performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under Josef Krips, or below by The Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood
(cover image by Dawid Zawila)
Here we are with the next in that little set of four symphonies we started yesterday. Mozart’s 28th symphony bears less certain chronology, though. Wikipedia tells us that it probably dates from November 12 or 17 of 1773 or 1774. In the timeline of a lot of other composers, that may not be so significant, but with Mozart, a year makes a lot of difference. I guess that could be said of a lot of people in the Classical era who were as prolific as he was.
In any case, Roger Dettmer says:
If 1774 is correct, then No. 28 followed rather than preceded Nos. 29 and 30. Like all but four symphonies (Nos. 25, 29, 31, 34) written before his escape in 1781 from the employ of Salzburg’s autocratic Archbishop, No. 28 has been overshadowed by his last six symphonies…
And we’re actually getting quite close to those symphonies. The last six that Dettmer mentions begin with no. 36, all the way up to no. 41. (It may be worth mentioning here that the symphonies of Mozart’s listed as having numbers greater than 41, in some lists reaching I guess into the 50s, are actually earlier works only recognized after the current numbering had been decided upon, and most of them are of apparently questionable authenticity. That is to say that while you might see higher numbers, Mozart’s 41st is his latest symphony.)
This C major symphony is in four movements, as follows, with a duration of slightly under 20 minutes:
- Allegro spiritoso
- Menuetto & Trio. Allegretto
There’s an interesting thing in the first bars of the first movement.
We’re in C major, and 3/4 time, but it ends up feeling like 4/4. Why? Because the second beat of bar 2, usually a weak beat, in this 3/4 meter lands us on C, where we began, so it feels like an arrival, a downbeat, and is the fifth beat of the two bars, what would be the first beat of the second bar of 4/4 time. It’s an interesting little thing.
Violins softly answer the forte exclamation that begins the work, and with that, we’re off. The first theme is ebullient and colorful, and the second, cooler and calmer, sets violins and woodwinds in a little conversation. It’s always easier in a movement like this, when we have a big, obvious opening to the work, when the exposition repeat starts. In this case, the closing to the exposition is made of upward steps to reach the downward motion of those first two bars, and we’re off again. The second time, though, that upward figure leads us obviously to the development, which is made up mostly of those punctuated forte notes and the soft violin replies before reprising the opening material, with a coda.
Apparently this movement, too, is in sonata form, for Dettmer mentions “the third, closing subject (in sixteenth notes) that occupies a brief development section.” This movement is indeed almost as long as the first, but all four chapters of this work are around four or five minutes anyway. Wait for the sixteenth notes to feature, in a cooler, almost contrapuntal passage that noticeably moves away from the key area. It’s tasteful and reserved, very effective. Are there any winds here at all? Oh, yes, in a few of the climactic moments.
The minuet is delightful. It’s full-bodied and elegant, featuring horns in a little call they’re given, which adds a little more color and space to the movement. Both (all?) sections of the minuet are repeated, and then we get to the trio, marked allegretto, which has some surprising outbursts that make for a slightly weightier section, more serious than perhaps expected. The minuet returns.
Dettmer says of the finale:
Nobody but Mozart, even at 17 (or 18), could write Presto finales as insouciant as this one. Craftsmanship is masterly, the more astonishing when it’s remembered that this isn’t the usual rondo-finale, but sonata form.
The first theme bursts with excitement, a kind of can’t-quite-keep-up energy, and the second is melodious and refreshing. It reminds me of something as sunny and carefree as Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ symphony. Again, these may not be in the inner circle of Mozart’s last half dozen symphonies, or his greatest, most recognized works, but amid all the dozens of symphonies the young man wrote, this one is indeed very fine.
We said a few weeks ago that the famous Gm symphony featured in Amadeus is one of his first truly great masterpiece symphonies, but it wasn’t an anomaly. We see here that it’s just part of the composer’s maturity. Dettmer says:
In Salzburg, Wolfgang came under the tutelary wing of Michael Haydn, who coaxed him to invest his music with deeper feelings than previously risked. Beginning with Symphony No. 25, Mozart responded remarkably.
With that said, we can be sure to have more to look forward to, not only this week, but later (likely sometime next year, if I remember correctly… a few months into next year) when we begin to reach the final symphonies the composer wrote. How exciting.
In the meantime, stay tuned for some more exciting other stuff, two more symphonies and then something else, from the composer, and thanks so much for reading.