What does a “complete symphony” mean?

I read a passage about Beethoven, in which the phrase is used this way:

Some musicologists suggest that, as his hearing worsened, Beethoven favoured lower and middle-range notes in his compositions and began to use high notes again only once he was totally deaf, drawing on memory and imagination. But, looking at the range of pitches used in the final complete symphony, Albercht dismisses that theory: “ I don’t think it holds. Otherwise, what do you do with the piccolo in the Ninth Symphony — up there on top — and the contrabasses down below? All the registers are there. He could hear them with his innner ear. He was amazing.
[‘Deaf’ genius Beethoven was able to hear his final symphony after all: The Guardian]

I also found the same expression is used in Wikipedia:

The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, is a choral symphony, the final complete symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, composed between 1822 and 1824. [en.m.wikipedia.org: Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven)]

I’ve heard the expression complete symphonies many times, but not a complete symphony.

Then I thought that this complete was the opposite of unfinished as used in the title of one of Schubert’s symphonies, but OALD says that it can’t be used before noun.

So, now I think this complete is exceptional, or is not used as finished.

Would you give me some answer, please? Thank you.

  • Where does it say that "complete" can't be used before a noun? Did you read the first definition at the link you provided?
    – Katy
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 0:45
  • @Katy, it says "complete" can't be used before a noun when it means "finished"; scroll down to the definition and examples that follow the Arabic numeral 2 on the page the OP has linked to. (See also my comment on Mary's answer).
    – Nanigashi
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 1:41

1 Answer 1


Beethoven was working on a 10th Symphony at the time of his death. We have some of the score, but it is not done (unfinished) and therefore not complete (whole, having all its parts).

His 9th Symphony is therefore the final complete symphony -- the last symphony he completed.

I note that in novels, we can get references to "a complete first draft" if a novelist died with a novel in progress. It's unfinished, but it is complete, with all its parts. Few other art works can be found in a stage where they are complete but not finished

  • 12
    A fine answer, but I don't think it's so much that the dictionary is wrong as that the OP has misinterpreted it. The OALD says that "complete" can't be used before a noun when it means "finished," but can when it means "including all the parts, etc. that are necessary; whole." The ninth symphony is both finished and whole, of course. But it is because it is whole that we can say it is a "Beethoven's last complete symphony." If we want to emphasize that Beethoven finished it, rather than that it is whole, we will (or should) say it is his "last completed symphony."
    – Nanigashi
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 1:35
  • Thank you, Mary and Nanigashi! Perhaps, this usage might be a controversial one. Considering Beethoven’s unfinished 10th symphony, the complete is used as finished and what OALD says is wrong, or the usage is wrong; on the other hand, given that the 9th symphony includes all parts, from the first movement to the last, in contrast to the unfinished 10th symphony, that complete is used as whole, and the usage does not contradict the definition by OALD.
    – Sota
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 2:08
  • As far as I’m concerned, his last completed symphony is more natural to me when it comes to emphasizing it is the last finished symphony by Beethoven.
    – Sota
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 2:22
  • 1
    yeah, but when discussing works of art, the emphasis tends to be on the "not complete" aspect
    – Mary
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 2:52
  • Very interesting! This is why I study English. Anyway, thank you very much, Mary and Nanigashi!
    – Sota
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 3:49

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