Mozart Symphony No. 15 in G, K. 124

performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner


The second of the Salzburg symphonies, no. 15 in G is in four movements and clocks in at a whopping 12 and a half minutes. Wikipedia’s article on this work is bare at best, but quotes Dearling as saying the first movement is “daring” for its use of tempo changes and Kenyon as saying the final movement has “enough ending jokes to bring the house down” without giving any additional information.

The piece is scored for oboes, horns, and strings, all of which play together the first three bars in unison. It’s a lilty but not minuet-ish 3/4, but at the key change to D, there is call and answer between low and high strings that gives the impression of 6/8. The only thing I can figure for the daring tempo changes referred to is the use in a few important points of a fermata, strings holding important chords before what looks like a miniature coda that rounds out the exposition and the movement in the recapitulation. It’s a quick, short, development, and feels more like continued notes or thoughts about the exposition than a distinctly, intentionally-constructed development, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

The andante is in 2/4 and C major, and while the strings dominate the movement, they back off here and there to give oboes and horns a moment to say hello. It’s in two parts, the second of which Marriner (and I’m guessing most people) don’t repeat. It’s nice and all, but it feels like the kind of thing Mozart could have written a dozen of in one sitting if he’d needed to, which in one sense is sickening; it’s sweet and melodious and well-done, but also… not earth-shattering. Still pretty solid for a teen.

The third movement takes us back to G, with the trio in D. Marriner observes all repeats. The minuet is simple, but still able to bring us contrasts, with forte and piano dynamic markings a few bars away, where the strings quietly the two bars of the opening with the full orchestra. There are a few oom-pah-pahs from the horn at the end of the first phrase, and the trio has a cool breeziness to it from the eighth-note undercurrent in second violins.

The finale is marked presto, in 2/4, and is a rondo. Let’s look for our jokes.

Well, it’s certainly the most playful of the four, with a few fun, almost raucous kind of good-time episodes, what seems like some intentionally off-kilter-sounding writing, and a few horn farts. I heard in the work a few trinkly tinkles on harpsichord that were humorous, but I didn’t see them in the score, perhaps because continuo is just part of the bass, but it added a bit of detail to the work.

Again, as far as programming is concerned, seeing or hearing these in the concert hall is likely a great rarity, because ticket sales. It’s almost… illogical to go and program these works for the concert hall when one could program his glorious later works, unless there’s some traversal, a workshop or lecture series discussing all the early symphonies. What we can be grateful for is recordings, to have the joy of putting these works on and listening to how the young Mozart, even at 15 or 16 years old was full of ideas and imagination, could lay down an attractive melody like it was nothing, and still make it an engaging experience. (And as McCaffrey talked about in our discussion, I’m assuming Mozart’s humor in many ways is similar to Haydn’s, that is to say, humor I don’t really notice. False recapitulations, wrong keys, and that kind of thing I’ll generally only notice if they’re pointed out to. Regardless, the final movement brings a smile to the face and sigh of pleasure.)

We have three more Salzburg era symphonies this week, and I’m looking forward to moving along in his output. Stay tuned.

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