Mozart: Symphony No.25 in G minor, K.183
This is one of a series of symphonies (Nos.20-30) which Mozart completed in Salzburg in 1773-74. Salzburg was a city-state within the Habsburg Empire. It was ruled over by the Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo, a nobleman who took his princely privileges more seriously than his priestly duties. He maintained a court equal to his rank, including singers and an orchestra whose duties embraced both the prince-archbishop’s Salzburg palace and services in Salzburg cathedral. There was also, of course, a palace in Vienna to which the whole household would move when the prince-archbishop visited the Imperial Court. Mozart’s father Leopold, a fine violinist, held the position of Vize-Kapellmeister or deputy music director. He was in effect was a liveried servant, who, under Colloredo’s more kindly predecessor, had been allowed to take Wolfgang and his sister as child prodigies all over Europe.
Although Wolfgang was now twenty-four, his father was still as protective as ever. Anxious to secure a job for his son at the Imperial Court, they went to Vienna in the summer of 1772. In the event they were unsuccessful, but while they were there they visited an old Salzburg friend who had come to the capital for an operation. They were present at their friend’s death, and Mozart wrote home to his sister; “the death made us very sad indeed and we wept.” Now, it can be very misleading to read autobiographical details into Mozart’s music, but the sound of the horns and the stark unison strings which open the symphony are sombre, and elsewhere there are suggestions of agitation. More importantly, this symphony is evidence that Mozart was moving into his full maturity as a composer, growing away from the influence of Haydn. This symphony is widely regarded as the first of Mozart’s important symphonies.
Mozart: Symphony No.35 in D major, K. 385 ‘Haffner’
Visit Salzburg today and you will still find the Siegmund-Haffner-Gasse, just a short walk from the prince-archbishop’s palace and the cathedral. The Haffners were prominent Salzburg citizens, so much so that in July 1782 Siegmund, son of the Mayor of Salzburg, was to be ennobled. By this time, Mozart had escaped the servitude of Colloredo’s court (in fact, he had been kicked out for impertinence) and was making his own way in Vienna. Back in Salzburg, Father Leopold was still trying to hold on to his son. Worst of all, Mozart was planning to marry. He had been lodging with a family called Weber (a branch of composer Carl Maria von Weber’s family), where there were two daughters. He had been in love with Aloysia who turned him down, and it was her sister Constanze that he planned to wed.
Leopold thought the family was not good enough (as if anyone would be good enough for his son). He wrote to Wolfgang from Salzburg, asking him to write a symphony for the Haffner celebrations. Wolfgang wrote back: “I am up to my ears in work. By Sunday week I must arrange my opera for wind instruments, or someone else will do it and secure the profits instead of me. And now you ask for a new symphony, too! How on earth can I do that? …well, I will have to stay up all night, for that is the only way; for you, dearest father, I will make the sacrifice. You may rely on having something from me in each mail delivery.”
In a week he had written the first movement, the rest of the symphony took a few more weeks, and he turned back to his other tasks. Weeks later, when Leopold returned the score, Wolfgang had forgotten just how good it was.
Mozart: Symphony No.38 in D major, K.504 ‘Prague’
Mozart spent some of the happiest days of his life in Prague. In Vienna, bureaucracy and court officialdom presided over musical life, including the court opera. Mozart had gained only a poorly-paid, part-time court appointment and was living something of a hand-to-mouth existence. In Prague things were different. The Emperor may also have been King of Bohemia, but the opera was managed under licence by a syndicate of nobles and leading citizens who had ideas of their own. In the autumn of 1786, Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro was performed at Prague’s Italian Opera: the music, the quality of the singing and the stage production were a sensation. There were many repeat performances, and Prague went Figaro-mad. The syndicate invited Mozart to come to see the production.
So it was in January 1787 that Mozart travelled to Prague. He was overwhelmed by what he found: “I looked on with the greatest pleasure while all these people flew about in sheer delight to the music of my Figaro, arranged for contredanses and German Dances. Nothing is played, sung or whistled but Figaro. Certainly a great honour for me!” He was asked to conduct a performance of Figaro. There is a contemporary report of that performance: “The incomparable orchestra of the Prague Opera did its part nobly, realising with accuracy and zeal Mozart’s ideas. The director of the orchestra, Strobach, often maintained that he and his players were so fired by the music at each performance, that despite the exhausting labours, he would gladly have started playing it all over again.” Mozart richly rewarded the good people of Prague. Before Christmas he had written a new symphony which he had brought with him. Mozart presented them with ‘their’ Prague Symphony at a concert arranged for his benefit and the writing is evidence of his admiration of the Prague orchestral players. On his next visit, he would bring them an even greater gift: in response to a commission from the opera syndicate, he gave them Don Giovanni.
Prague remains a Mozart city, rejoicing in a recently-restored Estates Theatre where Don Giovanni was first performed.
Mozart: Symphony No.40 in G minor, K.550
In June 1788 Mozart started work on his ‘big’ G minor Symphony. It was a terrible time in his life. He was in financial difficulties and had been forced to move his family into cheaper lodgings away from the city centre. Much, much worse, he and Constanze had just suffered the death of their six-month-old daughter, Theresa. Again, it is unwise to seek autobiographical details in Mozart’s music. His creativity seemed immune from whatever blows life might rain down on him. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to see in the music the darkness that must have overwhelmed him. The first movement is permeated by a sense of restless anxiety. The second movement can be read as an elegy, the third has been described (by William Malloch) as “angelic-daemonic” and the finale is full of barely-controlled grief and anger. It remains one of the greatest symphonies in the entire repertoire.
Mozart: Symphony No.41 in C major, K.551 ‘Jupiter’
In his last symphony, Mozart has left us a sublime masterpiece, in its way as much as a breakthrough as his ‘little’ G minor symphony had been. It can be seen as a summation of his work to date. It is structurally inventive, and Mozart seems to be revelling in his absolute mastery of music. We know that he revered Handel (he had after all reorchestrated Messiah) and the finale has a Handelian muscularity. His greatest hero was J.S. Bach, and here, too, he demonstrates his mastery of fugue within a totally Mozartean idiom.
Perhaps the most wondrous thing about this symphony is the three-dimensional quality of his themes and their interaction. Often, particularly in his piano concertos, Mozart’s middle movements have an operatic quality, with aria-like themes reacting to each other like characters in an opera. In this symphony, we can follow the themes and their progress as they clash, merge and live their lives. Had Mozart survived, he would have found himself working in Vienna alongside the mature Beethoven. It would have been a very different society, and the course of Mozart’s creativity cannot be imagined. But we must not be greedy.
Mozart: Serenade No.13 for Strings in G major, K.525 ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’
Mozart’s iconic status sometimes overshadows his success as a composer of light music. If you look through his work list, you will find an enormous quantity of German Dances, Contredanses, Cassations, Serenades and Divertimenti, written for small and large instrumental forces, for indoor or outdoor performance. With Mozart, of course, ‘light’ does not mean ‘slight’, for he was incapable of diluting his inventiveness and craftsmanship even when writing party music that might never be used again.
Much of this music dates from his Salzburg years, and was written for friends such as the Haffners. Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music) was written in Vienna in 1791, possibly as music for one of his closest male friends, Gottfried von Jacquin, at whose house the Mozarts enjoyed regular parties. This is utterly unclouded music, full of grace, wit, elegance, mirth and affection. It is comforting to know that, for all his troubles, Mozart retained his capacity for happiness.
Sleeve notes by John Kehoe