Symphony No. 1 in D Major

By Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert grew up in the most important symphonic center of his time, Vienna. Schubert’s teachers, Salieri and Holzer, were primarily opera composers; but Schubert’s inner drive propelled him to an amazing and early symphonic output.

Schubert composed nine symphonies before he was thirty. Beethoven was already thirty before he wrote his first symphony. (Like Mozart when he wrote the A major violin concerto, Schubert was a teenager when he wrote the first symphony, a mere lad of 16.) Schubert, also like Mozart, was an accomplished violinist and played concertmaster in his school orchestra.

One can see the influence of the Viennese symphonic models his school orchestra rehearsed and performed — Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven — especially in the rhythmic drive of the first movement. The second theme, particularly, carries an almost Eroica-like character.

The second movement is truly a bridge between the customary elegance of Mozart and the beginnings of a new consciousness in art of the time: a certain heavier, darker mood permeates this movement, whose depth is so startling for having been written by an adolescent. The third movement shows more of the experimentation in moving into remote key areas for which Schubert became known, particularly in his chamber music and songs.

The symphony comes to a close in a vibrant movement which also shows the young composer’s emerging formal innovation. Yet, the personality of the master makes an unmistakable impression at the beginning of the last movement: it reminds one much of many of Schubert’s joyous song ideas.