Mozart: Adult Symphonies

FRIDAY, September 11, 2020 – 3:57 AM

Starting at age 22…

For all these symphonies I’m linking to in this post,  Mozart was over the age of 21. He was fully adult by today’s standards, and he was only 18 when he wrote Symphony No. 30. So the first symphony here is No. 31.

41 is bogus…

There are officially 41 symphonies. But some do not exist, so that number is wrong.

Only one nickname before age 22…

Most of the ones that exist were written before the age of 19, and of those earlier symphonies only one is famous and has a nickname – No. 25 in G minor, which is named “Little G Minor” to differentiate it from No. 40, “Great G Minor”.

Before No. 31…

Of all his symphonies written before the age of 19, only No. 25 is famous today. And a lot of them were written before age 17. None of those are the least bit famous. The symphony number “41” is totally misleading. If we only numbered the symphonies he wrote as an adult – 10 –  and only one famous symphony would be omitted from that list.

So, there are only 10 adult symphonies…

No. 31 through No. 41 would be 11 symphonies, but No. 37 was really by Michael Haydn. There is really quite a story about that, but for later. The important thing is that No. 37 is not a Mozart symphony, and it’s frankly astounding that so-called “experts” were not able to figure that out a long time ago.

Now, this is where the 10 adult symphonies start…

1778: The Symphony No. 31 (PARIS) in D major, age 22

The work was composed in 1778 during Mozart’s unsuccessful job-hunting sojourn in Paris. The composer was then 22 years old. The premiere took place on 12 June 1778 in a private performance in the home of Count Karl Heinrich Joseph von Sickingen, the ambassador of the Electorate of the Palatinate. The public premiere took place six days later in a performance at the Concert Spirituel.

1779: The Symphony No. 32 in (ITALIAN OVERTURE) G major, age 23

This is by far the shortest symphony he wrote as an adult. It has no nickname, so I’m giving it one because it is like an Italian Overture.

1779: Symphony No. 33 (CHAMBER) in Bb major, age 23

The symphony has 4 movements, and is scored for strings, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, and 2 horns, the smallest orchestral force employed in his last ten symphonies. It has no nickname. It has the orchestration of a chamber orchestra, so I’m giving it that nickname.

1780: Symphony No. 34 (SALTERELLO) in C major, age 24

The last movement is a tarantella or a “Salterello”, so I’m giving it that name. It has no nickname.

1782, Symphony No. 35 (HAFFNER) in D major, age 26

The Haffner Symphony did not start its life as a symphony, but rather as a serenade to be used as background music for the ennoblement of Sigmund Haffner. There is a long, interesting story behind this.

1783: The Symphony No. 36 (LINZ) in C major, age 27

Supposedly the entire symphony was written in four days to accommodate the local count’s announcement, upon hearing of the Mozarts’ arrival in Linz, of a concert. Four days? Really? Come on, Mozart, why do you always have to make the rest of us feel so stupid!

(1783: The Symphony No. 37 (BOGUS) in G major, age 27)

(The complete symphony was for a long time believed to be a work by Mozart, but is now known to have actually been mostly written by Michael Haydn, being his Symphony No. 25 in G major.

The introduction was probably composed in late 1783 to be performed in the same concert in Linz in which Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 received its premiere. The Adagio maestoso was composed and added by Mozart as an introduction. Mozart’s added introduction led to the assumption that the entire symphony was his original work).

1786: Symphony No. 38 (PRAGUE) in D major, age 30…

Although Mozart’s popularity among the Viennese waxed and waned, he was consistently popular among the Bohemians and had a devoted following in Prague. In spite of the fact that the Symphony No. 38 was first performed in Prague, but it is not certain that it was actually written for Prague. What is clear that Mozart was invited to Prague on the strength of the reception of The Marriage of Figaro, What is incredibly fascinating to me is that I associate Bohemia with Dvorak, and Dvorak highly admired Mozart even though he was born about 85 years later.

The last three are all masterpieces…

This trio of symphonies was written very quickly, and many people think they belong together. In fact, listening to them in order is an amazing experience.

It is my belief that much of what we think of early Beethoven can mostly be traced back to Mozart. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 was published in 1801, but but sketches of the finale were found to be from 1795. This means that his first symphony appeared 13 years after Mozart’s last, and even if his first ideas were from as far back as 1895, that’s still seven years later than Mozart’s Symphony No. 41.

1788: Symphony No. 39 (NO NAME) in Eb major, age 32

This has no nickname, and I have no idea why. You know that it is serious because of the heavy, slow intro, and this is the point that Mozart started sounding more like Beethoven. And that really means that most likely Beethoven heard these late symphonies and channeled them. This is the first of a magnificent trio of late symphonies.

1788: Symphony No. 40 (GREAT G MINOR) in G minor, age 32

There is nothing to say about this. It’s hugely famous, and I don’t think anyone has every written anything better than this 1st movement. It is one of my favorite symphonies, of all composers, and the first movement is my favorite movement of all the Mozart symphonies.

1788: Symphony No. 41 (JUPITER) in C major, age 32

This a magnificent Mozart symphony. He was at this point changing everything, and what was about to come next was going to be amazing. He and Beethoven were heading towards similar places. Once again, you have to remember that this, his last symphony, was composed long before Beethoven’s 1st symphony.

It is the longest and last symphony that he composes and is regarded by many scholars as among the greatest symphonies in all of music. I totally agree.

The work is nicknamed the “Jupiter Symphony”, the name showing that for people of the time this was a really big work in all ways. This name stems not from Mozart but rather was likely coined by an impresario.





2 thoughts on “Mozart: Adult Symphonies

  1. 1788: Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551, age 32

    Bravo, Mozart!!! Here we have wonderful uplifting music. Just what we need, especially in times such as we are experiencing now.

  2. One can only wonder where this music was going. These later symphonies show a freshness, a joy, which I find hard to describe.

    His earlier symphonies were joyful too, but in a less polished way. These later ones… been listening to them most of my life, and I still find new things in them. The complexity is mind-boggling, but yet they sound simple because everything meshes so well.

    Paris is almost like Beethoven at times. It soars, like a bird, high above our mortal concerns. Truly music for the ages.

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