Virtual Music Hour

  Schubert Archive

  Introducing Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C major, "The Great"

  Listen to the Music

Movement 1

Movement 2

Movement 3

Movement 4


Welcome to Virtual Music Hour. In preparation for your listening experience, Assistant Principal Violist Catherine Beeson has made guides with activities that can be enjoyed alone, with your quarantine buddies at home and online, or with your students. These activities can be mixed, matched, and altered to create an experience that’s right for you, or as inspiration to create your own. Get as creative as you’d like. Share it with us on social media! If you like seeing and hearing the Colorado Symphony musicians online, imagine how uplifting it would be for us to see and hear you too!

Filled to the brim with hummable melodies and seemingly endless rhythmic vitality, Schubert’s “Great C major” Symphony is more than worthy of that title. It’s a marathon endurance workout for the orchestra, and even composer Robert Schumann wrote about its “heavenly length.” Have fun learning about, and listening to, this fascinating music!

  Franz Schubert’s “The Great C major” was the last symphony he completed. Despite only hearing an unofficial reading in 1827, a year after finishing it and just one year before his death, he was proud of this “grand symphony.” He was 29 years old when he wrote it and was well established as a brilliant tunesmith, but few people knew of his larger-scale works at the time.

  The “Great C major” Symphony lasts for 45-60 minutes depending on whether the sections Schubert marked to repeat are honored or not. As with the Beethoven, Dvořák, and Tchaikovsky symphonies from our previous three Virtual Music Hours, it is in four sections called movements. Each movement has its own unique characteristics and function.

  In 1839, 11 years after Schubert’s death, it was finally premiered. A bit like a ‘Red Violin’ scenario, the score sat waiting until his brother Ferdinand showed it to composer Robert Schumann, who brought it to composer/conductor Felix Mendelssohn, who then officially unveiled it with his orchestra in Leipzig. Scholars now point to the “Great C major” Symphony as innovative and a gateway toward late Romantic era experimentation of composers like Gustav Mahler.

  Schubert’s score calls for 2 flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and the usual string section of violins, violas, cellos, and basses. Trombones for the win! Joking aside, by this time the trombone was becoming more and more established as a necessary component of the orchestra rather than used for effect or occasional color, so it’s hardly a surprise to find Schubert using them throughout the symphony in powerful melodic roles.

Here is a listening map that can guide you through the piece. Read it in advance or while you’re listening!

Movement 1

Andante - Allegro ma non troppo
In English:  Medium pace – Quick but not too much

We first hear a tune in the horns which then gets passed around the orchestra and shifts in character over the course of this 3 ½ minute introduction. Listen for the uneven rhythm, long-short-long, as the music builds toward the main Allegro portion of the movement. That uneven rhythm will become truncated to a series of long-short, long-short, long-short at 3:22 when we snap right into the Allegro!

As this movement continues, we hear layered ideas of melodic and rhythmic fragments that build excitement and make great punctuation.

7:54: We have a return to the opening snappy material.

At about 10:49 it seems like we might be building toward an ending, and then suddenly at 11:12 instead of finishing we burst into a faster tempo and cruise straight toward an energetic final statement of the very first melody.

Schubert composed more than 1,500 pieces of music, but much of it remained unpublished and many of his larger scale works were unknown until well after his death. While he was busy composing for symphony orchestra, for example, he was primarily known as a songwriter. Schubert was considered to be a master of this more intimate short form writing. Songs like the Winterreise cycle, Der Erlkönig, and Ellens dritter Gesang (more popularly known as Ave Maria) remain some of his most beloved and respected compositions.

Consider what it might have been like for Schubert to diligently work on a much broader range of compositional style while being thought of as more limited:

  Can you think of other creative individuals that struggle with this? Writers, painters, composers, choreographers, etc?

  Do you have any “hidden” talents? Maybe now is a good time to share them!

Like many composers, Schubert was heavily influenced by Beethoven. The two of them lived at the same time and definitely heard and studied each other’s music. This sort of legacy and stewardship continued through composers Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn who each championed Schubert’s work after his death, and even as recently as the 20th century we know composers as different as Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten, and George Crumb celebrated the music of Schubert.

  Can you think of other examples of this kind of homage and stewardship in music, art, dance, everyday life?

There are many wonderful entry points, moments, and fine details to consider in the Great C major Symphony. Let’s compare and contrast just two things: a recurring uneven rhythm that is used in all four movements, and a melodic fragment that appears in the last movement which has characteristics of another very famous tune.


Let’s start with rhythm. It’s kind of hard to define! A fundamental way to think of rhythm is to consider it as an auditory way to chop up time into short and long durations. By contrast a beat, or pulse, measures time in a steady flow. For example, you may have learned a steady beat by saying “TA TA TA TA.” You may also have learned a rhythm that fits with that steady beat by saying “TA tee-tee TA tee-tee.” In the case of that rhythm, we are expressing the flow of time being chopped into LONG short-short LONG short-short.

  Try this out! Get a steady beat going in your hands or your voice, and add a rhythm layer to it.

Schubert uses short and long notes to add different character and interest when combined with a feeling of steady beat or pulse. Check out the examples below, just a few from each movement of the symphony. In these examples, you can compare the rhythms using the music notation, or the “Long, L, S” notation for “longer, long, short.” They’re notated here for cowbell (because Christopher Walken has a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!), but you could try them by clapping or speaking.


   Watch and clap along as Catherine Beeson, Assistant Principal Viola, takes you through these rhythms:


Now let’s turn our attention to melody. In the last movement there is a melodic fragment at 3:50 which appears again at 4:04 and then riffs its way through the orchestra for a bit. Compare it to the Ode to Joy melody from the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, premiered to great acclaim just two years prior to Schubert composing his Great C major Symphony.

Try each of these, notated below in C for oboe. If you don’t have an oboe handy you can use your voice, piano, soprano recorder, kazoo, or slide whistle – whatever you have handy!

Schubert's Melody


Beethoven's Melody


   Watch and listen as Nick Tisherman, 2nd/Assistant Principal Oboe, takes you through these melodies:

  Do you see and/or hear similarities? If so, what are they?

Now that you’ve had a chance to consider, discuss, and get active around elements of Schubert’s Great C major Symphony, it’s time to listen to the Colorado Symphony performance. There are all sorts of ways to engage as a listener, especially when listening at home instead of the concert hall. Sing along to the melodies as your ear learns them, move and dance to the unique rhythms and character of each movement, listen for the way instrument sounds are woven together and pieced apart, or just turn the volume up and listen for sheer pleasure!

  Editor’s Note:

If you’re looking for a workout, try holding your right arm up at shoulder height and opening and closing your elbow along with every note the violins play in the final movement. At home, you can cheat by alternating and using your left arm every few minutes. It’s only for 11 straight minutes — You got this!!



Please share your musical adventure with us through social media! We would love to hear about it or see any of your activities, journaling, or creations!


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