Schubert, "Unfinished" Symphony
Keys to the Orchestra by Jean-François Zygel

What is a symphony? What is the role of each instrument in the orchestra? What is a variation? What is a theme? In his Clefs de l’orchestre, Jean-François Zygel seeks to convey to a wide audience the keys to understanding a work from the symphony repertoire performed at the Maison de la Radio. Accompanied by the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra and prestigious conductors, the pianist decomposes the work with humour and provides a context for a clearer explanation.

The "Unfinished" Symphony: the inquiry

Although Schubert was known for his lieder more than for his instrumental music, he started writing about ten symphonies and completed seven of them. The first six symphonies are considered to be simple early works, influenced by Hadyn and Mozart, and sometimes by Rossini and Beethoven. Then, from 1818, Schubert developed a personal conception of the form which brought to several attempts of unfinished symphonies.

The Symphony No. 8, called “Unfinished”, is different from all the other symphonies. Schubert promised to compose it in 1823, as a form of acknowledgement to the musical society in Styria which appointed him emeritus member. He put his friend Anselme Hϋttenbrenner in charge of the composition of the two first movements, then he started the third one, the Scherzo, but he didn’t finish it. On the contrary, he dedicated himself to the composition of his opera, Fierrabras and, probably, never composed the fourth movement. Hϋttenbrenner revealed the existence of the Symphony only after Schubert’s death. In 1865, the director Johann von Herbeck decided to complete it with the last movement of the 3rd Symphony in D major (1815). Finally, the Entr’acte of Rosamunde’s scene, composed in the same year as the “Unfinished” Symphony, was chosen as a possible ending for it.

In the 20th century, several attempts were made to finish the Symphony: Frank Merrick and Felix Weingartner first, then Joseph Holbrooke and Geoffrey Bush, and more recently Anton Safronov.

Movie director : Frédéric Le Clair
Collection : The Keys To The Orchestra
Musical period : Romantic music

Duration : 01 h 46 min
Location : Maison de Radio France, Salle Olivier Messiaen (Paris, France)
Recording date : 2009
Production date : 2011
Production : © CAMERA LUCIDA - RADIO FRANCE - NAÏVE / 2010