W. A. Mozart Symphony no. 14 in A, K. 114

performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Neville Marriner, or below by the Vienna Philharmonic under James Levine, who observes some repeats that make the work an extra 4-ish minutes longer

Well, hello again, Mr. Mozart. I’m very glad to see you.

He is still likely the best-represented composer on the blog, unless you count Haydn’s opp. 1 and 2 and 9, etc. as six individual works each, on top of the recent strings of symphonies, then he would take that cake.

In any case, we haven’t really gotten to Wolfie’s more mature symphonies, the more ‘serious’ works yet. Here at no. 14, the composer was only fifteen years old. This is the first of the eight so-called Salzburg symphonies. It’s interesting that while the thirteenth I found immediately sweet and attractive, the 14th does not have the same charms, to me, at least at first or fifth listen, or at least not in the same way, but does sound more mature.

What it also sounds, to me, is Baroque. But in many cases, a cursory search reveals some amount of insight about works, from performers, historians, etc. The article on Wikipedia, my go to for general information, is at best a stub. The local music library, which lacks more modern scores and resources but is generally a treasure trove of scores and references, had almost nothing on these earliest symphonies, at least not in a very take-home-able form. I’m willing to believe it’s more a result of the enormous success of his later works than the insignificance of the early ones, but… in retrospect, those two become more and more the same.

In any case, you’ll remember in the article on Mozart’s 13th, that I quoted that Wikipedia article in stating:

Nicholas Kenyon describes Symphony No. 13 as the last in “conventional mode”—thereafter “we are in the beginnings of a different world.”

Well, here we are. I did some digging to find out what is new about this ‘different world.’ The Atlanta Baroque Orchestra played this symphony in a concert back in May of 2006, and their program notes (by Dana Maiben) are very well written. They mention Mozart’s time in London and his encounter with J.S. Bach, saying the symphony “shows as much what he had integrated from J.C. Bach’s own peculiar Italianate style as what he had learned from the Italians.” I was tempted to reproduce the entire paragraph that discusses the work in just enough detail to change my perception of it.

It’s all about expectations. If you go into something with incorrect, or just different, expectations, it’s easy to be disappointed. This work, as far as I can tell, isn’t a serious, rigorous meaty work meant to change lives or make you think. The overwhelming theme in the ABO’s program notes is ‘jokes.’

“The first movement bears the mark of J.C. Bach’s influence also in its extended, supple and syncopated opening theme,” says Maiben. There’s a clear ‘breakout’ moment in the opening of the first movement where we go from rather polite, warm strings to the full-orchestra in all its glory. Pay attention to horns here, because Maiben says they play an important part in the “concertante-style” development. The repeat of the exposition is clear, because we’ve backed down to our warm string intro. By the repeat of our exposition, we’re already a third of the way through the movement, so the development can’t be that meaty.

Bam, then development. I likely wouldn’t have noticed it if it weren’t for Maiben, but the development just plays off of that horn call, “with pairs of horns, flutes and violas trading variations on a 2-bar horn call that first appeared as a punctuation to the movement’s opening material.” Slick move, Mozart. The development literally lasts… seconds; less than a minute and we’ve moved to the recapitulation.

The second movement, marked andante, Maiben says “Mozart jokes by trading the flutes for a pair of oboes, reversing the usual 18th-century formula, and employs a pair of violas in dialog with the oboes.” I’m not sure I get that joke, but we can listen for it and appreciate it.

The Menuetto seems to be the most lively movement yet. The Young Wunderkind apparently uses similar tricks. Says Maiben:

…other reversals of customary practice give the entire symphony a topsy-turvy quality: the second violins play a virtuoso comic-opera style accompaniment to the first violin line of static pathos (or mock-pathos) in the Trio.

I’m assuming the ‘topsy-turvy’ nature is within Classical contexts, because I don’t hear anything wild or crazy, but they’re at least things to listen for. It’s a pretty varied three minutes, with a surprisingly large scope of emotion, to me. And there is that interesting violin stuff in the trio.

The finale is festive, forward moving, and fun. Maiben says that it contains:

a couple of rounds of the bergamesca chord progression, music associated with the upside-down traditions of German Carnival.

The things I would never hear or think to pay attention to…. It’s context, reference, inside jokes, even, among musicians or contemporary people who would know “that’s not supposed to happen that way.” Is it a shame, then, that the statements that Mozart may have been making are lost on modern audiences? That most people can’t appreciate the humor or ‘topsy-turvy’ ‘upside-down’ nature of this symphony?

In contrast with the charming thirteenth, the fourteenth seems…. plain at first, but with more background and context, appreciation for what the composer was doing at the time, it then begins to seem more like a young composer exploring options, pushing boundaries, experimenting, and growing into his own style, making this era of works, then, rather significant, even if you’ll never hear it in the concert hall. There are four more of these works to come this week, so stay tuned.


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