Mozart Symphony No. 18 in C, K. 130


It’s a bit ridiculous to say I hear development or progress from this work as compared with yesterday’s piece that didn’t move me much, because they were written within weeks of each other, in May of 1772, but this symphony is, at least to me, right now, head and shoulders above the others from this week.

Maybe it was that my meds had kicked in, so I was feeling tons less congested and lethargic, but this piece made me happy, and yesterday’s did not. I had been fighting off some kind of sinus infection or something, and didn’t even want to be typing, let alone washing clothes or running errands. In any case, today’s symphony, the last written in May of 1772, is vibrant, intelligent, moving, and rich.

From the first movement, there seems to be more going on. There are distinct lines in flute and horn, a richer development that feels like we’ve ‘moved away from’ the tonal center of the piece. Also, flutes. It’s apparently the first time that they replaced oboes in a Mozart symphony, and there is a second pair of horns in the first two movements (this is what Wikipedia says, but my score shows two pairs in all four movements). The first movement is in sonata form and brings us more sixteenth-dotted-eight figures that permeate the movement. As we shall see, this movement is a good beginning to the work because it sets up (or seems to, to me) a lot of the charm for the rest of the work.

The second movement features flute and other winds much more independently from the strings than elsewhere. Even for a slow movement, it has its contrasts. With mellow muted strings, the flute sings above the ensemble, and there are more interesting textures that come through, some ripply trills, and even a few powerful contrasting forte moments. It’s overall a sweet, relaxed yet still forward-moving, broadly spaced and spacious slow movement, a nice contrast to the rest of the work.

The minuet is an interesting thing. For the entire A part of the minuet (first nine bars, repeated) the violas play an almost completely oblivious sounding B-C-B-C-B-C eighth note line, growing from piano to forte and only cadencing with the rest of the orchestra at the very end. It’s comical-ish to me, like a mischievous child set among this otherwise obedient, quietly polite group. It’s also nice to hear winds getting to have whole sections (even if only a few bars) dedicated to them to change up the texture a bit. Horns get some Haydn-like, very high, very bucolic calls as the trio wraps up, and actually… I’d say this entire symphony feels pretty pastoral, actually.

But the best is yet to come. The finale is spectacular. It’s no Beethoven 5 or anything, but it’s a movement that strikes me as having its own mischief and fun, with a happy helping of Mozartean energy, rhythm, lyricism and drive, but with an overall lightness and briskness that makes for a quick, engaging 7-and-a-half minute movement, one of the longest so far. The downbeats of the bars 2 and 6 are missing; the whole orchestra rests on them and picks up at different points to keep going. There are a few other places where this sudden blank space appears, and it seems like the kind of thing a 16-year-old would do in a symphony for fun than for any kind of aesthetic, but those are… not different. The movement is bubbly, vibrant, rich in detail, and ends crisply, rounding out what I feel is a standout of the first dozen and a half symphonies of the young Mozart.

The false starts and certain other little niceties make this a movement you don’t want to peel your ears (or eyes) from, to make sure you catch everything. If there is anything final to this symphony, the last he’d write in that month to pick back up again in the summer, perhaps its some exciting bag of tricks he was waiting to pull out and use in this work. It sounds more mature, more varied, more developed, more like a later symphony might start to sound, but… it wouldn’t surprise me to turn to his Summer (17)72 symphonies to find that this one is more an outlier than a new direction, at least for now.

But we’ll see. I had originally intended to pit Mozart against another composer for the month of August, to balance out what I’ll be doing in July, but I’m not sure that plan will stick. If so, we’ll be seeing his Summer ’72 symphonies at the end of Summer ’16. If not, we likely won’t see them until ’17. But I’m undecided.

We’re moving on from Mozart for now, and onto the next probably expected composer in our little string of symphonies for the next few months. I’m not sure if I’ll organize it as a series, but it is German/Austrian, it is chronological, and it is pretty epic. We started with Haydn last week, and you will have to wait and see where it ends in late June. Stay tuned.


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