Franz Schubert

Symphony No. 4 in C minor ("Tragic"), D. 417

    Description by Blair Johnston

    That Franz Schubert, as a young man still learning his craft, was more influenced by the music of Haydn and Mozart than by the symphonies of Beethoven (just then reaching their stride) is readily apparent in his early orchestral works; the Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D. 417 (the "Tragic" Symphony, as Schubert called it), composed during the spring of 1816, is no exception. Despite the frequent comparisons made between this work and Beethoven's famous symphony in the same key, it is difficult to think of another symphonic work from the 1810s that more completely ignores Beethoven's special contributions to dramatic orchestral writing. The "Tragic" Symphony is the work of a teenage schoolteacher whose debt to the Viennese masters of the previous century was perhaps greater than even he realized it to be; that this journeyman work is so gripping and effective in its own right is a testimonial to Schubert's extraordinary inventive gifts -- gifts that found a voice with or without the aid of structural and formal innovation.

    The slow introduction to the opening movement (Adagio molto-Allegro vivace) is quite Haydnesque, with its bare fortissimo octave beginning and its almost painfully slow, searching dialogue between the upper and lower voices. However, the slippery descending sequence that lands us, to both our surprise and delight, on a G flat major harmony before ten bars have gone by is all Schubert. The Allegro vivace body of the movement takes us past all the usual sonata-allegro landmarks, but again these are given expression in a voice that is entirely Schubert's: the main theme seems more propulsive and frantic than anything Haydn might have put his name to, and even Mozart could not have written a more spirited C major close.

    The keys of the two central movements -- A flat major and E flat major -- make clear references to the keys in which the first movement's second theme appears (A flat in the exposition, E flat in the recapitulation). The opening melody of the lovely Andante, like so many of Schubert's gentler orchestral treasures, might easily have been conceived for string quartet; a passage of considerable fury interrupts twice, but each time it is absorbed back into a loving reprise of the opening tune. The scherzo is famous for its shifty, chromatic main idea.

    The finale begins with a four-bar introduction that seems to dissolve before our very eyes (or ears). After initially serving as just a background to the restless main theme, the running eighth notes begin to shape themselves into the form that will support the second theme, which is at first crafted into a duet for the first violins and clarinet. The whole of the recapitulation is recast into C major, and at the very end the C octaves that began the first movement are brought back to affirm the happy ending.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Adagio molto - Allegro vivace
    2. Andante
    3. Menuetto. Allegro vivace - Trio
    4. Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Berliner Philharmoniker BPHR 150063
    2017 Decca / Eloquence 4825379
    2017 Solo Musica SM 273
    2016 Phi LPH 019
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795545
    2016 Warner Classics 0190295929718
    2016 Budapest Music Center BMH 201
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794306
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 Tudor Records TUD 1660
    2014 Sony Classical 88843014642
    2014 AAO Music / Imperial Classics USA 16015807
    2014 BIS BIS 1786
    2014 RCA Red Seal 88843006072
    2013 Brilliant / Brilliant Classics 94693
    2013 BR Klassik 900712
    2013 Harmonia Mundi HMC 902154
    2013 ICA Classics ICAC 5096
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4791046
    2012 The Entertainment Group 11209
    2012 Hänssler Classic CD 94611
    2012 Naïve V 5299
    2012 Haenssler / Hänssler Classic HAEN 93288
    2012 Gega New GD 355
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon 002894779628
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94218
    2011 Tudor Records 1610
    2011 Newton Classics 8802033
    2010 Documents / Documents Classics 2231557
    2010 Berlin Classics 0300037
    2010 Orfeo 820102
    2010 Testament 1438
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4778687
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Decca
    2009 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 PentaTone Classics 5186340
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2008 Sony Music Distribution 90375
    2008 Corona Classic Collection 0002692CCC
    2008 Brilliant 93673
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099951203
    2007 Music & Arts CD1207
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 734290
    2007 EMI Music Distribution 385853
    2007 Rhino
    2006 Melodiya MELCD 1001018
    2006 Philips 4757955
    2005 RCO Live 05001
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 4775254
    2005 Archipel 0096
    2005 Tudor Records 7142
    2005 Brilliant 92778
    2005 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243586064
    2005 Warner Classics
    2005 Warner Classics 4623232
    2004 Haenssler 93120
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 474 980-2GM10
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 000265002
    2004 Rca Red Seal 60392
    2004 Brilliant 92394
    2004 Apex 60532
    2003 Decca 000017402
    2003 Apex 4605272
    2003 Virgin 562227
    2003 Philips 470886
    2003 Sony Music Distribution 87986
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 75459
    2002 BBC Music 4093
    2002 Rca Red Seal 90114
    2002 Vox VOX 7814
    2002 Brilliant 99587
    2002 Rca Red Seal 63943
    2001 Concerto Royale 206241
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 66103
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 574808
    2000 Tuxedo Music 1068
    2000 Haenssler 93016
    1999 Claves 509700/5
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 419318
    1999 Angel Records 73359
    1999 Haenssler 98310
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 457705
    1998 Sony Music Distribution 60267
    1997 Dutton Laboratories 5000
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453662-2
    1997 Point 267139
    1997 Nimbus NI1766
    1996 Teldec 94543
    1996 Russian Compact Disc (RCD) 30001
    1996 Sony Music Distribution 66833
    1996 Berlin Classics 0092662
    1996 Claves 509417
    1996 Carlton 01292
    1996 Naxos 553095
    1996 BMG 62673
    1995 Teldec 97509
    1995 Seraphim UK 568534
    1995 Deutsche Schallplatten 1039
    1995 Philips 446536
    1994 BIS 453
    1992 Nimbus 5270
    1991 Decca 4307732
    1989 Deutsche Grammophon 423 653-2GH
    1989 RCA 60099
    1988 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal Music
    1988 Deutsche Grammophon 423651
    Arte Nova 37858
    Enterprise 4147
    Enterprise 939
    Deutsche Grammophon 471307
    EMI Music Distribution 54210
    Nimbus 5198
    Philips 446688
    CBS Records 42489
    Rca Red Seal 63940
    RCA 902668545
    IMP Classics 967
    Philips 410045
    Brilliant Classics 8635/55
    MCA 25895
    Brilliant 92394/3
    Brilliant 99587/3
    Brilliant Classics 93673/3
    Blue Cat Music
    Brilliant 92778/2
    Denon Records 7759
    Fonit-Cetra Italia 2044
    Discover 920213
    Philips 412176
    Philips 456029