Why didn’t Schubert finish his “unfinished” symphony?
In fact, he did sketch out a third movement, and some historians feel that they have identified music that Schubert intended, to complete the symphony. But I think the answer is simple: Schubert knew that in this symphony, he was striking out in a new direction. We are so familiar with this music that it’s easy to forget how atypical of Schubert it is. I’m sure the composer knew that he had to match this new direction in the last two movements, and he was unable to do that. He set the third movement aside as inadequate, and for one reason or another, never got back into this extraordinary new groove he had found, a new style with remarkable power and romance.
This morning, on WPRB (August 16, 2011), I tried an experiment that I think is rather satisfying: to finish the symphony with the last two movements of Schubert’s ninth. That great symphony is in C major, so I lowered the pitch to B, since that is the key of the “Unfinished.” The ninth symphony is not quite in the same vein as the eighth, but its power is enough to do admirably.
I apologize to Leonard Bernstein and the members of the New York Philharmonic for playing their performance in the wrong key, and therefore at the wrong tempo. I apologize as well to all listeners with perfect pitch, for whom these last two movements may have been total agony.