It's actually paraphrased from Schumann's article on his discovery of Schubert's Great C Major.

    Here's the link. It's an interesting read on history of of the Symphony and how great is the admiration of Schumann in Franz.

    Regarding the longest.. Bruckner tried and tried, but he would never reach the grandeur and ''heart" of the Great C Major.
    Last edited by peeyaj; Nov-09-2011 at 01:03.

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    Senior Member peeyaj's Avatar
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    I hope the ''Beethoven fanboys'' of TC will acknowledge Schubert's symphonies.

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    Quote Originally Posted by peeyaj View Post
    I hope the ''Beethoven fanboys'' of TC will acknowledge Schubert's symphonies.
    This LvB & Others "fanboy" will acknowledge that I've heard too much of Schubert's symphonies. Of major classical composers symphonies, I think Schubert's are the weakest. His symphonic limitations and irritations include his inability to fully extricate himself from the classical period, and the incessant repetition of not-very-interesting-themes-after-first-hearings.

    So much of Franz's work is top notch. It's a shame he couldn't do better with the symphonies. And where are his concerti?

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    Senior Member peeyaj's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaneyes View Post
    ...Of major classical composers symphonies, I think Schubert's are the weakest.
    Compared to what?? To Schumann's symphonies in which Schumann's inability to orchestrate adequately hamper him? Or to Mendelssohn's ephemeral symphonies that looks back to Classical era. Or to Haydn's 1 symphony with 104 variations?

    You are entitled to your own opinion. But dismissing Schubert's symphonist as ''weakest'' is juvenile to the core. Dvorak ranked his symphonies second to Beethoven and his last two, are some of the greatest in the repertoire. I admit that Brahms and Mahler are greater symphonists than Schubert, but to label those works as ''weakest'' is controversial.

    His symphonic limitations and irritations include his inability to fully extricate himself from the classical period, and the incessant repetition of not-very-interesting-themes-after-first-hearings.
    Ok.. How about Haydn's recycling of his themes in his 104 symphonies?

    Ask Berlioz, Schumann, Dvorak and Bruckner about that. Those composers were influenced by Schubert's symphonic style. Like I said in my op, Schubert's last two symphonies herald the new sound of the Romantic era. The ''Unfinished'', according to scholars, are the first true Romantic symphony. The ''Great'' on the other hand, influenced the new generation of composers such as Bruckner and Mahler.

    Incessent repetitions? Schubert knows what he's doing. Again, those repititions of long melodic lines influenced Bruckner and Mahler. I

    So much of Franz's work is top notch. It's a shame he couldn't do better with the symphonies. And where are his concerti?
    Again, Schubert's last two symphonies are revolutionary in their time. The Unfinished and Great, are great masterpieces on the symphonic literature. Generation of listeners and composers attest that.

    And..

    If you died at the age of 31, you don't have enough time to write in other genre. It's a good thing that Schubert wrote masterpieces on the vocal, symphonic, and chamber genre. You don't have to blame a composer who died so young because he haven't written a concerti.

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    Senior Member Eviticus's Avatar
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    I personally adore Schubert's last one and a half symphonies as do most classical fans and recognise their impact on the romantics. But his first 7 are generally considered sub par and so as a collective, most are not interested in the majority of his output in that genre.

    In crude metaphorical terms it's the difference between say a one hit wonder like Dexys Midnight Runners "Come on Eileen" and all of Michael Jacksons biggest hits from the 80's.

    Would you choose Dexy's Greatest hits over Jacko's based on that one song? Possibly.
    But then would you really proclaim them great songwriters when there's only one good song in the collection? Potentially but unlikely.
    Last edited by Eviticus; Dec-10-2011 at 02:31.

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    No offense but I think Schubert was kind of a Beethoven wannabe....

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    Yes. He can be considered a great symphonist. The Unfinished and the Great are a testimony to that. The other seven symphonies are also gems. He is a major first rate symphonist.

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