Mozart Symphonies, age 17 and 18

THURSDAY, September 3, 2020 – 1:21 AM

Mozart Symphonies, age 17 and 18…

Just when did Mozart develop into the composer who is so revered today? I would argue that children do not compose great music, ever. When I hear great music from teenagers, it is generally from around age 18 or above, when they are starting to think and act on an adult level. I’ve listened carefully to the music Mozart wrote before age 17, and it leaves me totally cold. Did he show talent? Of course? But what his writing especially novel? Was it better than music composed by fine adult composers? In my mind the answer is very obvious: no! You are better of listening to mature works by Joseph Haydn, or even by his brother, Michael. Or explore the music of other composers who were established at this time. Unless you are an absolute fan of everything Mozart wrote, don’t start with the things he wrote earlier than age 17. Later, explore them for curiosity’s sake, but please hear the later works first, which I am presenting here.

Five symphonies that are not well known, and all are short…

March 1773: Symphony No. 26 in Eb major, age 17

First of all, note that the number is very wrong. Mozart was barely 17 when he wrote this symphony, which was completed March 30, 1773. You want to know that when you hear this. Often the numbering of Mozart’s works were horribly wrong, and that is before we get into the problem of music attributed to him that he did not write. It appears to be too late to fix the inaccurate numbering.

This symphony is written for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2  horns, 2 trumpets and strings. Note how short this symphony is. Note also that the symphonies he wrote from this period were all short, usually under 10 minutes long.

I don’t know why he used more instruments here, but my guess it had to do with how many players were available. None of his other symphonies written early in this year had such a rich orchestration.

I think age 17 was a turning point for Mozart. This is when he really started to grow up. Later composers wrote single movements that were longer than this whole symphony. But it’s a good place to start to get to know young Mozart as he found his own voice.

April, 1773: Symphony No. 27 in G major, age 17

This was also composed in April, 1773. It was written for 2 flutes, 2 horns, and strings, so there are only four players other than strings. It may have been written before No. 22. Regardless, the number is both misleading and flat out wrong.

April 1773; Symphony No. 22 in C major, age 17

It was composed in April 1773. It was written for 2 oboes, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, and strings. There are only six players other than strings, and no percussion. It’s another very short symphony.


May 19, 1773: Symphony No. 23, in D major, age 17

This is from May 19, 1773. It is written for 2 oboes, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, and strings. It is sometimes called “Overture”, even though the autograph bears the title “Sinfonia”.  Note that once again this symphony  is quite short, about nine minutes long.

October 3, 1773: Symphony No. 24, in Bb major, age 17

This is from October 3, 1773. It is written  for 2 oboes, 2 flutes, 2 horns, and strings. The flutes are only in the 2nd movement, but it still means that two players have been added. Once again this is only about 10 minutes long, a bit longer than the last couple, but not much.

These next four symphonies are better known and much longer…

1773: Symphony No. 25 in G minor  (Little “G Minor”), age 17

This was written in October 1773. It is written for 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 4 horns and strings.

Mozart supposedly completed in Salzburg on October 5,  a mere two days after the completion of his Symphony No. 24, although this remains unsubstantiated.  Its first movement is widely known as the opening music in Miloš Forman’s film Amadeus.

I would say that this is when Mozart became the Mozart we know today. Suddenly Mozart wrote in in G minor, which was of special importance to him, and he would not write another symphony in G minor until his 40th, his second to last symphony. There are no trumpets, but with four horns something new is added, and there is a gigantic leap forward musically. Note that this is at least 27 minutes long, so this symphony was without doubt his most important symphony up till this point, and in fact one of the most important of his whole life.

????1773: The Symphony No. 28 in C major, K. 200/189k, age 17

There is confusion about when this is written. One source says November 1774, another 1773. It was written for 2 oboes, 2 horns, 2 trumpets and strings.

My guess is that this is from late in 1773 because the next two symphonies seem to have evolved more.  The small number of instruments was common for this period, but once again he was writing something much longer, at least 25 minutes longer.

April 6, 1774: Symphony No. 29 in A major, K. 201/186a, age 18

This was completed on 6 April 1774. It was written for 2 oboes, 2 horns and strings, as was typical of early-period Mozart symphonies.

It is, along with Symphony No. 25, one of his better known early symphonies.

May 5, 1774: Symphony No. 30 in D major, age 18

This was completed it on May 5, 1774. It was written for 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns, 2  trumpets, timpani and strings.

The timpani part was been lost. There has been at least one attempt to reconstruct the timpani part.

This symphony is justifiably famous and along with Symphony No. 25 makes a great pairing. Note the length, for the first time over 30 minutes long. At this point Mozart is evolving towards what would later be the standard for important symphonies, where the length would be more than a half hour.

The world did not hear another symphony by Mozart until June of 1788, so there was a gap of several years between the last symphony he wrote at age 18 and the next at age 22.

3 thoughts on “Mozart Symphonies, age 17 and 18

  1. March 1773: Symphony No. 26 in Eb major, age 17

    The music is mostly slow and soft. Not much happens until the last movement where some excitement has been added. Overall, it’s missing the WOW factor.

  2. I listened to the first, the Eb, because it appeared first, and part of the 2nd for the same reason. Then I saw about the important ones. I liked the D major (last) – could not warm up to the 1st movement of the Gm the same way.

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