A New Account of Franz Schubert's B minor Symphony
This study addresses a long-standing mythology concerning the "Unfinished" Symphony and reviews anachronistic performance practices that prevent listeners from experiencing the work as a product of its own time
David Montgomery’s Unfinished History challenges the traditional story of Franz Schubert’s B-minor Symphony and searches for a more credible account of this great work. Written for all Schubert lovers from lay readers to musicians and musicologists, the book reviews a strangely persistent mythology concerning the symphony, continuing with the first in-depth examination of its manuscript and related documents. Details of handwriting, notation, paper, watermarks, compositional procedures, and stylistic contexts suggest a new year and country of origin for the “Unfinished” Symphony, a possible explanation for the absence of a finale in the sketches, and an alternative account of the score’s disappearance and prolonged sequestration. The author concludes with an essay on performing the work in the context of its own times.
The story of the Unfinished has been based partly upon three conflicting letters written in old age by Schubert’s former secretary long after the composer’s death. A fourth document in this insupportable mythology is a photograph of a lost letter purportedly sent from Schubert to the Styrian Music Society in Graz, promising to send them a symphony. Many historians still believe the letter to be genuine, despite the fact that its signature has been traced. David Montgomery’s handwriting analysis finally identifies the real writer of this odd missive, clearing a further path to new research.
Schubert authority David Montgomery has done music lovers everywhere a huge service in reminding us just how much we still do not know about Schubert’s beloved “Unfinished” Symphony—exactly where it was written, when, for what purpose, and the strange circumstances of its preservation and eventual rediscovery. Only by embracing the mystery can we see clearly how posterity has disregarded so much that we can know: specifically, what Schubert actually wrote and thus what his evident expectations in performance were. Montgomery rejects the traditional view of the work as a gloom-filled essay in pre-Wagnerian grandiosity, describing the music as filled with intimacy, grace, color, and supple rhythmic vitality. By analyzing the work’s compositional and transmission history in minute detail, Montgomery not only asks us to take a fresh look at a piece that we thought we knew cold, he justifies our making the effort.
--David Hurwitz, Executive Editor, ClassicsToday.com
David Montgomery’s Unfinished History at long last opens up a portal to a new performance tradition. There is lavish detail here and literally everything you need to know about D759 [Schubert's Unfinished Symphony]. It makes fascinating reading for the scholar as well as the performer.
--David Zinman, Music Director, L’Orchestre Français des Jeunes.
About the Author
David Montgomery is an American conductor, pianist, and musicologist. He studied in Paris with René Leibowitz and in the U.S. and Vienna with Paul Badura-Skoda. He became Leibowitz’s assistant in France, specializing in music of the Second Viennese school. Later, he studied the interpretation of contemporary music with Pierre Boulez in Los Angeles. After completing a PhD in musicology at UCLA, he taught for several years at UC Santa Barbara.
In 1990 Montgomery joined the summer faculty of the Waterloo Festival at Princeton University as a chamber music coach and Director of the Baroque Ensemble. He worked in New York for Sony Tri-Star/Columbia Pictures as a conductor, and then in Europe for the editorial and production divisions of Sony Music Inc and Sony Classical GmbH. From Hamburg, Montgomery toured Europe as a pianist and helped to revitalize the Jena Philharmonic in the former East Germany as the orchestra’s principal guest conductor. With the Philharmonic he made recordings for BMG’s Arte Nova label in Munich.
David Montgomery’s first book, Franz Schubert’s Music in Performance (Pendragon, 2003/paperback 2010) has become widely known in performance and scholarly circles. He is an authority on Austro-German music of the past several centuries, and his essays for the international recording industry have been translated into numerous languages and distributed throughout the world. Montgomery has lectured at Georgetown University, the College of William and Mary, University of Chicago, Harvard University, the Universities of Halle and Göttingen, and at the major campuses of the University of California.