Composers Datebook®

Schubert's Ninth

Composer's Datebook - Mar. 21, 2023


In 1838, Robert Schumann visited the grave of Franz Schubert in Vienna and paid a courtesy call on Schubert's brother, Ferdinand, who was still alive. Schumann had heard about Ferdinand's closet full of his brother's manuscripts, and among the dusty music scores that Schumann was shown was one for a big symphony in C Major, unperformed, he was told, because people thought it was too difficult, too bombastic, and far too long.

Looking at the music, Schumann was stunned, and asked if he could arrange to have the symphony played. "Sure," said Ferdinand, and Schumann sent the score off to his friend and fellow composer, Felix Mendelssohn, who was the director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Mendelssohn liked what he saw, and gave the first public performance of Schubert's big symphony on today's date in 1839.

After attending the rehearsal, Schumann wrote to his girlfriend, Clara Wieck, "Today I have been in seventh heaven. If only you had been there! For I cannot describe it to you; all the instruments were like human voices, and immensely full of life and wit… and the length, the divine length, like a four-volume novel… I was utterly happy, with nothing left to wish for except that you were my wife and I could write such symphonies myself!"

Well, sometimes wishes do come true, and good deeds are rewarded. Schumann did marry Clara, did write symphonies of his own, and did help launch Schubert's work on its path towards worldwide recognition as a great symphonic masterpiece.

Music Played in Today's Program

Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828) Symphony No. 9 in C Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; Kurt Masur, conductor. Philips 426 269

On This Day


  • 1685 - German composer and organist Johann Sebastian Bach, in Eisenach;

  • 1839 - Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, in Karevo, Pskov district (Julian date: March 9);


  • 1934 - German composer Franz Schreker, age 55, in Berlin;

  • 1936 - Russian composer Alexander Glazunov, age 70, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France;


  • 1826 - Beethoven: String Quartet in Bb, Op. 130, in Vienna, by the Schuppanzigh Quartet;

  • 1839 - Schubert: "Great" Symphony in C (old No. 9, now No. "7"), in a posthumous, heavily cut premiere performance by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Felix Mendelssohn;

  • 1860 - Brahms: Ballads Nos. 2-3, from Op. 10, for piano, in Vienna;

  • 1904 - R. Strauss: "Sinfonia domestica," at Carnegie Hall in New York, with Strauss conducting;

  • 1918 - Stravinsky: "Ragtime" for Eleven Instruments, in Morges;

  • 1925 - Ravel: opera "L'enfant et les sortiléges" (The Child and the Spells), in Monte Carlo at the Grand Théatre;

  • 1971 - William Mayer: "Octagon" for piano and orchestra, in New York City, by the American Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting, with William Masselos, piano;

  • 1972 - David Amram: Bassoon Concerto, in Washington, DC, by the National Symphony, Antal Dorati conducting, with Kenneth Pasmanick the soloist.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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