What’s in a number? (Schubert)

Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert. Detail from a watercolor portrait (1825) by Wilhelm August Rieder. Public domain.

In an earlier post, I looked at the numbering of  Dvořák’s symphonies. He wrote nine, but chose to publish only five of them. A thematic catalog of 1955 included all nine and renumbered them. That numbering is now universally used, but it caused some confusion when it first appeared. Older publications and recordings with the old numbering system catch people off guard now.

Franz Schubert’s symphonies present similar problems. What is the correct numbering of his last two symphonies? It is important to remember that none of his symphonies appeared in his lifetime. The first critical edition of his works began to come out in 1884. The editors (including Eusebius Mandyczewski and Johannes Brahms) had discovered manuscripts of seven completed symphonies and two unfinished symphonies. The “Great C Major Symphony” was the first to be published, in 1840. As it was the last of his completed symphonies, that edition naturally called it no. 7.

In 1951, Otto Erich Deutch issued  his thematic catalog of Schubert’s works. By that time, one of the unfinished symphonies had become popular concert fare. It certainly had to be included in the numbering. Deutsch decided to count both of them in his enumeration. Since then, Schubert’s works have universally been known by the numbers he assigned, known, of course, as Deutsch numbers. In due time, a new complete edition, based on Deutsch’s work, appeared.

The first six symphonies need not concern us here. Deutsch simply added his number to the numbers already known from the Mandyczewski and Brahms edition. Schubert left his next two symphonies unfinished: one in E major (D. 729, which Deutch called no. 7) and one in B minor (D. 759, or no. 8). Last of all, the “Great C Major Symphony” (D. 944) had to be renumbered no. 9.

Most likely, when radio stations play the last two symphonies, they will probably use the numbers Deutch assigned. The B minor, known of course as the “Unfinished Symphony,” is no. 8 and the C major (called the “Great” in order to distinguish it from no. 6, also in C major) is no. 9. Don’t get too attached to that numbering.

In 1964, the International Schubert Society began to issue a new complete edition of Schubert’s works and chose to depart from Deutsch’s numbering of the symphonies. (Fortunately, they kept all of his thematic index numbers.) Schubert completed all of the work on the first two movements of the B minor symphony (D. 759) and left sketches for a  scherzo (third movement). The complete movements can be performed without the unfinished scherzo or the unbegun finale, and of course, they frequently are.

The one Deutch called no.7 presents problems. Schubert sketched four movements, but did not finish any of them. Moreover, he never quite solved some basic formal problems, which makes it impossible for anyone else to make a playable symphony from the sketches. Should it be counted among Schubert’s symphonies? The editors of the new edition decided it should not. Therefore, they renumbered the “Unfinished Symphony” no. 7 and the “Great C Major Symphony” no. 8.

In summary, three different Schubert symphonies have been known as no. 7: D. 729, D. 752, and D. 944. D.752 was first called no. 8,  but recently became no. 7. D. 944 started out as no. 7, then no. 9, but recently became no. 8. Clear?

I have seen no separate editions of Schubert’s symphonies that use the latest numbering published before 2002. Will it become standard, as the revised numbering of Dvořák’s symphonies did by the end of the 1960s? Hang on to your hats!

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