New Perspectives on Schubert's Symphonic Openings

Nicholas Lockey


On the surface, many aspects of Schubert's Fifth symphony D.485 (including the reduced scoring and similarities between Schubert’s minuet and the third movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 K.550) seem to fall outside the course of Schubert’s previous symphonies and look back to the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart. Yet the opening four measures of this work, and their subsequent treatment, occupy a significant position in Schubert symphonic output, uniting trends in the earlier symphonies and pointing forward to important elements in several of the later ones.

Examining some of the most common options for beginning a symphony in the decades leading to the composition of the Fifth symphony, this essay emphasizes the relative novelty of beginning a symphony with an in–tempo preface. Some of the closest precedents to Schubert’s example come from the finales of his own Second and Fourth symphonies. In addition to transferring the concept of an in-tempo preface to the opening movement, the Fifth symphony demonstrates Schubert’s ongoing efforts to integrate the opening of his symphonies into the subsequent musical discourse, a trend made evident through analysis of his entire symphonic output.

After demonstrating the Fifth symphony’s continuation of lines exploited in Schubert’s previous symphonies, this study highlights the unique contributions that the Fifth symphony’s opening made to the mixture of ideas from the early symphonies upon which the procedures in the later symphonies are based. The function of the Fifth symphony’s opening measures (neither purely introductory nor truly thematic) also introduced a key element of ambiguity common to several of the later symphonies that was lacking from the openings of Schubert’s other early symphonies.

This paper reveals the Fifth symphony to be a work that draws upon Schubert’s past accomplishments while looking forward to his future achievements.


© Musicological Explorations, School of Music, University of Victoria

ISSN 1711-9235