Mozart Symphony no. 20 in D major, K. 133

performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner, or The Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood

This current era of Mozart symphonies we’re working through is when he composed what are referred to as the Salzburg symphonies, so… guess where he was for the composition of most or all of them… He was 16 years old at the time, and Wikipedia calls the scoring “extravagant” because it features “two trumpets in addition to the standard oboes, horns, and strings.” It also mentions that D major, “a key often reserved for ceremonial music, is well suited to the presence of these trumpets.” If you say so. But the addition of two trumpets being considered ‘extravagant’ should remind us of what time period we’re in.

Remember also the Milanese quartets that he wrote on one of his trips to Milan; we’re almost done with those, but we have up to symphony no. 30 (as well as five other originally unnumbered symphonies, later given numbers above 41 [since that’s not confusing]) before we’re out of the Salzburg era and into the “late symphonies”, beginning with no. 31. Perhaps that’s the point in history I mentioned yesterday that we should be looking for, but I assume it’s more an organizational notion than a musical one.

This first movement isn’t to me as immediately charming as yesterday’s 19th, but it does seem fuller, in a way. It’s focused, more meaty, and while we’re not in a minor key or anything, it sounds more serious. Pay attention to the three notes that open the work. The second theme of this first movement is a bit bouncier. Do listen for those trumpets, who make an exciting appearance, and then those three notes from the opening act as a bookmark to show us when the repeat of the exposition begins, because Mozart does that here, unlike in the nineteenth symphony. And boy, it’s kind of nice to hear some brassy timbres to add color to these symphonies. While “extravagant” might have sounded a bit overkill, they sure do add to the sound in a nice way.

Something you’ll notice, maybe, about this first movement that contradicts something I said yesterday is how Mozart treats the recapitulation. If you didn’t read it, what I said was that Mozart’s development and maturity is less stepwise than it is gradual with the large output of symphonies he wrote, so we don’t see the kind of sudden innovations like we do with each symphony of Beethoven. But maybe I’m wrong. Remember how the work began, with those three big D’s? Well…. we heard them mark the beginning of the exposition repeat, but then by extension, they should also mark the beginning of the recapitulation. Instead we hear the second theme reappear, only then followed by the first subject, with those trills from the beginning. This is a thing Bruckner liked to do, reverse the order of the recapitulation so it mirrored the order in which they were first presented: A-B//B-A. Sometimes that’s called ‘tragic sonata form’, but there’s nothing tragic about it here; it’s just an interesting little deviation from the norm, but one I’m not so sure Mozart would continue to use. We shall see. Great start.

The second movement is what we might expect to be the slow movement, but it’s more serenade-like, owing to a few things. First, there’s a solo flute part, and even though it’s often playing with violins, it stands out as the focus of the movement. Strings are muted throughout, giving a softer, quieter sound to their parts, and basses are (mostly) plucked rather than bowed, so the textures are thinner and more delicate, giving the movement a sweet pleasantness that stands out in this symphony, especially against the fuller, brassier first movement.

The minuet is the shortest of the movements of this symphony, and sounds more like the seriousness of tone from the first movement than a lighthearted carefree triple meter ditty, but the trio is pleasant. Interestingly, everything but the second movement of this symphony is in D major. The second movement is in A.

The finale, again also in D, is in 12/8 time. I think it’s interesting that lots of Mozart’s early scores, for either quartets or symphonies, seem to lack tempo indications in his hand, seeming mostly to have been written by Daddy Mozart. I’m not sure why that is, but the above-linked Wiki has [allegro] in brackets, because apparently not even Papa Leopold wrote one in here, but it certainly makes sense musically.

The 12/8 obviously lends itself to a bit of bounce, but the movement, at least as interpreted by the late Maestro Marriner, has more forward motion and drive than bounce, which I feel suits the finale. It’s contrapuntal, bold, richly scored. Wiki calls it “a long dance in 12/8 time cast in sonata-allegro form.” It’s certainly celebratory and spirited, but I’m not so sure that ‘dance’ is what would come first to my mind.

Regardless, we got some nice innovations from the sixteen year old Mozart, the addition of trumpets, a second movement with a bit of personality, and a nice finale. The most notable thing is that reverse-order recapitulation in the first movement, though, and I’m interested to see where that reappears in his future works, if anywhere. Perhaps it was just a teenage expression of rebellion.

Well, there’s only one more Mozart symphony coming up for this week, finishing up his symphonic output of 1772. Once we get around to his 22nd, we’ll be in 1773, but that’s for a later time. Stay tuned for one more Mozart symphony and something mountainously different on Friday. Thanks for reading.


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