1779: Mozart: Symphony No. 32 (Italian Overture) G major K. 318, age 23

age 23

This goes right back to the short symphonies he wrote when he was quite obviously not yet a fully mature composer. My immediate suspicion was that this is one he just tossed off, not a really serious symphony.

I’ve never been more wrong. I simply love this symphony. Perhaps I can explain why.

“Italian Overture” Symphony…

I like nicknames, and this one does not have one, so I’m giving it a nickname: “Italian Overture Symphony”, because many say it started out with this in mind and sort of grew into what he finished with.

  • I. Allegro spiritoso, G major: Nothing is typical. It opens with repeated strong chords for the full orchestra with a soft echo from the strings, just like nine years later in the “Jupiter” Symphony. He starts out sonata form, first theme in G major, second in D major. So now it’s time to repeat the expo. But no. The  development starts immediately, no surprise in his using a development, then it’s time for the recap. No recap! He sets it up, then does a switcheroo.
  • 3:05 – II. Andante, G major:  the music is suddenly slow. The slow movement is in rondo form (ABACAB), nothing unusual, but it’s short and there are some really nice harmonic moves.
  • I6: 30 – II. Tempo primo, G major: Another switcheroo. He ends the 2nd movement on a D chord, no ending. Then he continues the development from movement one. He then brings back the first movement’s themes, but in reverse order. The “playful” 2nd heme is stated first, then then the 1st theme. He ends with a flashy fanfare.


2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, and timpani, strings

Four horns, and why is this important?

Each pair of horns is crooked in a different key, and that means more possibilities. Valves were not added to horns for many years, so most horn players were limited to what notes they could play. In fact, in Beethoven’s 5th symphony he could not bring back the big horn theme in the recap because he changed keys from Eb major to C major, so he had to use bassoon. With the invention of valves that problem disappeared.

“Degrading service”….

That’s what Mozart called his service at the court of Hieronymus Colloredo, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, who supposedly became exceptionally annoyed with Mozart’s frequent absences. After a number of arguments, he ultimately dismissed him:

“Soll er doch gehen, ich brauche ihn nicht!” (“He should just go then; I don’t need him!”)

Mozart essentially hate the Archbishop. Mozart talked about getting fired by Archbishop’s steward, Count Arco:

…if they don’t want me – that’s fine by me; –instead of Count Arco accepting my petition or obtaining an audience for me to send it in later or persuading me to let the matter rest and think it over, enfin, whatever he wanted –no, he throws me out of the room and gives me a kick up the backside. – Well, in plain language this means that as far as I’m concerned, Salzburg no longer exists….

In other words, it was just a horrible period for Mozart, and after his awful experiences in Paris, it’s stunning that we get such great music from such awful circumstances.

2 thoughts on “1779: Mozart: Symphony No. 32 (Italian Overture) G major K. 318, age 23

  1. Mozart hated the Aristocracy but still depended on them. He more than once told Colloredo to outright fire him,.

    And I like to think that sour grapes make the best wine. The best art comes from hard times. The best film, the best music, the best books.

    I quite like this little symphony / serenade / whatever it is. Spicy, firey, with lots of string action. Good performance too. Horns heard clearly.

  2. I have to agree with you when you say “…it’s stunning that we get such great music from such awful circumstances.” This is joyful music . Others have said that music is medicine for the soul. Perhaps it helped Mozart in that way.

Leave a Reply