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
Let’s just ponder for a moment. Did you read yesterday’s article about The Young Mozart’s fifth string quartet? That’s K. 158, and it means that before Mozart had even written half a dozen (published) quartets, he’d already written almost two dozen symphonies. It’s not until the 22nd symphony that we catch up to the numbering of the later Milanese quartets.
That might be just a matter of trivia, but his volume of symphonies before quartets is the same thing we find with his piano concertos before sonatas, at least in the earlier works. In any case, this work was composed in the summer of 1772, and has a French influence, at least in the final rondo movement. It’s in four movements, and is scored for two oboes, four horns, and strings. Wikipedia tells us that two of the horns are “uniquely written in ‘E flat alto’.”
The first movement of this work begins with a figure that Wiki says the composer would later use in his piano concerto no. 22, more than a decade later, also in E flat major. There is no exposition repeat, and the development focuses on new material, for which statement Wiki cites Peter Brown’s The Symphonic Repertoire (Vol. 2). That opening, then, might seem especially familiar or memorable, and the first movement, overall, with its horn calls, and the crispness of strings and general ebullience, makes for a wonderful first movement, exactly the kind of thing people think of when they think of Mozart, I think.
The andante gives us the same kind of simple, enjoyable pleasantries we’ve come to expect from the (still) young composer, but with a greater sense of polish, especially in some of the more emotional, heartfelt passages in the central portion of this movement. There’s an alternative slow movement for this symphony, marked andante grazioso, which the Marriner/Krips box set includes. I don’t know if the current andante replaced the grazioso, but that is my assumption, seeing as that’s the way the work ultimately stands, and I don’t know what there would be about the andante that would make the composer wish to replace it. It’s quite nice, and I find the three-minute alternative rather forgettable.
The minuet third movement is lively, sunny, polished, and like much of the early symphonies and quartets we’ve talked about, honestly, there’s not a ton about it that stands out as terribly unique or groundbreaking. If there are any surprise modulations or false cadences, classical music (theory) surprises, they’re mostly lost on me.
But let’s move on to the finale, which continues the pleasantness and poise of the young composer’s pen. It’s maybe the finest movement of this symphony, the one in that “French rondo in seven-part form.” For all of you who don’t get or understand the importance of structure in a piece of music, this is a fine example of how something short and sweet and profoundly pleasant is made deeper and more engaging by means of a structure that provides familiarity and contrast.
That’s the key thing, I would say, about Mozart’s music thus far. He’s clearly gaining experience as a composer, has no lack of talent or creativity or inventiveness or anything, and as we’re getting to his later symphonies, we’ll see more mature large scale works, but I’m interested to see if there’s some point in his (symphonic) output that we can point to and say “Look. This is his first mature symphony,” or “this is where the game changes for Mozart’s symphonies,” but I doubt it. With as many symphonies as he wrote, I think this progress is much more gradual than, say, Beethoven, who is making leaps of innovation with each of his (only) nine symphonies. Obviously they’re from different eras, but both the volume and method of their output are quite different.
In any case, this week is kind of a ‘between week’, as we’re getting around to a new series that’s somewhat related to what we’re doing now. There’s lots of Mozart on the way, though, so stay tuned for a few more symphonies of his this week, and something entirely different at the end of the week, before we start the new series in earnest. Thanks for listening.