For his long-awaited return, VS Music Director, Christian Kluxen leads Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major. Known as The Great, this work is strongly linked to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which was given its premiere the year before, in 1825. Despite explicitly acknowledging Beethoven’s influence by quoting the famous Ode to Joy theme, Schubert’s own uniquely powerful voice demonstrates why he was daring enough to endure direct comparison with such a towering cultural figure.
Thursday, November 18, 8:00 pm
Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C major (The Great)
Music Director, Christian Kluxen
Associate Conductor, Giuseppe Pietraroia
Terence Tam, Concertmaster
Christi Meyers, Assistant Concertmaster
Tori Gould, Principal 2nd Violin
Kenji Fuse, Principal
Brian Yoon, Principal
Darren Buhr, Acting Principal
Stephanie Bell, Acting Principal
Michael Byrne, Principal
Keith MacLeod, Principal
Jennifer Gunter, Principal
Alana Despins, Principal
Ryan Cole, Principal
Brad Howland, Principal
Paul Beauchesne, Principal
William Linwood, Principal
Christopher Reiche Boucher
Executive/Audio Producer: Theresa Leonard
Video Production: Roll.Focus.
Audio Engineer: James Perrella
Assistant Audio Engineer: Paul Luchkow
Filmed on location at Farquhar at UVic on September 19, 2021
Symphony No. 9 in C Major, (The Great)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Among string players, there are certain pieces which achieve a sort of legendary status – pieces that can snare the unwary. Don Juan, for example, is famous for having runs in it that are both sudden and barely possible; the Bruckner Fourth Symphony is known for its pages of arm-breaking tremolo bowing, all at fortissimo levels, none of which is heard due to events taking place elsewhere. The Schubert Ninth Symphony is always remembered as being a test for string players. It combines a need for careful musicianship with string writing that requires the players to do a series of uncomfortable unnatural rhythmic patterns without a pause, until their arms ache from weariness.
For all of that, the Schubert Ninth Symphony is arguably his best work; a majestic, even heroic treatment of the Symphonic form, immense in its very conception. It is one of the seminal works of the Romantic period, even though its influence came late.
The early history of the Ninth Symphony seems to be quite typical for Schubert’s works. The only information known about its genesis is that it was intended for the orchestra of the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, who in the end rejected it as being too difficult and accepted the Sixth Symphony in its place. The Ninth Symphony is a very late work indeed. The one hundred and thirty page score is dated March 1828, only some eight months before Schubert’s death. He never heard it performed. After his demise, the manuscript was left, with many other unpublished works, to his brother Ferdinand. It was not until ten years later – New Year’s Day 1839 that the Ninth re-appeared. Robert Schumann, on a visit to Vienna, called on Ferdinand Schubert and gained custody of the score. Schumann became the Symphony’s first champion, resulting in an almost immediate first performance by Mendelssohn with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. In 1840, Breitkopf and Hartel published the orchestral parts and regular performances followed in Leipzig and Frankfurt. Acceptance elsewhere was still slow. Viennese critics dismissed the work contemptuously, just as they always did, and English Orchestras refused even to rehearse it until 1856.
This slow acceptance of an important work shows more the breadth of Schubert’s vision than the difficulty of the orchestral writing. When nineteenth century orchestras refused to play a work, they almost invariably rebelled because it was too much bother to find out the merits of a composition if they weren’t immediately apparent to a clear majority of players. And critics were often more reactionary still.
The first movement, marked Andante: Allegro ma non troppo, probably was the single most upsetting movement for all of those musicians and critics of so long ago. Schubert’s whole philosophy of musical expression is given its most complete airing. The slow introduction turns out to be the key to the whole movement – an unheard of turn of events. The hauntingly noble melody, first played by unison horns, lead to an extended lyrical passage in which Schubert only hints at the second subject with a series of dotted rhythms. When the second subject finally appears in its entirety the whole character of the movement is changed. The development is really brilliant – a marvel of subtlety, and the recapitulation, extended even before the lengthy coda, brings in exciting new material.
The second movement, marked Andante con moto, is very rigidly structured, although one hardly notices it even after repeated listenings. The poetry of this movement, idyllic and restless in turn, achieves its culmination in what is perhaps the most famous passage in all of Schubert’s output; the long horn call.
The third movement, marked Allegro vivace, is a particularly lavish Scherzo. It is enormous in conception – a Scherzo in full Sonata form. The opening theme in all its virility is present throughout the movement, even appearing occasionally as an accompaniment for the second subject. The Trio is much more expansive thematically, the perfect foil to use opposite all that enthusiasm. In fact, one could say that the Trio theme is as near to being sentimental as anything that Schubert wrote, but in juxtaposition with the Scherzo it works very well.
The Finale, marked Allegro vivace, continues the dance-like qualities of the Scherzo. Schumann said it best: “The brilliant fire, the originality of the orchestration, the formal breadth, the sweet pulsation of its inner life, a whole new and wonderful world, tell us that Schubert knows what is about and the connection of things, with time, will become perfectly clear to everyone.