1788: Mozart: Symphony No. 41 (JUPITER) in C major

TUESDAY, October 27, 2020 – 2:07 PM

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

Perhaps the most famous movement is the last, but it’s hard to say. Although I’d say the slow movement might be the least well know, it is also the very best slow writing of Mozart’s career. Every movement in this masterpiece is at the same high level. The whole symphony is a miracle.

Instrumentation:

  • flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns in C, 2 trumpets in C
  • timpani in C and G, strings.

Manfred Honeck

I fell in love with this performance some time ago.  There are not many views, and only 12 likes including mine. I can’t figure out why, since Honeck is a wonderful conductor and performance together with the sound and the camera work is a triple home run.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada

I’m starting to wonder if this guy, “the Vienna miracle”,  is capable of a bad performance. I honestly don’t know if this performance is better than Honeck’s, but it’s just as good, so another miracle. He jumps up on stage and just starts. The audience loves him. I’ve heard his English. It’s fine. His Spanish is probably superb. Then after the 1st movement he says HERE: “If this were Mozart’s time we’d have to repeat it again [the first movement.” So he speaks fine German too. He communicates with the audience. And encourages applause after movements. And he uses natural horns and natural trumpets. This guy is a rock star. Watch him over the coming years. Watch the strings. It’s almost a period sound, no vibrato, but not quite because they use some here and there to feather those notes. This is an absolute feast for the ears.

A bit about the music:

The first movement just packs a huge punch

Each time I hear this I think of the 1st symphony of Beethoven, which was written much later. The first movement just packs a huge punch, and I can’t listen to this symphony without dreaming of where Mozart was about to go, had his life not been cut tragically short. By the way, this recording is very fast for this movement, and it totally works for me.

The 2nd movement is just perfect:

This is almost 12 minutes of sublime peace and tranquility. The strings almost whisper in many places, and the writing is just perfect. And just listen to how the woodwinds shape their phrases.

The 3rd movement is similar to a Ländler, a popular Austrian folk dance form.

It’s one of those movements that would have been a great composition all on its own. There is also some wickedly clever chromatic writing.

The last movement has everything:

It has sharp accents, so much like Beethoven, huge contrasts, but it also has superb contrapuntal writing, right back to Bach. Together with all the rest it’s the very best of Mozart. The whole symphony is  miracle.

Nickname…

The word “Jupiter’”was not from Mozart. It may have partially caught on because of marketing hype by the same man who promoted Haydn concerts in England, Johann Peter Salomon. But that’s not the end of the story because the name was used earlier. All we know is that the name fits today because it is the greatest of his symphonies, as well as the last.

Perhaps not performed before Mozart’s death…

Or at least that’s what most experts believe. According to Otto Erich Deutsch:

Mozart was preparing to hold a series of “Concerts in the Casino” in a new casino in the Spiegelgasse owned by Philipp Otto. Mozart even sent a pair of tickets for this series to his friend Michael Puchberg. But it seems impossible to determine whether the concert series was held, or was cancelled.

This is astounding, because today it is universally acknowledged as one of the finest symphonies every written. However, if we accept that it eventually became very popular within the time that Mozart’s life should have extended to, then it is likely Mozart would have seen ever growing success had he lived into his 60s. Who knows how his style would have evolved? But even if had written many more symphonies, this would have been a high water mark in his career, much like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Part of a magnificent trio of symphonies…

This incredible symphony was composed only days after his 39th and 40th symphonies. They were all composed during the summer of 1788. It would be one thing if these three symphonies were just average, or even good, but all three are spectacular. Mozart’s level of genius when he was serious is just impossible to comprehend.

The last three symphonies could form a unit…

Nikolaus Harnoncourt thought that Mozart composed the three symphonies as a unified work. He said, among other things, that this is the reason why Symphony No. 41, as the final work, has no introduction, unlike No. 39, but it ends with a huge climax, and in fact this makes a lot of sense to me. No. 40 has a surprisingly relaxed ending, and that has never made sense to me. But if you treat the last three symphonies as a unit, something amazing happens. The G minor symphony flows into the the last one, in C, and No. 39 is in Eb. Eb major morphs to Gm with one morph, D to Eb. G minor leads nicely to C major. So if you play these three symphonies one after the other, they connect brilliantly.

Historical perspective…

Around the same time as he composed the three symphonies, Mozart was writing his piano trios in E major (K. 542), and C major (K. 548), his piano sonata No. 16 in C (K. 545) – the so-called Sonata facile – and a violin sonatina K. 547.

Josquin des Prez

The four-note theme is a common plainchant motif which can be traced back at least as far as Josquin des Prez’s Missa Pange lingua from the 16th century. It was very popular with Mozart. It makes a brief appearance as early as his Symphony No. 1 in 1764. Later, he used it in the Credo of an early Missa Brevis in F major, the first movement of his Symphony No. 33 and trio of the minuet of this symphony.[8]

From Michael Haydn…

Scholars are certain Mozart studied Michael Haydn’s Symphony No. 28 in C major, which also has a fugato in its finale and whose coda he very closely paraphrases for his own coda. Charles Sherman speculates that Mozart also studied Michael Haydn’s Symphony No. 23 in D major because he “often requested his father Leopold to send him the latest fugue that Haydn had written.”[9] The Michael Haydn No. 39, written only a few weeks before Mozart’s, also has a fugato in the finale, the theme of which begins with two whole notes. Sherman has pointed out other similarities between the two almost perfectly contemporaneous works. The four-note motif is also the main theme of the contrapuntal finale of Michael’s elder brother Joseph’s Symphony No. 13 in D major (1764).

What Brahms thought…

Brahms remarked in 1896:

“I am able to understand too that Beethoven’s first symphony did impress people colossally. But the last three symphonies by Mozart are much more important. Some people are beginning to feel that now.”

I agree with Brahms. As good as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 is, it’s unfair to compare it to these last three symphonies, which are simply astounding.

 

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