Schubert & Scofano

Richard Scofano, bandoneón & composer
David Danzmayr, conductor


Tonight’s concert is bookended by two Schubert symphonies, the “Unfinished”, whose soaring melodies and novel orchestral colors paved the way to the romantic symphonic tradition, and the composer’s Third, a brilliant youthful work brimming with a young man’s zest for life. In between we will step over to Argentina and the world of the bandoneon—an instrument made famous by Astor Piazzolla—as Richard Scofano presents the U.S. premiere of his Iberá Concerto for Bandoneon and Orchestra.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828): Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, “Unfinished”
Instrumentation: Pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and horns, three trombones, timpani and strings
The two completed movements were first premiered December 17, 1865 in Vienna
25 minutes 

Few works in the symphonic literature have evoked as much mystery as Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony. One romantic theory states that, having dispatched two miraculous movements, Schubert simply felt he could never follow these up with more music that would rise to the same level. A ridiculous notion, given that Schubert lived another six years, during which time he dispatched some of his greatest works. There remain other possibilities, of course, such as his having turned his attention to other compositional pursuits or been distracted on account of the composer’s developing case of syphilis.

What we know for sure is that work on the B minor Symphony progressed during the year 1822, a period marking the start of his real musical maturity. The previous year, having long labored for recognition within Vienna’s musical community, Schubert was finally granted admission into the Gesellschaft Der Musikfreunde, The Society for the Friends of Music of Vienna, one of Europe’s foremost societies dedicated to musical performance. This meant his music could be performed by professional players and garner official reviews. For Schubert that also meant acceptance and publicity; in fact, the following year he was granted an honorary diploma from the Graz Music Society. In gratitude, he sent the Society the two completed movements of the B minor Symphony, though whether the music was initially composed for Graz or was simply something that lay completed on his writing table also remains a question.

Regardless of the circumstances, what the Graz organization received marked in some ways the start of the Romantic music tradition. In the hands of the great three composers associated with Viennese classicism, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven (none of whom, unlike Schubert, were actually from Vienna), the violins typically carried the bulk of melodic material. There were exceptions of course (the start of Beethoven’s “Eroica” comes to mind), but such was the nature of orchestral writing as inherited from Italy and developed further in Austria. Schubert by and large also rejected his predecessors’ infatuation with small developing motives in favor of long-spun melodies, which he then reassigns to various instruments to exploit their potential for colors. This latter characteristic would prove one of the hallmarks of romanticism (think Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, for instance) and even the dramatic passages are constructed along a longer arch, as opposed the tight-knit explosiveness, violence, and shock value Beethoven drew from tight motives.

We can almost hear the approach to the symphony orchestra change within the Allegro moderato’s opening bars, as the hushed principal theme is ushered in by the celli and bassi alone. Only after a completed statement do the violins enter, albeit with a stirring accompaniment as opposed to melodic material. The second theme, a recognizable famous melody, will again be given over to the celli. In other words, Schubert is looking for new types of sounds, rather than simply assigning his material de facto to the fiddles as even he had done in his earlier symphonies. The sonata-form first movement is followed by a sonatina, that is, sonata form minus the development section at its center. Again, we hear Schubert’s search for warmth in the Andante con moto, with a beautiful use of horns, clarinets and celli; even so, his accompaniments are equally breathtaking (keep in mind Schubert as song composer, which accounts for his penchant for melody and suitable accompaniment).

Several years ago, ProMusica offered up a possible conclusion to the “Unfinished” though will probably never know if Schubert had a definite plan for two more movements along the traditional four-movement symphonic scheme or if he simply figured the majesty of what he had written was enough. We might lament what we “lack,” yet how fortunate we are to have these two glorious symphonic movements, perfect in every way. By the time we reach the closing bars of the Andante, we are completely fulfilled musically, and Schubert too must have known this. So, while it’s true that Schubert certainly could and would have followed his Andante with something equally as miraculous, there really wasn’t anything more to say.


Richard Scofano (b. 1976): IBERÁ Concerto for Bandoneón & Orchestra
Instrumentation: Pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, four horns, timpani, piano and strings
Composed: 2016
Oistrakh Symphony Orchestra of Chicago, October 2016, with performer as soloist
25 minutes 

Iberá in Guaraní means ‘bright waters,’ a reference to one of the most important and beautiful wetlands in the world, located in the province of Corrientes, Northeastern Argentina, a province at the crossroads of Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay.

This concerto is inspired by the Iberá, by its gorgeous flora and fauna, and celebrates the impact of these wetlands in the cultural richness of Corrientes. Perhaps the strongest of all cultural influences in this piece comes from the Chamamé, also a regional phenomenon, but this one created by the local peoples.

Very much like the Iberá, the chamamé is many things at once: a folk genre…music, dance, song, and singing…it is faith, beliefs, myths, and values…symbols and language…it is food, wine, and friendship…it is the Paraná and the Uruguay rivers with their lonely fishermen…it is the Guaraní culture as embodied by the ones who settled in those ancient lands…it is the Sapucai, the cry that expresses so many feelings and emotions, the cry that summons one’s duende, and communicates so many feelings and nostalgia.

To me the water stands for life and it generates lives and cultural traditions that are immensely influenced by them. By the standing waters of the lagoons and the running waters of the rivers. The rivers are the natural carriers of peoples and cultures. To me, the first movement, Paraná, relates to my province of Corrientes. It is calm and majestic on the surface, but underneath it is in constant movement from its powerful and uncontrollable currents. It is peaceful, romantic, powerful and dramatic at once. The second movement, the Iberá, represents nature at its most spectacular, calm, mysterious, but also nostalgic. It brings in a sense of the immensity and power of nature before our small human preoccupations and priorities. A sense that we are a part of something of incommensurate proportions, of something incredibly big and full of creative energy. Finally, the third movement, the Rio Uruguay, represents the border, the boundary, the sisterhood and fraternity between my region and Brazil and Uruguay, it means freedom with the contagious sense of groove that you get as you cross into those lands. I like to think of the Iberá as a whole pretty much as an impression, a sonorous picture of those regions, its nature and its people and their mutual and constant interactions.


Schubert: Symphony No. 3 in D major.
Instrumentation: pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and horns, timpani and strings
Between May 24 and July 19, 1815
February 19, 1881 in London
Duration: 26 minutes

It is tempting to ascribe biographical content to the music of many composers, including Schubert’s Third Symphony. Such connections are often valid, as is the case, for example, with Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, which really does capture the composer’s passion for the out-of-doors. Listening to Schubert’s D major, one senses a composer in the flush of youth, thrillingly in command of his material. Even the moments where darkness threatens—including the closing bars of the introduction’s two large phrases—are quickly dispelled. Yet despite its prevailingly joyful mood, the symphony was crafted during what turns out to have been a rather trying period for the eighteen-year-old composer. In 1815, Schubert was enduring the drudgery of teaching at a school run by his father and was unable to gain either work as a composer or the hand of a girl he wanted to marry, the latter on account of his inability to support a family. Still, in much of his music from the period, and in this symphony in particular, one senses the unbridled exhilaration, or at least the ease Schubert experienced when pen met paper.

Despite such frustrations, 1815 proved the most prolific year of Schubert’s brief life—20,000 bars of music, including 140 songs, nine church compositions and this symphony were the result. Albert Stadler, a former schoolmate, once described the composer’s work habits: “Completely calm and barely disconcerted by the inevitable chatter and clamor of his fellow seminarists, he sat at his little desk…and went on writing lightly and fluently, with few corrections, as though it were the most natural thing in the world.” Stadler’s observations were dead on—composing for Schubert was akin to breathing, and though matters didn’t always proceed so efficiently, such was certainly the case with the 3rd Symphony, the manuscript of which betrays strikingly few signs of struggle.

Schubert’s slow introduction contains the seeds of what later came to full bloom. Take note not only of the colorful use of winds but of two motifs—the quick, upward scale and the two-note falling motif heard in the wind accompaniment; both are seemingly inconsequential ideas that will return time and again. As mentioned, Schubert’s introduction twice hints at trouble but the clarinet’s playful theme that opens the Allegro con brio at once puts any mock seriousness to rest. Schubert now seizes upon the introduction’s falling motif, its two notes establishing themselves as the essence of both melody and the oboe/horn response. An upward scale follows, ushering in a fortissimo statement scored for the entire orchestra. On the heels of the grand pause comes another playful theme, this one presented by the oboe and containing an important rhythmic figure that will all but take over the development section. The architecture of this sonata-form movement, including the repeat of the exposition/opening of the development, is easily followed on account of the dramatic orchestral chords but two more ideas may be worth pointing out. First, listen how Schubert begins to obsess with the oboe’s dotted rhythm; taken over by the celli and bass, this motif drives the development forward. Second, note how Schubert launches into another development of sorts following the clarinet’s restatement of its melody (marking the recapitulation). While further development late in a movement was not uncommon for Beethoven, this is highly unusual territory for Schubert, offering firm evidence that he was looking to Vienna’s elder musical statesman for inspiration.

Schubert’s original intent was to follow his Allegro with an Adagio—the manuscript shows a few bars of a broad violin melody—but he rejected the idea in favor of a faster moving Allegretto that proved to be a perfect jewel. This charming G major movement is constructed in A-B-A form. Its opening flirtatious violin melody is answered by the flute and offset by a sparkling tune presented by the clarinet that offers more hints of the Schubert yet to come (in particular the song Die Forelle, “The Trout,” which in turn would form the basis of one of the composer’s great contributions to the world of chamber music). Schubert asks that his engaging Menuetto be played Vivace (brisk/lively), a clue that the fast-paced minuets of Haydn and Beethoven were making their mark on the younger composer. In this case Schubert places strong accents on the third beat of the bar, a humorous gesture that turns the former aristocratic dance into something reflective of the countryside which at the time remained relatively close to central Vienna. The composer crafted the requisite Trio as a folksy Ländler and even its flavorful oboe-bassoon scoring suggests the peasant-like atmosphere of this Austrian country-dance.

The finale vaults out of the gate at a Presto-vivace clip, its swift 6/8 meter propelled by a galloping motif that turns the opening violin line back on itself. Like Mendelssohn’s familiar “Italian” symphony finale, Schubert employs a tripping tarantella rhythm (though of course Mendelssohn’s music was still another three decades into the future). In the meantime, an eighteen-year-old Schubert, pen and staff paper in hand, sits in Europe’s musical capital, ideas flowing as quickly as the ink. This music is not about themes and contrast. Rather, it is a movement about movement, Schubert delivering breathless verve and exuberance from an almost singular idea. The score’s drama lies in its harmonic motion. Quick tempo notwithstanding, the chords outlined by Schubert’s bass line change slowly. Schubert also capitalizes on dynamics—from its pianissimo opening, the movement reaches fortissimo by bar 17, using only three different notes in the bass! Sixteen more bars, only two more bass note changes, and we’re back to our tonal center, D Major. And so on, all the while, the persistent galloping of eighth notes drives the music ever onward. Whether or not Schubert had a program in mind for this finale, it conjures images of horse and rider urged incessantly on. The notes cascade ahead, driving toward Schubert’s inevitable closing chords. By the time he scratched in his double bar, bringing the symphony to a close, Schubert had dispatched one of the most spirited scores he would ever deliver.

Sadly, the Third Symphony suffered the same fate as did much of Schubert’s work—it was never performed professionally during his lifetime. Nor was it even heard in its entirety until August Manns, a friend of the great Schubert scholar George Grove, led the work in London’s Crystal Palace in 1881.

© Marc Moskovitz