Schubert's UnFinished Symphony

Symphony No. 8 in B minor

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) - Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, Unfinished (1822)

Schubert led a tragically short life, dying when he was just 31. But the lyric beauty of his works has made him immortal. The magnificent “torso” we know as the “Unfinished” Eighth Symphony is one such unforgettable work, composed when Schubert was just 25 years old. He completed only two movements and sketched a third, but set them aside to work on other projects. The music was not heard until 1865, when Johann Herbeck led the Society of Friends of Music at the Vienna premiere. The story about how such a beautiful work was lost for so long is intriguing. Schubert apparently gave the score to Anselm Hüttenbrenner, though the reason is unclear. Was it in payment of a private debt, or a gift to the Styrian Music Society as Schubert’s thank-you for his honorary membership? About 30 years later, Joseph Hüttenbrenner (brother of Anselm) wrote a letter about the score to Johann Herbeck, conductor of the Society, saying that he, Joseph, had “a treasure in Schubert’s B Minor Symphony, which we put on a level with the great Symphony in C [Schubert’s Ninth], his instrumental swan song, and any one of the symphonies of Beethoven.” This was high praise indeed. Another five years elapsed before Herbeck paid a visit to Hüttenbrenner, who presented the conductor with a pile of papers that included the present symphony. Herbeck, realizing what he held in his hand, asked if he might copy it, but Hüttenbrenner allowed him to take it away. The Symphony’s two movements show a beautifully imagined and brilliantly executed work, masterfully blending lyricism and drama. From a brooding beginning through the stormy development to the final serene measures, this symphony—despite its nickname—feels gloriously “finished.” (