Whatever happened to Schubert's Seventh?
WFCR's series of Franz Schubert's complete symphonies is on hold today, as we provided extra news coverage in the aftermath of yesterday's Boston Marathon explosions. But on Wednesday morning, we'll pick up where we left off with Monday's broadcast of the "Little C Major" Symphony No. 6. So tune tomorrow for the ever-popular Symphony No. 8, "Unfinished," followed on Thursday by the Symphony No. 9, "Great C Major."
Wait a second — whatever happened to Schubert's Seventh? And why have you sometimes seen both the "Unfinished" and "Great C Major" referred to as Schubert's Symphony No. 7? The answers get a little complicated, so bear with me.
When Schubert died at 31 years of age in 1828, he left behind more unfinished and/or unperformed major works than any other brand-name composer, greatly complicating the long and ongoing process of cataloguing and numbering his works. Among them were several symphonic fragments, of which two merit more than musicological attention. One is a fully-sketched, partially-orchestrated four-movement Symphony in E major. The other is a Symphony in B minor, with two complete movements, a third mostly sketched but only partially orchestrated, and a fourth rumored to have been started but never discovered. Adding to the confusion are indications that Schubert started and perhaps completed a symphony in the summer of 1825, when he spent a pleasant holiday in the resort town of Gastein. Some scholars have guessed that another Schubert work, his "Grand Duo" Sonata for piano duet, was actually a sketch for this lost "Gastein" Symphony. How to include all these works alongside the seven complete Schubert symphonies?
First, as the complete symphonies were published and performed during the decades after Schubert's death, they were simply numbered 1-7. That's how the "Great C Major," which we traditionally know as the Ninth, became originally the Symphony No. 7, the number it bore well into the 20th century. After that B Minor symphonic fragment was premiered in 1865 and became very popular, it was added to the list at the end, as an appendix to the finished works, thus giving us the Symphony No. 8, "Unfinished." By contrast, the material for the Symphony in E major remained in private hands through most of the century. Though a few attempts were made to orchestrate it, it neither caught on nor got its own number — until Otto Erich Deutsch came along.
Who was this Herr Deutsch? Merely the great Austrian (later English) musicologist who in 1951 published "Schubert: Thematic Catalogue of all his Works in Chronological Order," the source of the "D" numbers that inevitably follow Schubert's works on concert programs and CDs. While duly noting and numbering all of Schubert's fragmentary works, Deutsch shook up the list of symphonies by giving the aforementioned E major the status of its own number, sticking it in chronologically between No. 6, the "Little C Major," and the "Unfinished." So, the E major became No. 7, the "Unfinished" remained at No. 8 on the hit parade, though now for chronological reasons, and the "Great C Major," the last to be composed (though there may be materials for an unfinished 10th) rounded out the charts at No. 9.
And all was good — for a few years, at least. Then, starting on November 19, 1963, the 135th anniversary of Schubert's death, several scholars began what would turn out to be a sixteen-year project to revise Deutsch's pioneering work, using new findings to set the record straight in their Neue Schubert Ausgabe (New Schubert Edition). Again, the numbering of the symphonies took a hit. The new edition declassified the E major symphony, just as planetary scientists did to poor Pluto, and took away its number. So, to fill the gap, the "Unfinished" was moved up to No. 7 and the "Great C Major" to No. 8 — at least officially and on fancy program booklets like the Boston Symphony's. But that doesn't mean that you or I, used to the way things have been for our entire lifetimes, have to stop referring to the "Unfinished" as the 8th or the "Great C Major as the 9th. After all, Schubert probably had no idea what numbers he would assign to these works anyway, and would probably be pleasantly amazed that they got performed at all.
So, whatever you call them, stay tuned for two immortal symphonic classics Wednesday and Thursday mornings on WFCR. Maybe we'll also get to one of the orchestrations of the Symphony Fomerly Known As No. 7, the E Major, sometime soon. Then there's the orchestration of the "Grand Duo" Sonata...or was it actually a sketch for the "Gastein" Symphony? I told you it was complicated!