In complete contrast with his 4th symphony – the Tragic – in 1816 Schubert approaches his 5th symphony with utter serenity. It is quite an unexpected work for the same Vienna that less than a decade earlier premiered the mother of all 5th symphonies, Beethoven’s.
Schubert adopted almost an 18th-century model: he trimmed down the orchestra, using only one flute instead of the usual couple, no clarinets, no trumpets or timpani. Everything that could taint the color and the happiness of this work, or make it heavier, was stripped out.
Franz Schubert – oil painting by Franz Schubert – oil painting by Wilhelm August Rieder (1825)
As Brian Newbould pointed out in his Schubert and the Symphony it was almost as “Beethoven had never lived”.
Mozart and Haydn, whose music had been part of Schubert’s everyday life, are a clear reference for this symphony.
Should you need a score you can find one here.
The first movement is in typical sonata form: an exposition with two contrasting themes, a development in which the material gets reworked, and a recapitulation.
In the classical era it was quite common to have a slow introduction at the beginning of a symphony. Mozart and Haydn certainly wrote their fair share of slow introductions, as did Beethoven. It was a way to catch the attention of the audience as well as introduce the first theme of the Allegro.
But different themes demanded different solutions: the opening statement of Mozart’s K551 or Beethoven’s 5th are so adamant they need no introduction. On the other hand, symphonies such as the “Prague” or the “London” needed a large introduction, while the first theme of Mozart’s K550, the second G minor symphony, required that ¾ of a bar that makes it stand out (as an exercise, try to think about that movement without those few introductory notes and you’ll see how much you would miss them).
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Newbould, Schubert and the Symphony: A New Perspective, pp.110-111