Franz Peter Schubert - Life and Music


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Franz Schubert - Symphony No. 6 in C major, D. 589

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The Symphony No. 6 in C major (D. 589), composed in 1818, is an ambitious work in the spirit of the earlier symphonies Nos. 1-4. It is scored for the full late-Classical orchestra, i.e. with clarinets, trumpets and timpani. Only the lack of trombones distinguises its orchestration from that of the later 'Great' C-major Symphony.

It is fascinating to compare the first movement of the Sixth Symphony with Schubert's overture style. The movement shares with the overture a serious introduction and a genial allegro theme in the context of sonata-form and it ends with a faster coda section.

By 1817 Gioacchino Rossini had become the favorite of Viennese audiences. Not even Beethoven failed to acknowledge him, and in 1817 Schubert composed his two 'Overtures in the Italian Style'

Thus, because the Allegro of the Sixth Symphony shares its form, its style, and in one case its actual thematic material with Schubert's overtures, it may also be called 'Italian' in spirit. The Andante is a masterful blend of melodic grace in the opening and closing sections, and highly articulated excitement in the middle developing section. Played at a true andante tempo, this middle part, with its stacatto triplets, takes on a tarantella quality. Thus we find another mark of this work's affinity with Italy.

The Sixth Symphony is also a showpiece of harmonic variety. Schubert begins with a simple dance form, as if he means to embark on a series of variations. But what follows is soon revealed as the second theme of a sonata-form, and that section comes to a traditional close in the dominants at the fermata. In his third movement Schubert makes use, for his first time, of that scherzo form which is particularly pronounced in Beethoven's seventh symphony.

The finale is composed in the form of a divertissement; its themes, all of equal importance, are developed into whole scenes, in which the various themes are continually moving to the fore and then dropping back to make room for the others: a folk festival, a party in the Prater with typical Viennese hurdy-gurdy and merry-go-round music. No one had hitherto dared to work such a realistic piece of every-day music into a symphony. The courage to do so seems to have come from Rossini.

The sixth symphony was probably performed in 1818 by the amateur orchestra which grew out of Father Schubert's quartet evenings. The first public performance of the "little C major symphony", as it was later called, was ten years later on 14th Oecember 1828 in a concert of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wiens under the direction of J. Schmiedel to commemorate the composer,who had died a few weeks before. This symphony was played in place of the "Great C major symphony" of 1828, which the orchestra had rejected as "unplayable".

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