Schubert was still a teenager when he composed his first five symphonies, but they represent just a fraction of his youthful output. In a single year between hisThirdandFourth Symphonies, he composed about two hundred works. His musical ideas at this time sometimes bear a family resemblance to themes by Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven, but nevertheless his own style was already precociously developed. One would not mistake hisFifth Symphonyof 1816 for the work of any other composer, though its difference in character from theFourth Symphonyis equally striking. Here, omitting clarinets, trumpets or timpani, Schubert uses a reduced orchestration in comparison with his previous symphonies. For the first time in his progressive mastery of symphonic form, he dispenses with a slow introduction. After a mere four-bar preparation from the woodwind, a downward scale from the first violins introduces the first subject. Here the lively imitation in cellos and basses contributes immeasurably to the delightful buoyancy of this opening paragraph, before a robust transition leads to the graceful second subject. The development section, which Schubert surprisingly begins by recalling the scale from bar 3, generates considerable power, before giving way to an orthodox recapitulation and an exuberant coda.
Schubert began hisSixth Symphonyin October 1817 and completed it in the following February. In the summer of 1818, having previously attempted to leave his position as a schoolmaster, he would finally break away from an occupation which he regarded as drudgery. He now hoped to succeed solely as a freelance composer. TheSixth Symphonyrepresents a sideways step in Schubert’s symphonic development, a digression which may be explained by the phenomenal popularity of Rossini. At this time Rossini’s operas were being received with tremendous enthusiasm in Vienna, following their Italian premieres. Keen to earn a living from his compositions, Schubert now emulated aspects of the style which was enjoying such vogue.