performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under Josef Krips, or below by The Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood
(cover image by Federico Respini)
Well here we are with a Mozart symphony, for the first time in a while, more than a year and a half, in fact. We did his 21st back in March of 2017, but his symphonies, despite his prolific output in the form from a young age, were not really the most significant thing he wrote. We have yet to reach what are generally considered to be his earliest great, or memorable, works in the form, but we will be remedying that this week.
The 22nd symphony was composed in April of 1773, and is in three movements:
- Allegro assai
- Andantino grazioso
- Presto assai
Unsurprisingly, the work is very brief, lasting in the Concertgebouw recording a mere 8-ish minutes. Robert Cummings reminds us, though, that “its Liliputian [sic] size is no measure of its considerable artistic worth.”
With a symphony of such small stature, we can’t expect the individual movements to be anything terribly grand, and then for those movements themselves, the forms will be proportionally small. The first and longest movement, lasting a mere three and a half minutes, presents two themes, and a necessarily brief development. The first theme stately, a little square, with a very plain backbone made up of arpeggiated figures, but gets livelier, and the second subject is more colorful and playful. Despite the diminutive nature of the movement, the development, more based on the second theme, has what could for the era be called outbursts. It packs a nice little bit of drama in its very brief duration, before returning to the opening material.
The second movement calls Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony to mind (I know, I know, Mozart came first). Mozart would use the ‘grazioso’ marking in this work and the next two symphonies, also from 1773. Unlike Beethoven, though, this liveliness and vibrance doesn’t erupt into any exuberance, but is elegant, delicate and very charming, possessive of a fine touch. It doesn’t go much of anywhere, at only two and a half minutes, but the scenery it gives us is indeed beautiful.
The finale is instantly ebullient, and at just over two minutes, the shortest of the work. It’s sunny and contagiously cheerful. It possesses the same sense of excitement and joy that we might get from a later, larger work of Mozart, like a piano concerto or similar. It feels here like we’re approaching what will very soon become real greatness in the symphonic form.
It’s a bite-sized symphony, as are the next few we’ll be discussing, but trust me: there’s great stuff on the way this week, so please stay tuned, and thanks so much for reading.