Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony

Did Schubert really leave his Symphony No.8 unfinished?
I am very greatly obliged by the diploma of honorary membership you so kindly sent me. May it be the reward of my devotion to the art of music to be wholly worthy of such a distinction one day. In order to give musical expression to my sincere gratitude as well, I shall take the liberty before long of presenting your honorable Society with one of my symphonies in score.
-- Franz Schubert
In 1822, Schubert sent the score of the symphony to a friend, Anselm Huttenbrenner. It was a gift to the Musical Society of Graz for making him an honorary member. It was never played! Huttenbrenner locked it up and kept it out of sight until 1865, 37 years after Schubert's death.

The first two movements, the ones we hear, that is, exist in full score. Nine fully-scored bars of the scherzo also exist. It has been argued that the symphony was finished and that this opening page of the scherzo proves as much. It shows that the scherzo fragment breaks off on a left-hand page at the end of a book of double-sheet pages on which the next book should follow with a top sheet forming the next right-hand page. How unlikely is it that a composer would write nine bars in finished full score and then suddenly stop. Also, at the end of the stave, in the last bar of the oboe part, there is a tie over a note with a slur. That slur shows that the note was to be immediately continued in the next bar, which means in this case, onto the next page. But there is no next page. Schubert wouldn't leave a piece in mid-air like that and post it off and forget it.

I reckon Schubert posted the complete symphony in two books but the postal service only handed one book to Huttenbrenner. Likely the coachman, cum postman, had the other book in his bag but failed to realise it was also part of Huttenbrenner's mail. Perhaps the second book never had a mailing name and address attached, and so the postman would leave it in his bag. Huttenbrenner would have been surprised and delighted to have received a score from Schubert but would have been unaware that there was a second book. Very likely, there would have been a separate note from Schubert to his friend to tell him of the gift.

The postman, having delivered the mail, would have gotten back onto his coach and headed off on his journey, eventually to the next post stage where there would have been a change of horses and coachmen. One can imagine that the book, without name or address, would not have gone unused. If the night were cold, the coachmen would have warmed their hands by the flaming pages of the book.

Meanwhile, the delighted Huttenbrenner would have began studying the score. Suddenly, he would realise the score of the symphony was incomplete and that a book containing the second half of the symphony had not been handed on to him by the coachman. One can imagine the thoughts of Huttenbrenner. Did the postman fail to hand it on, or is the second book coming in a later mail? One can imagine the panic and frustration of Huttenbrenner and how he would have desperately tried to track down the book. But all to no avail.

Would he tell Schubert that half of his symphony was lost forever? Schubert had written it out by hand, and there were no carbon copies in those days. Would Schubert be able to rewrite it from memory, assuming he could, and even if he could, would he bother after he had got over his anger and frustration at the loss of the original. Huttenbrenner would have had a big think about that. What ought he do? There was always the possibility that the second book might turn up. But meanwhile, just post off a thank-you note to Schubert, then do nothing and say nothing.

That may account for Huttenbrenner's silence and for quietly locking away the score and hoping nobody ever mentioned it again, and nobody did – Schubert because he was too busy composing – and remember he didn't own it, anyway, because he had given it away as a gift. I guess he assumed it was safe and complete in Graz. That's what I would have thought if I were Schubert.

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