A Musical Mystery Of “The Unfinished Symphony” By Franz Schubert

Read about non finito, the art of creating incomplete artworks and the story behind the unfinished symphony, the most popular incomplete symphony in western classical music.

Ever read about Nonfinito sculptures?

If you are an ardent art enthusiast, you must have read or heard about the unfinished artworks at least once.

The first story I ever read about an unfinished artwork is Mozart’s incomplete composition – Requiem.

Requiem is the unfinished symphony written by Mozart from a collection of his 600+ compositions, before he died at the age of 36.

Read more about various interpretations of the incomplete artworks and musical mystery about the unfinished symphony by Franz Schubert.

Sometimes, the best work of an artist may be the work that’s left unfinished.

An artist may leave an artwork incomplete mainly for two reasons – an involuntary reason or a deliberate attempt.

Involuntary reasons include scenarios like the death of an artist. 

Sometimes the artwork is left unfinished intentionally. 

The intentions may be to follow a design principle or to leave it unfinished for interpretations. An artist may also leave an artwork incomplete in an anticipation to improve it in future.

Non finito art falls under the design rule criteria. Non finito sculptures are the perfect examples for design rule criteria.

What is Non finito?

Non finito is an Italian word that means – not finished.

It is commonly used to define unfinished sculptures by the artists. The artist only sculpts part of the block to make the subject look like it is stuck on the block.

Here’s an example of the Non finito sculpture.

By Auguste RodinJacques Ernest Bulloz, Public Domain, Link

The practice of leaving an artwork incomplete is related to ancient Plato philosophy.

According to the platonic philosophy, an artwork never completely resembles its heavenly counterpart.

Non finito became a fad during the Renaissance and widely used by Michelangelo in his work.

In western classical music, it’s quite a mystery around plenty unfinished compositions by famous composers.

Unfinished compositions by Mozart in western classical music

For instance, out or his 600+ compositions, Mozart left an unusually high number of incomplete pieces – somewhere around 140.

We can understand few compositions that were unfinished before he died.

How can we be sure that a genius like Mozart never got time to finish those?

An artist may prefer not to publish the work until he thinks it fit good enough.

So, what defines an art finished or unfinished?

Is it finished to an extent to be continued and interpreted by other musicians?

Or, it is unfinished to an extent that the artist may not want the sub-standard work go public.

Recently, a Harvard professor completed three unfinished compositions by Mozart.

He believes:

When you look at them you realize that they were more than good enough and some of them have more interesting ideas than some of the finished pieces

A Musical Mystery – The Unfinished Symphony

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 is the unfinished symphony having two movements and a sketch of the third movement.

A Symphony usually has four sections called movements.

Schubert never published the composition for public performances. Instead, he passed on the manuscripts to his close friend – Huttenbrenner.

Why would any composer share his incomplete work with anyone?

What were intentions behind sharing an incomplete composition?

And last but not the least, why would Schubert not complete the remaining two movements within 5 years before his death?

Why would Huttenbrenner reveal and publish the unfinished symphony manuscript only after 42 years of Schubert’s death?

The reason for it being incomplete is still unknown and a musical mystery.

However, I will consider this an accidental non finito for any musical work.

Why not?

It’s a mystery anyways!

Several composers “completed” the symphony based on the sketch provided for the third movement. Whatever the reasons are, the unfinished symphony became popular due to the thrill and mystery associated with it.

Just a thought!

Did Schubert leave it incomplete for the audiences to take it forward?

May be or may be not.

Some artworks are left incomplete by accident; others by design. They can be thrilling, insightful – and even more exciting than a finished work — Alastair Sooke.

Listen to the beautiful rendition of the unfinished symphony.

Thanks for reading my 55th article in the series 100-day music blogging challenge. Stay tuned for more such interesting articles.

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Published by Bharat

Hi, I'm Bharat. An artist, blogger, musician and digital marketing professional dedicated to sharing musing and stories about music, art and mindful resonance! Follow me @bharatpc