SchPro S3

Severance Hall
March 12 – Thursday at 7:30 p.m. 

March 13 – Friday at 11:00 a.m.*
March 14 – Saturday at 8:00 p.m. 

Morning Concert Only

Symphony No. 3 in D major, D.200

Franz Schubert  (1797-1828)
composed 1815

At a Glance
Schubert wrote his Symphony in D major, later designated as his Third Symphony, between May and July 1815.  Performances during the composer’s lifetime are unknown.  The first documented performance of the entire symphony took place in London in February 1881.

This symphony runs about 25 minutes in performance.  Schubert scored it for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings. 

The Cleveland Orchestra first performed this symphony in March 1963 under the direction of Robert Shaw.  It was most recently presented earlier this season, in September.

Historical note:  Schubert’s Third Symphony was the opening piece on Franz Welser-Möst’s very first concert program with The Cleveland Orchestra, over a quarter century ago, in February 1993.

About the Music
Schubert left school at the age of sixteen and went to teach at the school where his father had been teaching for many years.  This had the benefit of exempting him from military service, for which, with Napoleon still prowling around Europe, he must have been grateful.  But Schubert felt no vocational call toward teaching and its duties irked him, since he knew he would much rather be composing music and playing it with his friends. 

Regardless of his attitude toward his teaching duties, Schubert wrote a bewildering quantity of music of every kind during these years, as if he had no real job occupying his time.  Four symphonies (what we know as nos. 2-5), three string quartets, several Masses, piano pieces, an opera, and innumerable songs flowed from his pen before he was eighteen.  

Symphony No. 3 was begun on May 24, 1815, but then set aside.  Two days later, he composed seven songs; why they had priority of his time and attention over the symphony is anyone’s guess.  By the time Schubert came back to work on the symphony, Napoleon had been defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18th.   He finished the first movement on July 11th-12th, then wrote three more songs on the 15th, and completed the symphony on the 19th.  Within a week after that, he had started a new opera. 

A performance of any of these early symphonies at the time they were written is very unlikely.  Although Schubert maintained contact with his old school, the “Stadtkonvikt,” whose orchestra might have given them an airing, there is no documentation to tell us that such semi-private performances took place.  

Like so much of Schubert’s music, many of his greatest pieces had to wait for many years after his death before they were unearthed and performed — to an amazed, admiring audience.  The last movement of No. 3 was heard in Vienna in 1860, but the whole series of five early symphonies weren’t first played until the 1880s, in London.  Those performances took place through the agency of George Grove, founder of Grove’s Dictionary of Music, who had spent time in Vienna with the young Arthur Sullivan particularly to find out everything about Schubert they could.

The music
Schubert’s early symphonies invariably convey a sense of divine fluency, as if the music simply flowed unbidden from the composer’s pen, as indeed it must have done.  There is never hesitation, and the melodies are graceful and beautifully shaped, with harmony that never jars.  No wonder his music teacher at the Stadtkonvikt remarked, “He has learnt everything from God, that lad.”  

At the same time, there is a naturalness, almost a rustic or earthy quality to some of his music.  As though he is showing us both the poise and polish, and the dirt and delight that being human involves.

In Schubert’s music, it is fascinating to observe both how closely he followed in Beethoven’s footsteps and how freely he departed from them.  By the time Schubert came to maturity, Beethoven was unchallenged as the focal figure in Vienna’s music arena, already world-famous — and notably eccentric and unpredictable both in his social life and his music. 

Surprisingly, Schubert had almost no personal contact with Beethoven, but he could not help learning a great deal from the master’s many scores, especially when composing sonatas, quartets, or symphonies.  Since Beethoven had demonstrated in all manner of ways how to break the rules of classical form inherited from Haydn and Mozart, Schubert was free to do so too, but he did it in his own way, not in Beethoven’s.

The custom of beginning a symphony’s opening movement with a slow introduction was established by Haydn as a strong way to start a symphony, and for this symphony Schubert was happy to fall in line.  Here, his introduction to the first movement features an upward-rushing scale that will play a prominent part in the movement’s main Allegro section, especially at the end.  This Allegro is a feast for the woodwinds, who present all the tunes.  The oboe gets the playful second subject — but when it returns later in the movement, it is passed, seemingly as a courtesy, to the clarinet. 

There is a divine simplicity about the slow second movement, with its easy Allegretto pace and Haydnesque tune.  The middle part of the movement is rather different in character (and, depending on the performance, in tempo), as if Schubert had material for two slow movements and couldn’t decide which to keep.  The clarinet is again favored, and then the opening section is reprised unaltered.

Horns, trumpets, and drums are prominent in the Menuetto third movement, whose Trio is a delicate duet for oboe and bassoon in the style of a waltz.

Like the first movement, the finale fourth movement plays games with the conventional sequence of keys, but the unstoppable rhythm carries the listener on from tune to tune, and we get the sense that Schubert is almost enjoying himself too much to bring this music to an end. 

Hugh Macdonald © 2020