FRANZ PETER SCHUBERT:  SYMPHONY NO. 9 IN C MAJOR

“Schubert set out to write in the Beethoven style and ended up writing himself.”  (Lukas Foss, American composer, conductor, and pianist)

 

Following the new approaches to the symphony explored by Beethoven, composers in the 19th century basically fall into one of two “categories” in their own symphonic works:  either they are “conservative Romantics” or “radical Romantics.”  The so-called “radical Romantics” expanded the conception of the symphony as a psychological journey and explored more the programmatic possibilities of the genre.  These composers included Berlioz (we will study his Symphonie Fantastique later this term), Liszt (who invented the “symphonic poem”), D’Indy, and others.  The “conservative Romantics” reacted more to how Beethoven drew upon the legacy of Haydn and Mozart, how he toyed with expectations, and how they could subsequently continue to view the conventions of symphonic composition (four movements, heavy use of sonata form) as a flexible skeleton, rather than as something restrictive.  These composers are mostly German by nationality, and include Schubert, followed by Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky, among others. 

 Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major (originally numbered the 7th, causing a great deal of confusion in the Music Library) was written in 1828, the year of Schubert’s death.   Sometimes considered his greatest work, the 9th Symphony was never heard by the composer, because the Viennese musicians considered it unplayable; rather, it was premiered in a Leipzig Gewandhaus concert in 1839 under the direction of Felix Mendelssohn (who seemed to like resurrecting works of dead composers, as evidenced by his revival of the works of J.S. Bach). 

What is "romanticism"?

Symphony No. 9 in C major is sometimes called the "first truly Romantic symphony."  But what does that mean?  What is romanticism?  What is the romantic in music?

First, it's important to note that one of the most important characteristics of musical romanticism that individuality.  Whereas the "Classical" style in music was characterized by its universality and a considerable degree of uniformity in genre, style, and content, the romantic style for the most part is the opposite.  Thus, there is no such thing as a "typical" romantic symphony, concerto, opera, sonata, etc.  Having said that, there are some characteristics common to numerous pieces in this 19th-century "romantic" style (items in red are found in Schubert's Ninth Symphony):

expansion of the expressive range, including dynamics (pp to fff in Schubert's Ninth Symphony) and other expressive markings

increased modulation (key changes)

modulation to more distant keys, especially to those related by third

less reliance on V-I relationships, especially in terms of key relationships

more use of secondary harmonies (ii, iii, vi, viio, VII)

increased use of seventh and ninth chords

increased use of NCTs

more complicated textures; though most are still primarily homophonic, the textures do include more contrapuntal writing

increased use of winds, brass and percussion in orchestral works, though the strings still dominate

expanded dimensions to standard forms, especially sonata form

much more "extramusical" events and ideas (that is, something beyond the music itself)--such as political conflicts, personal struggles, works of literature--serving as an influence on the music

larger orchestra, including:

separate cello and bass parts

sometimes divided string sections (multiple violin parts, not just 1st and 2nd)

pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons on a regular basis

use of piccolo (beginning with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony)

2-4 horns as well as trumpets and sometimes cornets (as in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique)

3 trombones (beginning with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony), and sometimes tuba

expanded percussion section (not just timpani), as in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony or Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique

much more use of the minor mode

much wider range (adding piccolo and trombones helps in orchestral music; in piano music, builders add more pitches to the keyboard)

use of wider leaps, especially compound intervals at particularly emotionally moments

long phrases, especially those which elide one after another, creating a seamless effect (later, especially in Wagner)

increasing use of dissonance, so much so that seventh chords and suspensions almost begin to seem consonant (later in the 19th century, though beginning as early as the Eroica Symphony)

less regular phrasing (4+4 is still the norm early on)

sometimes usual meters (5/4 in Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony, movt. 3)

a great deal of rhythmic variety, including combining different groupings regularly (eighths and triplets side-by-side), cross rhythms (different subdivisions, such as eights and triplets, but simultaneously), and odd subdivisions of a beat, such as into quintuplets or smaller (especially in the piano works of Chopin, where you might see 5, 7, 9, 11, or even 23 in a single grouping!), and use of hemiola

while the orchestral works are expanding in length and expressive range, there is far more writing on a small scale, especially Lieder (solo songs) and character pieces for the piano

strong interest in developing national identities in compositional styles, especially in non-Germanic regions (including use of regional and national folk dances and songs, as well as literature influencing opera; composition of opera in the vernacular, rather than Italian or German)

more programmatic works, especially in character pieces and among the "radical Romantic" composers

great attention to detail in the phrasing and articulation

organicism (using one or more small ideas, such as a rhythmic motive, which seem to grow and develop to link movements and create a more coherent, unified work)

increasing specificity on the part of the composer regarding specific instructions on performing the work (for example, pedaling indications and Berlioz's indication of what type of mallets to use)

A pretty big list, eh?---but clear evidence that while Romantic music sounds different that the Baroque or Classical style which preceded it, Romantic music is also quite variable and individual.

THE FIRST MOVEMENT

To me, one of the best parts of this entire symphony (and there are many) is the introduction.  Now, we've studied works in class prior to this which have had a slow introduction to a sonata form movement (I'll jog your memory for you:  Haydn's Symphony No. 94 in G major, Symphony No. 104 in D ("London"), and Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C major.  But there's something different about this one, and I'm not entirely sure I can articulate what it is, though I'll try.

First, it begins in an andante tempo with two unison solo horns playing the following melody:

 

This subtle opening, which is actually quite difficult because the two horns are so exposed and must match their pitch precisely, introduces one of the most lyrical themes in the entire symphony.  And this theme becomes the main component of the introduction.  The theme is repeated, developed, expanded; it is played by different instruments, at different dynamic levels; it is fragmented; it is harmonized.  In fact, we tricked into believing that the first movement of Schubert's work is a lyrical slow movement, when in fact this is simply the introduction--it's not until 77 measures have passed that we realize we were duped!

In the next measure, the strings play, but their role is merely to serve as a transition to a woodwind restatement of the horn melody, this time, harmonized and with pizzicato strings helping to fill out the texture and propel the motion forward.  (This makes the wind writing in Beethoven's First Symphony pale by comparison--remember how critics complained that Beethoven's work was practically a wind ensemble piece?) 

Next, beginning in m. 17, the strings finally have their say, but in an unusual manner.  Recall how we said that in the Baroque and Classical styles there was a polarity towards the outer voices, rather than having all voices equal?  Well here, the violas and cellos divide (see romantic characteristics listed above), the the upper viola and upper cello part -- clearly, inner voices) carry the melody.  This new melody is related to the opening horn melody, especially in its use of dotted rhythms (one of the most pervasive ideas throughout Schubert's Ninth Symphony), but turns towards a minor, the relative minor key, and an important key area in this symphony.  It also displays Schubert's use of motives to build a theme, something Schubert no doubt would have learned from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.  Here, Schubert's string theme is actually four straight repetitions of the following rhythm:

 

Despite the fact that Schubert fools the listener with the long, development-like slow introduction, the first movement is clearly a sonata form movement.  The form is diagrammed below:

Here also is a diagram of the main key areas of the first movement, indicating the roots of each established key.  To determine the quality (major or minor) of the tonic, use the diatonic pitches in C major, unless otherwise indicated.  (Thus an a would indicate a minor; but an a with a c# above indicates A major.)  Whole notes indicate the keys established for longer periods of time, while blackened note heads are more fleeting tonalities.

What does this show?  Several things.  First, it shows what are the important key areas in this symphony.  Note that there is more than simply I and V.  Second, it shows an increased amount of modulation, not necessarily compared to Beethoven, but certainly compared to the norms of the Viennese Classical era.  Third, it shows that when moving from one key to the next, Schubert uses at least as many moves by third (major or minor) as he does through the circle of fifths (V-I). 

MOVEMENT TWO

Schubert does not depart from stylistic norms in choosing a slow movement (andante con moto) for his second movement.  Also, it is written in a closely related key, a minor, relative minor to the overall tonic of the Ninth Symphony.  But I always been struck by the number of similarities between this movement and the second movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A major (also on your syllabus).  Here are a few:

Both are in a minor.

Both are slow movements, though not too slow  (Beethoven writes "allegretto"; Schubert writes "andante con moto")

Both are in 2/4.

Both begin with a cello/bass dominated "theme," though in Schubert's piece the main theme of the movement does not actually begin until measure 8 in the oboe.

There is a lot of back-and-forth between A major and A minor.

Both rely heavily on motives, particularly rhythmic motives, to develop the melodic content of the movement.

FORM?

Usually called a “sonatina”, which means that it follows the overall gestures of sonata-allegro form, but it’s either smaller in scope or perhaps skips the development, which is the case here.  The movement begins with a bouncy theme in the cellos and basses, which is not actually the principal theme of the movement.  This is a true introduction, as it does not return at the reprise.  The form is thus mapped as follows:

 

The A section features two alternating themes, one quieter and featuring winds; the second louder, more staccato, and featuring strings:

The dotted rhythms in both of these themes connect them to the dotted rhythms in the first movement, evidence of use of “organicism” in this work.  (There are dotted rhythms in each movement, as you will see below.)  The accented quarters in the first theme also tie this theme to another movement, the fourth, where strongly accented half notes (though in a quick tempo) mark a good deal of the melodic content.

The B section introduces a new theme, which is distinctly in F major, and very legato, a strong contrast to the A section:

Note that both A and B are reprised, forming a sort of recapitulation; in the recap, however, B’ presents its primary theme in A major, certainly closer to the a minor tonic than is F major.  This reprise/recap also incorporates elements of variation with a complicated, sixteenth-note counter theme occurring below in the violas and second violins. 

The coda does provide final tonal closure in a minor, while at the same time providing thematic closure by returning to the opening theme, again, in variation.  Thus the second movement uses sonata principals, elements of theme and variation, rondo elements (with numerous returns to the first principal theme), and ternary form.

Here is a diagram of the tonal scheme of the movement.  While it is less complicated than the first movement, this movement again demonstrates less reliance on traditional V-I relationships.

MOVEMENT THREE

There can be no doubt that this is a scherzo, not just because Schubert labeled it as such, but simply because of the romping character of the opening string passage (oft repeated in the movement, and shown immediately below) and the playfulness of the winds. 

Main theme, Scherzo:

What I want you to note in this movement, however, is not whether it fits the characteristics of a scherzo; instead, I’d like you to note 1) the rapidity and variety of modulation in the second portion of the scherzo (the second repeat) 2) the type of modulation used to reach the trio—this is important for you students of MUS272.2, Chromatic Harmony; and 3) the use of national styles.

1)  Here is a summary of the key changes in the second portion of the scherzo:

There certainly is a lot of C major and A major, but look at the distant keys – B-flat major at m. 17, A-flat major at m. 57 (the Neapolitan key), C-flat major at m. 87 (as far from C major as you can get!), and so on. 

2)  The scherzo ends solidly in C major, but the trio is clearly in A major.  How does Schubert make the transition?  By using a common tone modulation.  What is the common tone between the two tonics, C and A?  The pitch E.  So what Schubert does is this:  after the PAC in C major, the horns, joined shortly by other winds, play the pitch E over and over again.  Our ears forget that this was part of a C major triad and begin to hear the E in isolation.  Schubert then adds A and C# with the first chord in the trio, and we accept the E as being part of the new tonic chord.  BE SURE TO LISTEN TO THIS PASSAGE!!!!

3)  The trio brings back the dotted rhythm idea, which connects this movement to the previous two and to the finale.  But more immediately, this rhythm is characteristic of a native Austrian folk dance, called the “Ländler,” which Schubert most certainly would have known.  The most famous Ländler is undoubtedly the one which Maria and Captain von Trapp dance to in “The Sound of Music.”  When you listen to this work, note the typical Ländler traits:  moderate triple meter; gentle, lilting feel; graceful dotted rhythms; chordal texture. 

THE FOURTH MOVEMENT (FINALE)

The finale is an enormous sonata form movement, totaling 1154 measures (not including repeats!).  Clearly, this is evidence of the expansion of dimensions and forms during the Romantic era.  The tempo is very brisk and meter is 2/4, so it doesn’t quite feels as long as it looks on paper.  The form is diagrammed below:

 

This movement displays the new extremes of Romanticism in dynamics, ranging from pp to fff (ms. 334, 922, 1094, 1102, 1133), in addition to Schubert’s use of numerous accents, crescendos, and forzandos.

CYCLIC ELEMENTS IN SYMPHONY NO. 9

 

·        All movements use themes with dotted rhythms, and do so frequently

·        All movements establish C major, G major, A-flat major, and A minor

·        Accented quarters from movement 2 become accented half (in fast 2/4) in movement 4

·        Lots of writing in parallel thirds

·        All movements have a significant thematic reprise (movements 2, 3) or recapitulation (1, 4), so there is a certainly similarity with regard to form.

 

Is this a cycle?  In the most general sense, yes; in a more specific, probably not, since there is no exact motive or theme which comes back in each movement (as in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in c minor or Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique).

* * * * * * *

SYMPHONY NO. 8 IN B MINOR (“Unfinished”)

 Written in 1822, one of Schubert’s most productive years, but not performed or published until 1865, the “Unfinished” Symphony, as it is now known, is Schubert’s most often performed work, and it is among the most performed and recorded of all symphonic works. 

This work was labeled “unfinished” by scholars who felt it deficient because Schubert had only completed 2 movements, but since there is no definition of a symphony which requires 4 movements, that appellation was officially considered a misnomer for many years.  It turns out, however, that indeed the work was “unfinished”; Schubert himself had sketched a third-movement scherzo.  (A manuscript containing the sketched third movement was discovered around 1968.)  The manuscript showed parts for first and second violins, viola, flutes, oboes, bassoons, and clarinets, but only on the first page.  Another page was clearly detached and found later.  Scholars think that Schubert himself removed the other pages, but why remains a mystery.  

What we do have to look at is two sonata form movements, both rather slow in tempo; although the opening movement is marked “allegro moderato,” it does not feel very quick¾probably because it contains many halves and quarters in the primary melodic material.

It begins rather ominously, with a single, unaccompanied line in the cellos and basses; this helps to establish the romantic mood and the b minor tonality. 

The remaining strings enter at m. 9 with a quiet but agitated accompaniment, after which the plaintive solo oboe and clarinet sing a beautiful melody.  Note the use of F-natural in the sixth measure, which weakens the B minor feel a bit and evokes a more modal character.

The second group in the sonata form is in D major, following the norm for a minor-key sonata-form movement.  The next phrase (not shown here), however, includes some G-sharps, which invoke a modal quality which again partly destabilizes the otherwise clear major tonality.  Here, as at the beginning of the movement, the cellos take the lead, introducing the primary theme of the B group first, before it is echoed by the violins.  Later, the theme is used in imitation between the high and low strings. 

 

Aaron Copland wrote about this second theme:

            “An admirable example of pure melodic invention, which has been quoted many times, is the second theme….The ‘rules’ of melodic construction will be of no help to anyone in analyzing this phrase.  It has a curious way of seeming to fall back upon itself (or, more exactly, the G and the D), which is all the more noticeable because of the momentary reaching for a higher interval in the sixth measure.  Despite its great simplicity, it makes a unique impression, reminding us of no other theme in musical literature.”  

[Sing along!  “This is the symphony that Schubert wrote but never finished; he never finished it, but no one cares ‘cuz it’s a nice one, a nice one…”] (Try it:  I guarantee you’ll never forget this movement!) 

The second movement is in E major, and again employs a sonata form, though this time in an andante con moto tempo.  The choice of key alone is a bit unconventional, as Schubert chose the parallel major of the subdominant.  There is no precedent for this among Schubert’s or Beethoven’s instrumental works (although both composers did write in E major, it’s the relationship to the original tonic which is unusual).  In the original sketches, the first movement ended on a B major chord (Picardy third), which would have major the transition to E major less problematic.  As in the Ninth Symphony, Schubert employs some rather unconventional key choices in the exposition and development section:

Exposition

E

G

E

B

c#m

E

c#m

Db

c#m

D

G

C

I

bIII

I

V

vi

I

vi

VI#

VI

bVII

bIII

bVI

1

17

(before 33)

37

41

45

62

82

96

111

118

125

 Recapitulation                                                                                          Coda

E

G

E

f#m

A

a

A

a

e

E

E

Ab

E

I

bIII

I

ii

IV

iv

IV

iv

i

I

I

III(enh)

I

142

158

 

(around 174)

(before 186)

203

223

237

244

260

268

286

296

 You’ll note from the chart above that there is no true development section in this movement, so it is an abridged sonata form movement.  The melodic content is based three primary elements (in order of importance):  scale passages, outlined triads or seventh chords, and the interval of a third.  (Of course, triads and sevenths are composed of thirds, so the use of thirds in any context in this movement helps to create greater unity throughout.)

 Clearly, upon hearing this symphony we realize that, had Schubert completed it, this would have been the “first truly Romantic symphony.”  The overall mood, the degree and extent of modulations, the character of the melodies all point in a new direction.  But, since this work was not completed and not premiered until well after the Ninth Symphony (“The Great”), that title goes to the 9th instead. 

For more information on Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in b minor ("Unfinished"), see the Norton Critical Score for the composition, Martin Chusid, ed., New York: W.W. Norton, 1971.