Mozart Symphony no. 17 in G, K. 129

ASMF/Marriner (who I think is playing below)

After telling us that Mozart composed this work in 1772 at 16 years of age (the very same month he completed K. 128) (and that “some of its sections may have been written earlier”), Wikipedia says little more about the actual music than this:

The 1st movement is notable for its use of the Mannheim crescendo, while the 2nd movement features a solo violin.

And frankly, neither of those things were things that I noticed about the work, even after looking through the score.

I must say this symphony doesn’t really do a lot for me. It’s wistful and playful in moments, but… there are only a few things that stand out. The outer movements have a certain rhythmic playfulness and energy. In the first movement, this comes from driving eighth (and sixteenth) note passages under the violin line, as well as sixteenth-dotted-eighth figures.

The exposition of the first movement is 46 bars long, and (naturally) repeated. The development is “a mere 21 bars in length,” says Naxos (but it’s easy enough to find the beginning of the recapitulation). There are moments of near-comedy, (mm. 54, 56, 58) more raucous expressions in this little sonata-form movement, but it ends pretty straightforwardly.

The highlight in the C major second movement, in 2/4, marked andante, is the 32-note passages. The movement is played quite slowly (at least by Marriner and his band), so that even 16th notes are a bit deliberate, so when the 32nd note tidbits appear (for the first time in bar 23, and then here and there throughout the movement) there’s a sense of freeing movement, of lyrical expressiveness.

The final movement is back in G, 3/8 time and marked allegro. Naxos says of it:

The final movement, with its hunting-horn opening, allows its principal theme to appear fully or in part in different keys, notably in the central development section, after which first and second subjects re-appear before the unanimous conclusion.

This is by far the most interesting of the work, and the shortest movement. It’s lively, fresh, humorous, and at times even odd rhythmically, but horns are more apparent as well. One might think of this as some kind of minuet or something because of the triple meter, but it’s not. Remember the early Haydn symphonies (they’ve all been early so far)? Not a few of them had presto or allegro final movements in this vein.

That’s not to say the final movement (and the entire symphony) aren’t interesting. Again, we’re in a period of assimilation, learning, and experimentation for the young Mozart. Which of his symphonies would he most hope for an audience to listen to, or if they are not the same question, which would he be most proud of? Likely not this one, because he went on to accomplish far greater things, but it has its merits in the context of his output, and that’s why we’re discussing them. Believe me, we could jump on to the symphonies numbered into the 30s and we shall eventually get there (about halfway there now!) but my hope is that we can look back at these earliest works (some of which read like busywork or homework assignments, if those aren’t the same thing) and appreciate the late works even more, and hopefully also see where they came from and how they came to be. Tomorrow’s work (guess what it might be!) is a last work of sorts, but we’ll discuss that then. Stay tuned.

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