1832: Wagner Symphony in C major

I: Sostenuto e maestoso – Allegro con brio

II: Andante ma non troppo, un poco maestoso

III: Allegro assai – Un poco meno allegro – Tempo I – Meno allegro – Presto

IV: Allegro molto e vivace – Più allegro


  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in C, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon
  • 4 horns in C, 2 trumpets in C, 3 trombones
  • timpani
  • strings

Background: Symphony in C

Most people don’t know that he wrote a symphony at such a young age. He was only 19 when he composed this, and I would guess that people who hear this will never in a million years associate the sound with his mature works, most of all with the overtures from his really famous operas.

19 years old…

I find it best to approach early music of geniuses with an open mind. Try to imagine what it sounded like to hear this in 1832, only a few years after the death of Beethoven. What would you think if you had a friend or a son only 19 years old who wrote this music. Would you be impressed? I would be. I’d at least assume that a young man still in his teens writing such music would very likely be headed for great fame.

A bit of a mish-mash…

To my ears it sounds a bit like a half dozen other composers, but it also does not quite sound like a copy of anyone else.

It is likely that all composers will be compared to young Mozart, who was already setting the world afire in his late teens, but perhaps as we get farther along in history we find that music becomes more complicated and less easy to master at a young age from a technical, formal standpoint. Why? I would say that there were more an more choices creatively with each passing decade.

As time passed, composing became more difficult…

In Mozart’s time there were very strong patterns and forms, and a young composer could stick to those norms and compose something rather convincing. By the time of Debussy that was no longer so. Composers were going in so many new directions, and they had so many choices. So I do think as time went by the development of young composers became more complicated, less a craft, less an inherited way of life.

Music as an inherited craft…

Along with Joseph Haydn there is also Michael Haydn, his brother, and although he is not nearly so well known and quite obviously not quite in the same league as his brother, we still hear his music today. JS Bach had at least three sons who were very successful composers, and in fact at the time many thought one of them would eclipse the father. (That turned out to be horribly wrong, of course.)

Music became more personal…

Later this just did not happen. When a composer became world renowned, there was no brother or son carrying on the legacy. So I think that as music became more complicated and less predictable, the part of it that was a craft and something that could be mastered as such became smaller, as inspiration and pure creativity became ever more important. I would also say that the biggest change came through Beethoven, who broke down so many walls and put a personal stamp on everything he wrote.

Keep an open mind…

In the end I find this symphony interesting. I enjoy listening to it as a curiosity and a testament to what a monumentally talented 19 year-old was already able to accomplish, but I think it’s very important to remind yourself that this is just a taste of what was to follow.

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