Franz Schubert: “Symphony Number 8 in B minor (Unfinished)

Schubert’s ”Unfinished” Symphony was among the collection of classical albums that belonged to my second-to-oldest brother, Bob. I remember him talking about it one day-I must have been 5 or 6 at the time-and the novelty of its subtitle. Did Schubert die before he finished it? Had he just gotten fed up and abandon it? Perhaps he had mislaid it, or had put it down during a barren period, and had never gotten around to finishing it up. The latter happens to me all the time as I’m sure it does to all parents. Just when you start something, somebody with a crisis interrupts you, and it takes hours before you can pick up the where you left off. By that time you might have lost your thread.

Still, one can make excuses for everything. Life is full of chaos and crises. The only way to become successful is to learn to adapt. Take the hugely successful writer, Danielle Steele, writer of bodice-ripping fiction for bored housewives. She was so driven to be a writer that, as a young mother with several toddlers, she started writing a line or two during the one moment she got to herself during her busy day-while in the bathroom. After pegging away for a couple of years she had enough for a novel. Now one might argue that the quality of her work matches the location of its creation, but that’s not the point. She could have spent her days grizzling about her unfulfilling life and the misery of it. She could have given umpteen million excuses for not having written her novel. Yet, she didn’t: instead she chose to adapt to her situation and got on with it.

Schubert was another one of those artists who “just got on with it.” By the time he died at the age of 31, he had composed over a thousand works, including songs, operas, symphonies and chamber pieces. Probably best known for his songs, which he must have felt a certain affinity for having started out as a Vienna Choir Boy. When his voice cracked devoted himself to composition. Though patronized by the wealthy and artistic, and writing prolifically (one reports said he wrote eight songs in one day), he died virtually penniless and unknown because of greedy publishers. When his body was discovered by the police, nearby sat a pile of over 500 songs which the investigators valued as worth just a few dollars.

Schubert wrote the Unfinished Symphony in 1822 at the age of 25. Most music historians think of it as revolutionary, a) for being the first Romantic work and b) for radically changing the use of instruments in symphonies. From the outset he gives the woodwinds and brass equal importance as violins, something that wasn’t done before. Some musicologists state that the two movements are so perfect that Schubert must have intended to write no more, though the discovery of a piano score for a third movement belies that thinking. More likely, after completing the first two movements, the real reason was that Schubert had contracted syphilis and fallen gravely ill. During the early months of 1823 he nearly died and perhaps the association of that illness with the work prevented him. Again, despite his illness, he continued to compose at an astounding rate, composing another symphony in the five remaining years left to him.

And that brings me back to my brother Bob. After his first marriage ended in 1989, he decided to go on a kind of spiritual quest which resulted in his going back to complete a master’s degree in counseling. No slacker! He continues to be a role model for me.

Check out the two great performances that Nemo left below by Furtwangler and Karajan.  Much better sound quality, though audio only.


About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

3 Responses to Franz Schubert: “Symphony Number 8 in B minor (Unfinished)

  1. Nemo says:

    Great post. I enjoyed the story, not the performance though. It sounds fragmented and hysterical, and the coughing in the audience makes it almost unbearable. Personally I like Furtwängler or Karajan’s interpretation better.




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