The 'So Far' symphony
WHEN the man in Washington who counts the money got my income tax check last month I hope he realized he was definitely doing me out of a trip and possibly depriving the world of the answer to a longtime puzzle.Skip to next paragraph
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A detailed review of my financial situation, which took me all of two minutes , shows I could have gone to Vienna on the money I gave the government. My reason for returning to Vienna is to find the rest of Franz Schubert's ''Unfinished'' symphony. It must be around some place. I was close to it once, I think, but I had to catch a bus.
We were visiting Europe on one of those tours: Now you see it, now you don't. Breakfast in Amsterdam, lunch in Cologne, a cruise on the Rhine, and supper in Coblenz was one of the easier days. We whizzed through Bonn without so much as a nod to Beethoven, and we stopped at Munich only because our driver hadn't seen his mother recently.
Vienna would be different, we were told: 30 hours in a row. This was what I had been looking forward to, for it was Schubert's home. He's one of my favorite composers, and his Symphony No. 8 in B minor (''Unfinished'') is a special joy.
Only two movements are known to exist, but I can't accept that he would deliberately quit on anything so beautiful. A more appropriate name for the work , in my opinion, is Symphony No. 71/2 (''So Far'').
Sketches of a third movement have been found, but music scholars have given up hope of finding more. Not I. I have a fanciful belief in beginner's luck.
After all, ordinary soldiers of Napoleon's army discovered the Rosetta stone, the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics. French schoolboys stumbled into the celebrated caves at Lascaux with their treasures of paleolithic art. What's so far-fetched about a tourist from the American Midwest finding a handful of music sheets at a Viennese rummage sale or sidewalk bookstall?
I thought I was getting somewhere. Dinner in Vienna not being included in our tour price, some of us went to a coffeehouse near the hotel for Wienerschnitzel, which gains nothing, in my opinion, in authenticity. The piece de resistance for me was the entertainer, a black-bearded tenor who strolled from table to table with his guitar.
I could hear Schubert in many of his songs. After he told me Schubert was one of his favorites, too, I slipped him a little more money than I should have for his time, and we sat and talked. It seems he had this friend, a streetcar conductor, who knew the city like his own clothes closet and could probably take me to the most likely places where Schubert's missing work might be found.
There would be a fee. The friend would have to give up a day's pay. Blackbeard thought $100 would be fair. The two of them would wait for me the next morning in front of the coffeehouse.
At that my wife stood up and said the others were leaving, although I noticed no such activity. I promised my fellow Schubertian I'd meet them. If I could.
On our way back to the hotel I reviewed for my wife the background of the ''Unfinished.'' Scholars say the third movement sketch indicates that Schubert thought about going on with the symphony but decided against it. He realized he had said it all in two movements, and further work might spoil it - as much as to say Leonardo da Vinci could have put a hat and gloves on the Mona Lisa, but why would he?
To me, the sketches indicate quite the contrary. Since I don't need to worry about a professional reputation, I say Schubert did write the third and fourth movements and some bungler lost them. It makes a better story.
Not to my wife. She likes the ''Unfinished'' just the way it is. The next morning we climbed into the sightseeing bus right after breakfast, which didn't surprise me, and exchanged not a word about Schubert all day. That night we ate with the tour party at a place in the opposite direction from the coffeehouse.
I had hopes for the following morning, but they were dashed. There was no time for Schubert, because our bus left early so we could knock off Ljubljana, Trieste, and Venice in 36 hours.
That was a couple of years ago. Now I'm listening to the ''Unfinished'' for at least the hundredth time (I've owned five recordings of it over the years). It rests comfortably on the senses without excess weight or sharp edges, settling in quietly, roiling up dark clouds, and casting shadows, but only to relieve them with the sunniest of song and luminous joy, and all too soon it sifts down through the voices of the orchestra to dissolve into tranquillity and repose.
In this abiding peace I yield to reflection. Maybe the government really needs my money. At least it didn't take any of the really important things. Blackbeard and his friend will have to be patient. Those third and fourth movements have been missing for more than 100 years, and another year or two won't hurt.