Triad of late symphonies
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed his three final symphonies in the summer of 1788 for a series of subscription concerts. In all likelihood, these concerts never took place. There is no irrefutable evidence to suggest that these symphonies were, in fact, ever performed during the composer’s lifetime, though there is a good chance that at least the symphony in G minor was performed on at least one occasion. Following this, Mozart never again returned to the symphony genre as long as he lived. These three symphonies were written for similar orchestral ensembles with minor variations: in the thirty-ninth there are no oboes, while there are in the fortieth, albeit without clarinets, trumpets and kettledrums (Mozart would later add music for clarinets, so conductors are free to choose between either version), and all the instruments feature in the forty-first. With the exception of the minuets and the second movement of Symphony No 39, the other eleven movements of these three symphonies were composed in sonata form, interpreted with as great variety as possible.
Like an overture, Symphony No 39 which opens the triad begins with a triumphant and slow introduction. The main theme of the Allegro is written in the spirit of a minuet and its instrumentation is delicate and elegant. The second movements of classical symphonies are commonly and without hesitation considered to be lyrical, but the Andante con moto, at times severe and noble and at times dramatic, could hardly be called that. The minuet is, initially, somewhat brusque, but its character soon changes and in the trio Mozart lets the clarinets speak out: the first performs the solo and the second provides the accompaniment. The finale in the tempo of a rapid country dance is the most “Haydn-like” movement of the thirty-ninth symphony. Throughout the entire length of the finale, Mozart insistently develops one and the same theme, initially performed by the violins alone, and he does this with no mean sense of humour.
Melancholic Symphony No 40, which has been so adored by audience for over two centuries, is almost chamber-like in terms of the orchestra. In the dreamy second movement, the voices of the strings are woven closely together – as in the love duets of Italian operas of the time. The famous dramatic minuet cedes to a ceremonial trio. To a certain extent, the finale again reminds one of Haydn in the spirit of his passionate and impetuous Farewell symphony.
It was not the composer who gave Symphony No 41 the name Jupiter, which was probably accorded not for its power and majesty but rather for one minor detail – the first three chords of the full orchestra that conjure up associations with the Ancient Roman god of sky and thunder in the minds of the audience. On the whole, the music of the symphony is not at all connected with ancient mythology but rather with the practice of spiritual self-improvement. The constant and steady uplift and the gradual upsurge last throughout the entire first movement (with a diversion on the jocose final theme). The path continues in the brilliant second movement and clearly leads through some trials. Following the imperious “appeal” of the wind instruments, the refined minuet is suddenly reborn, and the music is instantly filled with inspiration. The main theme of the finale appears for the first time in the trio of the minuet. It is symbolic that this also featured in Mozart’s very first symphony, which he composed when still a child.
In Mozart’s forty-first, the finale was to be the most important movement for the first time in the history of symphony music. Here Mozart demonstrates his skill of polyphony, endlessly blending the finale’s various themes in newer and newer combinations until, in the coda, all the individual elements eventually come together. Most of all, this reminds one of a stonemason at work, building some grandiose edifice.