Robert Schumann saw the “ideal of a modern symphony” realised in Schubert’s “Great” Symphony in C major, which came into his hands rather by chance in January 1839 as part of the composer’s estate. Shortly afterwards, more than 10 years after Schubert’s death, the premiere of the work took place in the Gewandhaus in Leipzig under the baton of Felix Mendelssohn – an event with which Schubert posthumously became the initiator of the Romantic symphony style that followed Beethoven.
Franz Schubert, born in 1797 in the Viennese suburb of Lichtental, was admitted to the Vienna Stadtkonvikt as a singer in the imperial Hofkapelle at the age of eleven due to his “outstanding talent”. As a pupil of Antonio Salieri, composing came easily to him and he did it whenever the strictly regimented life in the boarding school of the Piarist Order allowed him to. In the autumn of 1813 Schubert returned to his parents’ home, where he completed a ten-month traineeship as a school assistant. He worked as a teacher for two years, reserving a fixed period of time in his daily routine for composing. In 1814, the then 17-year-old wrote [Gretchen am Spinnrade], possibly the first Romantic art song ever. After applying unsuccessfully for a music teaching post in Ljubljana, despite Salieri’s recommendation, Schubert gave up teaching and moved to Vienna, where he lived from then on as a freelance composer. By this time he had already composed more than five hundred works: hundreds of songs, a series of string quartets and five symphonies, which were, however, known only to a relatively small circle of friends and music lovers. After a creative crisis, during which numerous works remained fragments (including the “Unfinished”), Schubert achieved his symphonic breakthrough with the “Great” Symphony in C major, written in 1825/26. Its posthumous premiere by Felix Mendelssohn at the Gewandhaus Leipzig was an outstanding success and made a significant contribution to Schubert’s posthumous fame.