SCHUBERT: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 8 / Rosamunde (Martin Sauer/ Michael Halasz/ Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550145)
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Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Symphony No.8 in B minor (Unfinished) D. 759
Symphony No.5 in B flat major D. 485
Rosamunde D. 797
Vienna has alwaysclaimed Franz Schubert as its own. Of his immediate predecessors, Haydn camefrom the village of Rohrau, Mozart came to the city from provincial Salzburg,while Beethoven travelled there from his native Bonn. Schubert was born inVienna and spent most of his life there. His family, however, were from anotherpart of the Habsburg empire. Schubert's father, Franz Theodor, was from Moraviaand his mother from Silesia. The former had joined his elder brother as aschoolmaster in the capital, while the latter's father had been driven thereafter financial troubles at home.
Franz Schubert,born in 1797, was the fourth surviving child of 14 born to his mother. Hismusical abilities were fostered as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, aposition that brought with it the chance of a decent education at theStaatskonvikt and also an association with the old Court Kapellmeister AntonioSalieri, whose influence on him was considerable. In 1812 his voice broke, butthis need not have ended his schooling. Faced, however, with a choice betweenmusic and academic study he chose to leave, and in 1814 entered a school forthe training of teachers. His father's school was, after all, the customaryfamily business, demanding the assistance of his sons. In 1815 he began work asan assistant to Franz Theodor, only to abandon both home and career, at leastfor the time being, the following year.
Schubert's childhood had been dominated by music. He played the pianoand the violin, and there was a family string quartet, in which he and two ofhis older brothers were joined by their father, an amateur cellist andallegedly the least proficient of the group. At school he had led the studentorchestra and acquired close familiarity with contemporary repertoire. Aboveall, though, he w rote songs, settings of words by famous poets or by writerswho had become his friends.
In 1816, at the ageof 19, Schubert left home to live with his friend Franz von Schober. A yearlater he was home again at his father's new school. In 1818, after serving asmusic teacher to the daughters of Prince Esterhazy in Hungary, he returned toVienna to share rooms with another friend, the poet Mayrhofer, later movingback once more to his father's school-house. He was to return briefly toHungary for part of the summer of 1824, at a time when his health had beenseriously impaired by the venereal infection that was to cause his death in1828.
During his brief life Schubert enjoyed the friendship of a circle ofyoung poets, artists and musicians, many of them dependent on other employmentfor a living. He never held any official position in the musical establishment,nor was he a virtuoso performer, as Mozart and Beethoven had been. The latter,who was to die one year before Schubert, had long been forced to relinquish hisearlier career as a virtuoso, but kept and was kept by a group of rich patrons,and, increasingly, by his manipulation of music-publishers. Schubert, by thetime of his death, seemed only to have started to make an impression on a widerpublic. Much of w hat he had written had proved eminently suitable for intimatesocial gatherings. His larger scale works were often to be played by amateurs,since he never had at his disposal a professional orchestra, nor, in general,had he or his friends the means to hire one. The only public concert devoted tohis work was given in Vienna nine months before his death. The venture,supported generously by members of Schubert's circle, was financiallysuccessful and in the same year publishers had started to show a more activeinterest in music, much of which was to have a strong appeal in a period thatsaw a considerable development in domestic music-making.
Schubert's Symphony in B minor
was the work of 1822 and only two of the expected four movements were finished,with part of a scherzo. These movements were not played in Schubert'slife-time, but were rediscovered 43 years later and given their firstperformance in Vienna in 1865. The manuscript had been given by Schubert to hisfriend Josef Huettenbrenner as a present for his brother Anseim in Graz. Thelatter had later arranged a piano duet version of the movements, which he andhis brother played together. For years the manuscript remained in AnseimHuettenbrenner's possession, its existence only known to a few, until it cameto the attention of the conductor Johann Herbeck.
Later writers haveoffered various explanations of the fragmentary nature of the symphony, nonecompletely convincing. It has been suggested. improbably, that four movementswere actually completed and sent to Anseim Huettenbrenner, who then lost two ofthe movements. More plausibly others have found a reason for not finishing thesymphony in the composer's preoccupation with other work. Certainly Schubertcould never be sure that larger scale works would ever be performed. It mightbe added that in 1822 Schubert contracted venereal disease and that the seriousnature of this incurable disease and its probable fatal outcome affected himvery deeply.
The fifth of Schubert's nine numbered symphonies was written in 1816and was performed in October, a month after its composition, at the house ofOtto Hatwig, a violinist in the Burgtheater orchestra. The musicians concernedwere otherwise amateurs from the group that had been accustomed to meet at thehouse of Schubert's father. The music is in the tradition of what Schubert inhis diary that year described as the magic sound of Mozart, the immortal. It isscored for flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns, with strings, while the Unfinished Symphony was to make use of alarger orchestra that included clarinets, trombones, trumpets and drums. Thefirst movement leads us through the charm of its principal melodic material toan excursion into stranger keys, until a recapitulation that opens with thefirst theme in the key of E fiat, before the original key of the movement isrestored. There follows a slow movement that is in that essentially Vienneseoperatic idiom of which Mozart was the greatest exponent, succeeded by a livelyMinuet and Trio in the keys of G minor and G major respectively. The symphonyends with a finale that contains all the dramatic contrasts that the customaryform encourages.
Rosamunde, Fuerstin von Zypern,was staged at the Theater an der Wien in 1823. The play, by the blue-stockingHelmina von Chezy, was hastily written and was a dramatic disaster, receivingonly two performances, its name remembered only because of the association withSchubert, who, with equal haste, provided music for it. The full score includedchoral items, which were well enough received by audiences. The Overture wasborrowed from an earlier work, Alfonso andEstrella, although the so-called RosamundeOverture was borrowed from Schubert's opera Die Zauberharfe. It is, however, theentr'acte and ballet music that have won lasting popularity. The Rosamunde theme was used in the followingyear as a theme for variations in the Aminor String Quartet and later re-appeared once more in the B flat Impromptu.
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra has benefited considerably from thework of its distinguished conductors. These included Vaclav Talich (1949 -1952), Ludovit Rajter and Ladislav Slovak. The Czech conductor Libor Pesek wasappointed resident conductor in 1981, and the present Principal Conductor isthe Slovak musician Bystrik Rezucha. Zdenek Kosl