Director’s News

“Doc Talk”/Class Lesson 5/27/2020




1) Registration for Marching Band is OPEN on our website!!!

Please sign up ASAP, and spread the word, especially to rising 9th graders!  The due date is Friday, June 19th.


2) Applications for Section Leaders/Captains and Drum Majors has been emailed to all the families and will be posted on our website.  Deadline for submission of the written application, along with videos for drum major candidates, is this Friday, May 29th!


Tuesday’s Lesson: Robert Schumann’s “Symphony No. 3” – “The Rhenish”

Today’s Lesson:  Franz Schubert’s “Symphony No. 8 in b minor—The Unfinished Symphony”


Yesterday we examined the life of composer Robert Schumann (1810-56); today we are going to look at another famous romantic composer who lived in roughly the same period, Franz Schubert (1797-1828). 


It’s easy to get the two composers mixed up as their last names begin with the same consonant and vowels sounds and they both played the piano and wrote many songs, piano compositions, chamber music, and orchestral music.  However, this is where their similarities end.


Although Robert Schumann lived a fairly short life (dying at age 46 in a sanitorium), Schubert only lived to 31.  Whereas Robert was a quiet, kind-hearted, family man who stayed very loyal to his wife Clara and his 6 children throughout his later life, Schubert was a bachelor and enjoyed a fairly animated circle of male friends.  Whereas Robert was very organized and fairly wealthy as the editor of a leading music journal, Schubert was a complete mess with regard to finances and housekeeping duties and had no real, steady job other than to compose. 


In my opinion, Schubert was much more like Mozart:

1)   He composed very quickly, with little or no corrections. 

2)   He was also able to compose amid any sort of distraction. 

3)   He was well educated in music by his father and worked hard studying the works of previous masters. 

4)   He began composing at an early age and the craftsmanship of his work immediately impressed everyone who knew of him. 

5)   He was not good at managing finances or other mundane household affairs.

6)   He composed an extremely large amount of music in a very short time—over 900 known compositions!!!


What follows is a wonderful summary of Schubert’s life taken from a medical journal:

“In some ways, Franz Schubert was a shy little man in the right place at the wrong time.  He was born in Vienna six years after the death of Mozart, while Beethoven was still the dominant, awesome musical presence in that city.  Sandwiched, as it were, between those two giants, he was all but ignored by the ruling nobility and the music publishers, the two groups necessary for the acquisition of fame for musicians in 19-century Europe.  In addition, he was not a concert performer, which was almost a necessity in order to get one’s music before the public.


Physically, Schubert was completely forgettable.  Very short, less than five feet tall, and plump, he was nicknamed Schwammerl (little mushroom) by friends.  He was myopic, wore glasses and had a disproportionately large head. 


He was a prodigious worker and spent his mornings rapidly composing one masterpiece after another.  Evenings were usually spent with friends in coffee houses or at parties, called Schubertiads”. 


He most likely died of typhoid fever, after having been weakened considerably by syphilis—a disease that he suffered with for the last 10 years of his life.


Schubert is best known for his over 600 lieder (German songs).  However, like many composers of his time, he also wrote chamber music, piano compositions, and orchestral music including 9 symphonies.


His 8th symphony is known as the “Unfinished Symphony” because Schubert only completed the first two movements.  We have a sketch for part of the third movement and it is suggested that the fourth movement was actually used in another work, but as it is, there was no serious attempt by Schubert to finish the work.  Although scholars have proposed numerous possible explanations, the best one may simply be that the work can artistically stand on its own as it is.  On some level, Schubert knew this…  He simply did not have the motivation to add to something that was already complete in his mind.


Movement 1:  Allegro moderato (b minor)

Music cue #1:  0:05-1:04 in attached link

Wow!  Remember when I told you that Leonard Bernstein stated that if a piece of music does not grab your heart within the first 30 seconds it probably will not “make it?” 


Schubert immediately grabs your heart by stating a “ghostlike” descending, minor-key melody in the lower strings.  This serves as a very short introduction that will be developed later in this movement.  He follows this theme by a nervous, unsettled ostinato in the upper strings which introduce the “A Theme” of the exposition in the oboe and clarinets—a melancholy theme beginning with a pronounced descending 5th.  Note also that it is rare to compose a first movement in ¾ time! 


Music cue #2:  1:04-1:48 in attached link

After a very short bridge—just like the one Beethoven used in his 5th symphony—Schubert introduces the “B Theme”—the most familiar tune in this work, it has even been set to lyrics: “The is a symphony that Schubert wrote but never finished.”  The tune is in G Major and note the syncopated accompaniment (akin to Mozart).  This brief section offers a brief respite from the brooding first theme.


Music cue #3:  1:49-3:12 in attached link

After stating the pleasant “B Theme” twice, Schubert fades out the music completely with a grand pause, and then abruptly has the orchestra play fortissimo minor chords which throws the listener back into the turmoil of the minor key.  [This quick change of mood is reminiscent of Beethoven!]   He continues with a brief development-like passage of the “B Theme” and then a brief development-like passage of the “A Theme” after which he formally ends the exposition.  As is usual at this time, he repeats the entire exposition.


Music cue #4:  6:23-9:25 in attached link

Surprise!  In the development section, Schubert develops only the 8 measures of the introduction—the ghost-like bass line!  (That is why he placed a development-like passage of the A & B themes in the exposition—he was not going to develop them in the formal development!)  Although the development section begins quietly, it turns very stormy—with numerous loud outbursts—some on a dimished seventh chord, the most dissonant chord used during this period!  Also note the use of the trombones to add power, darkness and gravity to this section!   


The recap is fairly conventional with a restatement of the “A & B Themes.”  The intro theme is revisited in the short coda and the movement ends as expected in b minor.


Movement 2:  Andante con moto

Music cue #5:  13:51-15:00 in attached link

Ah, the darkness has been replaced with light!  We are in the key of E Major (note the descending scale at the very beginning in the basses and the E Major arpeggio outlined in the “A Theme” melody. 


Music cue #6:  16:30-17:55 in attached link

After a strong, tutti section which presents a variation of the “A Theme,” Schubert wastes no time in modulating to the relative minor, C# and presents a second theme most noted for its ascending 3rds.  Note the syncopated accompaniment—similar to what he employed in the 1st movement behind the second theme.  Schubert then switches the modality to C# major and presents the theme in the oboe. 


This movement is in “sonatina form,” that is sonata form without a development.  After Schubert finishes the section of “B theme” material that you just heard, he basically repeats the 2 themes (with changes of key).  In sum, this movement serves as a perfect “counterbalance” to the melancholy mood of the first movement.  There truly is a feeling of satisfaction and completion after hearing the two movements.  Did Schubert really need to add any more?


One more thought…

You will notice that the music that we have been studying has been 1) attractive enough on the surface to pull you in; and 2) musically rich enough to keep you coming back.  That balance is really the “key” to a great work of art.  And although fairly easy to comprehend, it takes true “genius” to create.  There is no “formula”–it’s more or less a special “zone of awareness” that few individuals in our history have been privileged to enter.  And even these individuals don’t achieve it with every piece, for it is very, very elusive.  I think that is the magic of great music!



1) Listen to the Schubert’s “Symphony No. 8 in b minor—the “Unfinished Symphony” without interruption.

2) Listen to this work with the score.



Dr. Jerry Markoch, Director of Bands

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