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Franz Schubert ~ Symphony No. 8 in B minor, the Unfinished. Early Life. Born January 31 st , 1767 Franz Peter Schubert was one of eleven children. Seven of his brothers and sisters died in infancy, and Franz was the second youngest of only five surviving children.

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early life
Early Life
  • Born January 31st, 1767
  • Franz Peter Schubert was one of eleven children. Seven of his brothers and sisters died in infancy, and Franz was the second youngest of only five surviving children.
  • Father was Franz Theodor Schubert, a parish schoolmaster. A well-respected educator , but also a great lover of music who played the cello for pleasure.
  • Mother Elizabeth Vietz, a locksmith’s daughter and domestic servant.
  • From his father Fanz learned the violin, and from his brother, Ignaz, he learned the piano.
  • With his father on cello and his two elder brothers Ignaz and Ferdinand on violin, Franz played viola in the family string quartet. Schubert wrote many of his earliest pieces for this ensemble.
  • He also had a very skillful voice which at a young age had him singing the choir of his local church, and being taught to play the organ by the parish organist, MichealHolzer, who often commended that young Franz’s talent for music was “god-given”.
formal education
Formal Education

Franz was educated at his father’s school from the age of five.

At age eleven Franz won a place in the world-renowned Imperial Court Chapel choir, an honor which also allowed him access to a first-rate education at the Royal Seminary in Vienna.

His voice broke four years later at age fifteen.

Franz’s exemplary scholastic achievements allowed him to keep his position at the school where he continued to play for the orchestra.

In 1808 Schubert became a student at the Imperial Seminary.

Antonio Salieri undertook to tutor young Schubert privately, a singular honor. Schubert composed many pieces during this time, including his first symphony.

After graduation Schubert worked at his father’s school for a number of years.

schubert s many friends
Schubert’s Many Friends

1815 Schubert met Franz von Schober, a man who was perhaps Shcubert’s best friend throughout his life. The two men were often collectively known as “Schrobert”.

1817 Schubert met Johann Michael Vogl, a popular baritone who spent many years performing with Schubert and came to be one of the greatest proponents of his music.

The parties where Schubert and Voglperfomed their particular brand of chamber music, including many of Schubert’s most popular leids, came to be known as “Schubertiads” after his death.

Even though Schubert enjoyed some popular success in his life, he was only truly appreciated by a small group of very devoted and appreciative followers and friends who recognized his genius.

It is likely that the syphilis that eventually killed Schubert at age 31 was contracted from one of the brothels that Schubert frequented with his friend Schrober.

In 1816 Schubert abandoned his post at his father’s school and went to live with the reasonably well-off Schrober, which allowed Schubert to focus entirely on composition.

  • By 1823 his health was failing. He was aware of his illness and it is likely because of his health that he chose to remain a bachelor.
  • He was very prolific during this final period of his short life. Most scholars agree that he reached full musical maturity during this time, and many of his best loved works, both during his life and after, were written then. His days were spent composing in the morning, spending the afternoon with friends in coffeehouses, and then at night a party would often he held where people gathered to hear him play.
  • The official cause of Schubert’s death was typhoid fever. The last song he ever heard was String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131 by Beethoven, and by his own request, Schubert was buried next to that same composer, his lifelong idol.
  • Died November 19th, 1828
history of the unfinished symphony
History of the Unfinished Symphony

Schubert’s No. 8 Symphony in B minor was written in the fall of 1822, six years before his death.

It is by and large the most popular of Schubert’s symphony’s and is respected as one of his greatest compositions.

Due to the general moodiness of the music, the B minor symphony is often called a Romantic rather than Classical symphony.

Only the first two movements of the symphony exist in full, the Allegro Moderato and Allegro Con Moto, and nine full bars and sketch of the remainder of a third movement, a minuet and trio, but no finale has ever been discovered. There is little evidence that one was ever written.

Some scholars argue that the extended Entr'acte from Rosamunde could possibly have been the forth movement of the Unfinished, since it is similarly written in B minor, but there is much debate and it is unlikely this hypothesis will ever be conclusively proven or disproven.

history of the unfinished symphony con d
History of the Unfinished Symphony Con’d.

Attempts have been made by many to finish the piece, most notably by Felix Weingartner, but all have been largely condemned by the musical community.

The symphony was dedicated to the Graz Music Society as a token of gratitude for awarding Schubert with a honorary diploma.

Schubert sent it to his friend, Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a member of the Graz Society. The piece was never performed, nor is there any evidence that Hüttenbrenner even showed the composition to the society. The reason for this is unknown and has led to much speculation over the years. Some suggest that Hüttenbrenner may have accidently destroyed the fourth and final movement, and therefore kept the piece a secret out of shame. Others believe that he didn’t reveal it simply because he was waiting for Schubert to finish it.

It wasn’t until 1865, thirty-seven years after Schubert’s death, that he finally showed the piece to Johann von Herbeck, a conductor who gave the piece its first performance later that year in Vienna, substituting the finale of Schubert’s Number 3 symphony in D major as the last movement. The concert received rave reviews and Schubert’s romantic masterpiece has been delighting audiences ever since.

listening guide symphony no 8 in b minor the unfinished
Listening Guide, Symphony No. 8 in B minor , the Unfinished
  • (0:00) As the symphony opens the cello and bass slowly play the 1st main theme in unison, which is melancholy, mysterious and even a bit sinister. The higher strings pick up with a quick, circular swarming sound.
  • (0:21) A single clarinet plays the 2nd main theme. The sound is like a soft, melancholy ballad. Schubert is known for having especially sonorous symphonies; he was the “Prince of Song.” The Unfinished is no exception. Several themes sound throughout the piece, each independent and beautiful enough to be the basis of its own composition. The violins continue to circle in the background. As clarinet concludes the 2nd theme it are accented by a swell of horns. As the woodwinds play the theme a second time with a variation at the end, the horns play accents in the background.
  • (0:53) Music continues to gain intensity. The whole orchestra plays a succession of nine strong notes before the music retreats. The horn holds a lonely note.
listening guide symphony no 8 in b minor the unfinished1
Listening Guide, Symphony No. 8 in B minor , the Unfinished
  • (1:11) As the horns continue to play the mode shifts to major. The lower strings play the 3rd theme, and then the higher strings repeat. Woodwinds play three note accents.
  • (1:49) All silent for three beats followed by several distressed fanfares by the horns and quick violin trills. The lower strings and higher strings play a duet based on of the 3rd bar of the theme, then the strings play a duet with the horns of the same substance. Intensity grows quickly as the exposition comes to a close, dropping off abruptly
  • (2:41) Strings and flutes play repetitions of the subject. The repetitions end with a sustained note and the violins playing intermittent notes pizzicato.
  • (3:11) The quiet and melancholy 1st theme returns played by the low strings, and the first three minutes of music essentially are repeated, ending with an exact restatement of the first theme by a lone clarinet
listening guide symphony no 8 in b minor the unfinished2
Listening Guide, Symphony No. 8 in B minor , the Unfinished
  • (6:20) The violins play a five note motive with a generally ascending contour and slight drop on the fifth note that sounds like variation on the 1st subject. Horns play accents in the background. Together the sounds rise in intensity, volume and pitch coming to a somewhat dissonant crescendo in the minor mode.
  • (7:27) Horns and harsh violins fade and the flutes pick up with a breezy, moderate melody underscored by a soft violin. The insanity of quick violins and swelling horns plays a duet against the comparative lightness of the flutes, going back and forth a total of three times.
  • (7:59) Entire orchestra plays 1st theme accented by the timpani with a slight variation at the end. The violins then play a variation of the accompaniment of the original statement of the theme (0:00), accompanied by the swelling and fading of horns and accented by thuds of the timpani, followed by a powerful swelling variation of the 1st subject played by the whole orchestra.
listening guide symphony no 8 in b minor the unfinished3
Listening Guide, Symphony No. 8 in B minor , the Unfinished
  • (8:21) A halting, pounding motive is introduced and then repeated with slight variations. Strings, horns and timpani play. The third repetition is without the timpani and ends with long sustained notes by the violins, repeated fanfares by the horns and a quick melody on the flutes, which is reminiscent of the 1st subject.
  • (8:50) A violin signals a quick shift to major mode, subject is reminiscent of the 2nd main theme. Horns and woodwinds play melancholy accents, and then flute, clarinet and oboe play a distressing variation of the 2nd subject.
  • (9:17) The circular swarm form the beginning (0:15) returns in the high strings, and then just as before (3:11) the music starts to repeat. Clarinet plays the 2nd main subject in the exact terms as it was first presented, but this time it is accented by both horns and strings pulsing as they swell at the end. The theme is repeated. At its end horns and strings swell.
listening guide symphony no 8 in b minor the unfinished4
Listening Guide, Symphony No. 8 in B minor , the Unfinished
  • (10:20) Flutes resume the breezy three note accent piece from 7:27 and the strings play the 3rd subject in a low register. As high strings repeat the subject in a higher register with a slight variation at the end, horns take up the accent notes the flutes had played before.
  • (11:02) Silence for three beats and then the orchestra plays several halting notes in dissonant harmony accented by trembling high strings.
  • (11:20) High and low strings resume to play a duet of a variation of the 3rd main theme. Woodwinds join followed by the horns, quickly gaining in intensity and volume. They play haltingly and strong and then quickly drop off.
listening guide symphony no 8 in b minor the unfinished5
Listening Guide, Symphony No. 8 in B minor , the Unfinished
  • (11:54) High strings play variation of the 3rd theme, and then the clarinet and flute repeat. A sudden halt of the music reminiscent of the one at 3:00. Violins play pizzicato over a sustained note by horns and woodwinds.
  • (12:21) The 1st theme is restated by the lower strings. Horns swell at the end and then the lower and higher strings play a variation of the melody. The orchestra swell behind them, gaining intensity and volume as they approach the conclusion of the movement.
  • (13:02) The intensity drops off briefly as the clarinet plays the beginning of the 2nd theme. Horns play below the music and higher strings play accents above. The theme is repeated by the cello as horns, clarinet and higher stings continue to swell.
  • (13: 23) The movement ends with four strong notes played by horns and strings.

Kultur, The Famous Composers Series “Franz Schubert: A Concise Biography and Musical Overview”.

The Young Person's Guide..., "Schubert's Unfinished Symphony." Last modified 2012. Accessed October 12, 2012.

The Culture Information Center, AeiouMusik-Kolleg, "Symphony no 8, B minor, "The Unfinished" FranzeShcubert." Last modified 2008. Accessed October 12, 2012.;internal&action=_setlanguage.action?LANGUAGE=en., "Franz Schubert,", /people/franz-schubert-9475558 (accessed Oct 12, 2012).

Advameg, Inc., Encyclopedia of World Biography, "Franz Schubert Biography." Last modified 2012. Accessed October 12, 2012.