performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner, or below by The Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood (what’s with the academies?)
So it’s been some time since we got around to a Mozart symphony, about two and a half years… so I figured I’d throw in the next one in line, following his ever-so-charming string quartet from yesterday. That was K. 80, and this is 112, written in 1771, around the same time as the quartet, sort of.
I find that it, too, is so dashing, not a dull moment, but also not saccharine. The movements are short and sweet, but not without feeling. They’re rich rhythmically, harmonically, and melodically. It is also, some claim, the last of its kind.
Nicholas Kenyon describes Symphony No. 13 as the last in “conventional mode”—thereafter “we are in the beginnings of a different world.”
Indeed, they classify it as the last of his ‘childhood symphonies,’ marking symphony no. 14 the first of the Salzburg symphonies. There are, however, about a dozen ‘unnumbered’ symphonies listed here, which are in some cases (extremely confusingly) given numbers above 41, others just by their K. number (Köchel catalogue number). We have obviously not touched these yet, and some are of dubious authenticity, but we’ll address them later. Maybe.
The opening movement of this final childhood symphony is crisp, clean, bright, and sets the mood for the entire work, a very enjoyable one. It’s refreshing, approachable straightforward, but there’s still plenty of detail to bask in, little comments from the violas in the background, etc. that make this more than just another humdrum sonata-form first movement. It’s all smiles. I really find this a terribly charming symphony, and this is a great way to open it.
The second movement is marked andante and is the longest by far of the four movements. Slow movements, especially bookended by such exciting other movements, have the potential to be boring or uneventful, but this andante has enough depth and movement in its melodies. It’s spacious, not in much hurry to go anywhere fast, but gives us the time, almost encourages the listener, to take a deep breath and just enjoy; don’t be in such a rush. It’s like floating down a slow, clear stream on a spring day.
But then it’s over…. and we’re in the minuet. The more I listen, the more I do feel like Messiaen was onto something when he called Mozart the greatest ‘rhythmician,’ creating ‘male and female’ rhythms, those carved out of quick, strong accents, and the more delicate, lyrical supple ones. It makes for a very enjoyable listen. There’s nothing too harsh, exciting, or over-the-top about this minuet and trio, it’s just refreshingly pretty.
The final movement is a strange mix of majesty and mischievousness. It opens with a royal-ish melody (I’d say stately if it were a bit slower), but there’s enough humor and fun in it to remind one that Mozart was only like 15 years old when he wrote this. Much of the string lines sound to me like laughter, in contrast with a quieter more distant subject. It’s a short little movement, but it goes places and brings us a sufficient amount of tension to contrast with the cheery opening of the movement, and the work in general, but as it should, finishes cheerily with a small coda rounding out the entire movement in a bright, sunny disposition.
I love Mahler. Like, really. Sitting (or lying or whatever) and listening to any of his symphonies are like being transported to another world, seeing life through his eyes, experiencing hope and tragedy and triumph and coming through it all a little bit different every time.
But that’s a lot to take in, and can take a lot out of you. It’s like sitting down for the chef’s tasting at a fancy restaurant: nine or twelve courses, wine pairings for each, palate cleansers and all the rest. That kind of thing takes time and preparation; it’s a big event. Sometimes I don’t want to devote my entire evening to one big meal like that. Instead, sometimes I’d rather still enjoy delicious food, but in a more compact, straightforward, simple, even portable manner.
Mozart’s symphony here is to me very much like that, like a delicious sandwich. It still has depth, layers of flavor, detail to enjoy, texture and color and all the rest, but in a much more compact form. There’s something refreshing about sitting down for a quick, short, but delicious lunch every once in a while, and a symphony like this is one of those. It’s shorter than most individual movements of any of Mahler’s symphonies, but is fulfilling and enjoyable in its own equally valid way.
There’s still so much more of Mozart to get to… horn concertos, violin concertos and sonatas, so much piano music, the operas, and on and on. We will get there eventually, but it’s really a wonderful thing… to think that we have so much music from this mind, the child prodigy that died so young. It has been a joy to begin to warm up to his enormous body of work, and I’m excited to write more about it. Stay tuned.