performed by Josef Krips and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, or below by The Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood
(cover image by Aneta Pawlik)
For today’s symphony, we jump back to 1773, a few years before some of the pieces we’ve discussed recently. Mozart composed four symphonies around this time, when he was back in Salzburg after the most recent (and what I believe was his final) trip to Milan, and a short time before departing for Vienna. In this period, he composed four symphonies, and today is Tuesday, so guess what you’ll be seeing for the rest of the week.
All of these works are in three movements, which John Palmer says goes back to the more “pre-Haydn, Italian overture format of the symphony.” This is one of Mozart’s works for which the Wikipedia article is surprisingly sparse. The three movements are as follows, all three of which are of almost equal length, for a symphony just under 15 minutes:
- Andante grazioso
The allegro opens with a hearty D major forte, launching this light, buoyant work to life. What is it about music, especially a lot of what we’ve been discussing of Mozart, that has the feeling of being refreshing, light, crisp, exciting? For one, clean, delicate string work gives a sense of forward motion, not only in the notes, but in the texture. Flutes replace oboes in this symphony, and while the oboe isn’t a heavy instrument, the addition of the crystalline, birdlike sound of the flute accentuates the lightness here. The second subject is cooler, but is a perfect centerpiece to the first theme, which bookends it because of the exposition repeat, and then leads nicely into a brief development section that gives a little more drama like what we might hear from the recent G minor symphony.
Flutes are given more of the spotlight in the graceful second movement. The elegance in this central movement stems not just from simplicity, which is easy enough to achieve, but subtlety. John Palmer talked about the Italianate style of this music, but I’d go so far as to say that this movement is nearly operatic, not in its grandness, but in its lyricism and expressiveness. There are moments of increased drama, and it seems so suggestive of an actual scene, maybe between characters meeting each other, or the next memorable aria. Something as simple as the whispered octaves at the end of the exposition, and again from basses after the development, show a deft hand at orchestration.
This is the kind of finale I’ve been wanting from Mozart for sometime. He cuts to the chase, opening with presto, but it’s not just quick and exciting, it’s pristinely clear in its contrapuntal layers. Listen to those four notes that first violins introduce, and how they are successively repeated, like a greeting, as each section joins the party. There’s some sense of growth at the increased complexity and climaxing, but for all the potential excitement, the piece doesn’t really finish in any kind of grand manner. Despite that, we aren’t left (or at least I’m not) disappointed by its understated, and almost incomplete-sounding finish.
It’s good to be back to some symphonies. It’s a form we’re familiar with, and one in which Mozart was most prolific. We are on the very cusp of beginning to hear the great, mature symphonies of Mozart, but we’ll return eventually to his piano concertos before getting too far ahead.
Takeaways? Italian style, Haydnesque influence, greater maturity as a young composer. Good music. Stay tuned for the other three symphonies from this period, and thanks so much for reading.