This month on Clef Notes, our topic is Unfinished Music: The Mystery Remains. Throughout history, there are many examples of compositions by well-known composers that, for various reasons, were left unfinished. For obvious reasons, this idea of unfinished music by some of the “greats” in music history is intriguing which is why scholars seek to find answers for their abandonment. While historians have been able to find adequate answers for many incomplete works, others still leave us with a sense of speculation.
This week, I would like to talk about a famous work whose title gives away its incomplete nature: Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished.” How do we know this piece is unfinished? Well for one thing, it’s only two movements in length when, at that time, it was standard to have four (or maybe three) movements. On the back of the final page of the Andante, Schubert wrote nine measures of a fully-scored scherzo followed by four blank pages. It wasn’t until the 1960s that a missing page was discovered that was meant to come before the blank pages, as it contained measures ten through twenty with an abrupt stop at the end. A piano sketch of the Symphony No. 8 was left behind, indicating the composer had planned a scherzo and parts of a trio section.
Why is Schubert’s wonderful Symphony No. 8 unfinished? Next time, we’ll look at theories as to what prevented the composer from finishing as well as when this masterpiece was discovered. In the meantime, you can listen to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony here: