You are here
In 1815, the year he turned 18, Franz Schubert composed over 200 works, including four operas, two masses, two symphonies, and 145 songs. The sheer volume of work would be astonishing even had he not been employed as a schoolteacher and ostensibly still a music student. Needless to say, he worked quickly, and indeed must have struggled to get the music on paper as fast as it came to him. We know that he began his Third Symphony on May 24 and finished it on June 19, but we also know that he wrote some songs, liturgical music, and an operetta between those dates.
The Third is shorter than Schubert's first two symphonies, and it is notable for its conciseness. The middle movements particularly seem to say what they have to say and then stop. But the Symphony is also notable in its foreshadowing of ideas that Schubert would work out on a grander scale in his "Great" C-major Symphony. The principal theme of the Allegro con brio, in which the clarinet outlines the tonic and dominant chords, is much like the principal theme of the C-major Symphony. Schubert breaks with tradition in the Third Symphony in using the rushing scale passage of the movement's slow introduction as the second theme of the Allegro; the usual practice was not to revisit the introduction once the Allegro had started.
Like the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies Beethoven was writing at about the same time, Schubert's Third has no real slow movement. Instead there is a lightly scored (without trumpets and timpani) Allegretto in ABA form. It has an ambling beginning and a middle section with a jaunty little clarinet tune. This in turn leads to a more impassioned passage in the strings that an older Schubert might have used to launch a large development. Instead, it is merely a transition back to the first section.
The third movement is marked "Menuetto," but, like many of Haydn's late minuets, it thumbs its nose at the conventions of the minuet, or ignores them altogether. The principal section has rudely accented upbeats that would make dancers stumble (the phrases all begin on the third beat, not the first). The middle section, scored for solo oboe and bassoon, and strings without cellos, is more a ländler, or even a waltz, than a minuet.
The finale, in the rhythm of the tarantella, is marked Presto vivace ("quick, lively"), about as clear an instruction to avoid dawdling as a composer can write. The sheer fleetness of the themes creates enormous momentum, but Schubert adds a few sly (or dramatic, depending on the performance) pauses to keep us guessing. The movement owes much to the frenetic drive of comic opera overtures
-- Lawyer and lutenist Howard Posner is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Philharmonic's program book.