Most people have only heard the famous first two movements of this would-be four-movement symphony. Franz Schubert (1797-1828) also provided a semi-sufficient and partially orchestrated outline for a third movement: a scherzo. So we know to a great degree what his plan was for that. That leaves the Finale. The Schubert scholar and composer Brian Newbould (b. 1936), who recently orchestrated and conjecturally completed the scherzo, believed that the Entr’acte No. 1 from Schubert's incidental music for the play, Rosamunde, was indeed originally the fourth movement. It was written in the same period and (arguably) in the same style of the first movement, also in the same key (B minor), and utilized the same instrumentation as the symphony. But not all music scholars agree with his opinion.
Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 is a great mystery. Why would he cease work on what is a fabulous and long since classic piece of music? We have no hard evidence that he ever began the finale. No one knows for sure why. Some speculate -- and that's all it is -- that he associated the scherzo with his outbreak of the syphilis that killed him six years later, in Autumn 1822, or that he was distracted by his Wanderer Fantasy for piano.
Even odder was the subsequent fate of the incomplete symphony. In 1823, Schubert gave his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a leading member of the Graz Music Society, that had given him an honorary diploma, the score of the two completed movements and at least the first two pages of the start of a scherzo. Hüttenbrenner never even let the society know he had the manuscript, which was stuck in a trunk for over forty years (why?!) until he showed it to the conductor Johann von Herbeck, who premiered the masterwork on 17 December 1865 in Vienna to a very enthusiastic reception. Truth is stranger than fiction!
Newbould's "reconstruction" with the Entr'acte No. 1 as the finale works okay, but personally (as a huge classical music collector and former trombonist in the orchestra of a nationally renowned high school: Cass Technical in Detroit), I find it ultimately insufficient as a listening experience, because of the clear inferiority of the "imported" movement compared to the glorious symphony as we know it. This makes it rather anticlimactic as the finale. So I got the idea of switching the first movement and fourth conjectural one from Rosamunde. The “Armstrong Rearrangement” is as follows:
I Entr’acte No. 1 in B minor from Rosamunde
II Original second movement
III Incomplete Scherzo completed and orchestrated by Brian Newbould
IV Original first movement
If indeed the Entr'acte is in the same style as the first movement, I submit that since the latter is much more memorable, with one of the most famous and beautiful melody lines in the history of classical music, why not make it the finale, following the approach of “save the best for last”? This is made possible, in my reasoning, especially because it has a flourish at the end -- unlike the second movement -- that functions very similarly to a typical Romantic symphony ending. It also reminds me of the style and spirit of the ending of Antonín Dvorák's Symphony No. 9 ("New World"). That was my view in October 2021. But last week I started thinking about it again, after listening to my CD with the above format. Again, I was not satisfied with the imported first movement (even as a first rather than final movement), because to me, it didn't seem to properly fit in with the other three movements.
I wondered if there was anything I could do about that, because I love this symphony, and it's one of my favoroites. Then the idea came to me as I listened to the Entr'actes No. 2 and 3 from Rosamunde, that I tacked onto the end of the CD, after the "finished symphony" (an all-Schubert "program"). I thought Entr'acte No. 3, which runs 7-8 minutes, and is a famous and well-loved piece of music from Schubert, was of a commensurate quality to be included in a reconstructed finished symphony. But the next "problem" was that it didn't seem to function well as a first movement. As essentially a lyrical, "pretty" piece, it lacked the tension and drama usually present in the first movement of a Romantic symphony. It would do much better as a second movement, so I thought. But then what to do with Schubert's intended second movement? That seemed to work fine in my opinion as a first movement. It was a revolutionary -- perhaps anathema! -- idea, but I was trying to come up with a satisfying, plausible listening experience. It's all still Schubert's own music, after all, from one period of time (1822-1823).
I noticed, too, that the Entr'acte No. 3 (roughly about four minutes long) was uncannily similar to the style of Richard Wagner. It's essentially a solemn brass anthem, which brings to my mind, Wagner's opera Lohengrin, from 1848. So I toyed with the idea of somehow including it, too, because I loved it and thought it was in the same "league" as the other movements. How about as a third movement? This would bring about a symmetry of structure:
I Schubert's second movement
II Entr'acte No. 3 from Rosamunde
III Entr'acte No. 2 from Rosamunde
IV Incomplete Scherzo completed and orchestrated by Felix Weingartner (1928)
IV Schubert's first movement
I dramatic and classic completed Schubert movement (long)
II lyrical and soft "imported" portion (moderately long)
III dramatic "imported" portion (short)
IV lyrical and soft partially "imported" portion (moderately long)
V dramatic and classic completed Schubert movement (long)
This allows the symphony (in this form) to start and end with Schubert's intended movements, with the most notable melody and dramatic orchestral flourish near the end in the final movement. It worked very well indeed as a listening, Schubert-loving experience. One might object at this point, however, to a five-movement structure: quite unusual in that time, and not likely at all to have been Schubert's chosen form, had he finished the work. I would note in reply to such an objection, that as early as 1830, just two years after Schubert's death, Hector Berlioz wrote a five-movement work, his Symphonie fantastique.
There is also precedent for adding or removing movements to symphonies. For example, Gustav Mahler's First Symphony originally included an additional movement (called Blumine). It was present in the symphony for the first six years of its existence (1888-1894), but then was rejected by the composer. Yet despite Mahler's own wishes, the symphony has been recorded about twenty times with the Blumine included.
Moreover, there is at least one example of the movements of a symphony being reversed. Again, it's Mahler who provides the precedent, in his Sixth Symphony. Its initial published score in 1906 had the Scherzo movement as the second and the Andante movement as the third. But Mahler (who was also a famous conductor) reversed the order at the symphony's premiere (with the Andante second), and always performed it that way. His change of mind was incorporated in the second and third editions of the score.
Conductors followed Mahler's own preference for over fifty years until a new edition of the score came out in 1963, with the Scherzo again positioned as the second movement. Almost all conductors accepted this (Sir Simon Rattle being a notable exception), thinking that it was determined to be the composer's wish, until more undeniable facts came out (the story is fascinating), verifying Mahler's actual final choice of movement order. In light of the new discoveries, after the year 2000 or so a growing number of conductors (including notable conductors Mariss Jansons, Leonard Slatkin, Valery Gergiev, Michael Tilson Thomas, Claudio Abbado, and Zubin Mehta) followed Mahler's own confirmed wishes (the Andante second). But even so, there were still "holdouts" for the Scherzo 2nd version, such as Esa-Pekka Salonen (2011) and Benjamin Zander (2002). The conclusion is that folks can sometimes or posibly have differing opinions about the order of movements in some symphonies. It offers some (albeit admittedly relatively remote) justification for what I've done with Schubert's 8th.
In reading about attempted completions of Schubert's third movement Scherzo, I discovered that it had been done by the Austrian conductor and composer Felix Weingartner (1863-1942), in the second movement of his sixth symphony, written in 1928: the hundredth anniversary of Schubert's death. It's a beautiful piece, with a plausible second subject (albeit mostly speculative) that sounds very much like it could have come from Schubert's pen. It's available in a 2007 recording performed by the symphony orchestra of Basel, conducted by Marko Letonja.
What recordings, then, can we use for Schubert's completed movements and the Rosamunde excerpts? I myself prefer a more robust Romantic / “post-Beethoven” style of conducting for the famous two movements, with strong brass. This is another debate in classical music circles. My own favorite orchestra is the Vienna Philharmonic, and it's always appropriate for Schubert pieces, since he lived there and the city's spirit is ever-present in his compositions. My favorite performance of the conventional symphony is with that orchestra, conducted by Lorin Maazel, in a 1980 performance, remastered in 2006 for CD. For the Rosamunde excerpts, I like Karl Münchinger leading the Vienna Philharmonic in a 1974 recording that was remastered in 2002 for the Decca Legendary Performances series. Of course, by all means choose your favorite recordings of each movement and construct your own Schubert “Finished” 8th, if mine isn't to your taste.
If Schubert had lived long beyond the age of 31, he would have certainly been the greatest composer in the world (after Beethoven’s death in 1827), surpassing Mendelssohn, Schumann, Rossini, Weber, and Berlioz, and possibly remain so as long as into the 1870s or 1880s. But even if others surpassed him in the opinion of the public and the musical experts, he would nevertheless have been revered as the “grand old man of music”, and would have been virtually worshiped by composers like Schumann and the younger Brahms, who were strongly influenced by him. As it was, he was the greatest composer in the world for about a year and eight months. Oh, the music lost to posterity by his early death!: comparable to the loss of Mozart at age 35 or a rapidly developing Mahler (at a very musically interesting time: 1911) at 50, or Tchaikovsky at 53, right after his delightful Nutcracker Ballet and the melancholic and melodramatic Pathetique (6th) Symphony. But we must cherish and be thankful for what we do have.
One last bit of Schubert trivia: he is usually known as an Austrian composer, and was born in Vienna, but his father was from Moravia (currently in the Czech Republic) and his immediate ancestors came from the province of Zuckmantel in Austrian / Czech Silesia, which was right on the border of Poland to the north. So he really should be considered Czech, or more specifically Silesian by nationality.
Related Writings of Mine on Classical Music
Beatles and Schubert: Musicological Comparisons [12-22-04; expanded on 3-1-18]
Happy Birthday to Mozart (250 Today) / Mozart’s Catholicism [1-27-06]
Anton Bruckner: Devout Catholic & Great Symphonist [4-5-07]
Searching for the Perfect Beethoven’s 9th [9-21-15]