Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 8 in B minor ('Unfinished')

Known to Schubert’s fellow Austrians as the Unvollendete (‘Unfinished’), it might easily have been the Unbekannt (‘Unknown’) were it not for fate. A full thirty-seven years after Schubert’s death, the world counted Schubert’s symphonies on just eight fingers, rather than nine.

Then, in a case reminiscent of a rediscovered Picasso, a seventy-six-year-old man, possibly in the belief that he was on his way out, came forward to a Viennese conductor with the astonishing news that he had a Schubert symphony. Well, part of one. Schubert had sent it to him, some forty-three years earlier.

Why had he not come forward before? Was it anything to do with the fact that the music was incomplete with evidence of pages simply having been ripped out? It is still as much of an enigma as anything Elgar ever came up with. Schubert had some six years of his life remaining after he started working on the piece, but he never completed it. One theory, still argued over today, is that the missing fourth movement is alive and well-known now as the Entr’acte from Schubert’s incidental music to the play Rosamunde. Who knows?

Recommended Recording

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Nikolaus Harnoncourt (conductor). Teldec: 2564688316.

Illustration: Mark Millington