On the way to Vienna from Salzburg in October 1783, Mozart rested for a few days in Linz. The composer was entreated to perform an “academy” (as composers’ concerts were referred to in those days). At that time, it was common practice to introduce the audience to each new work being performed at every concert. In a letter to his father dated 31 October, Mozart wrote that “On Tuesday 4 November I will be performing an academy at the theatre here. And as I have brought not a single symphony with me I am sketching out a new one that must be ready for the day in question.”
The immense – simply grandiose in terms of the age! – symphony (it lasts some forty minutes) was composed by Mozart in three (!) days. It is not so much the composer’s undoubted gift or the divine source of his melodic charm that captivates so much as the power and dramatic integrity of the symphony’s concept.
Three years after the Linz Symphony in C Major (No 36, K. 425), Mozart wrote his Prague symphony, first performed in January 1787 in the city that bears its name. In the summer of 1788, again in an amazingly brief period, he composed his immortal final three symphonies (all three in two months!) – in E Flat Major, G Minor and C Major (Jupiter).
To a great extent following in the footsteps of Haydn and inspired by the polyphony of the great Bach, Mozart looked “across the horizon” of the gallant era, foretelling Beethoven’s heroic music and Schubert’s romantic symphonism... In this sense, the Linz symphony may be compared with Mozart’s final masterpieces. As Alfred Einstein once delicately noted, “here the gallant and academic style is blended into one – a timeless instant in the history of music. The symphony, once an ‘official’ genre the purpose of which was to make opera audiences fall silent before an act began or to open or close a concert, will now be performed as the focal point of an evening of concert music.”
Mozart composed almost two thirds of his piano concerti – fifteen in all – between 1782 and 1786. At that time Mozart’s music was tremendously popular in Vienna. The Concerto in C Minor, like other concerti by Mozart, was composed with the idea of himself performing it. The composer gave the first performance of his work on 7 April 1786 at Vienna’s Burgtheater at an “academy” concert, meaning a concert comprising only works performed by the composer.
The minor key of the concerto in itself draws our attention; Mozart only uses a minor key as the basis for two of his piano concerti. The tradition of interpreting C Minor as a tragic and dramatic key would later be taken up by Beethoven, whose artistic legacy also includes a piano concerto in this key. The witty drama of Mozart’s concerto depicts a sharp contrast with his thoroughly major-key opera Le nozze di Figaro, which Mozart composed at the same time as the concerto.
The concerto makes use of a full orchestra. There is a large woodwind section including two clarinets (a relative innovation at that time). There are trumpets, French horns and timpani. There was much that was unusual for the audience: the three-beat tempo in the initial allegro, the quiet ending of the first movement and the form of the variations in the finale. The sheer abundance of themes if pure Mozart. Mozart’s contemporary, the Austrian composer and violinist Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf complained about the musical language of Mozart’s concerti: “He doesn’t let the listener breathe; you only just want to sense the beautiful musical idea when there is already a new one that puts the first in shadow...” But major 20th century music historian Mikhail Druskin wrote about the virtuoso cantilena quality of the concerti, linked to the influence of the French violin school.
The first movement, Allegro, opens with the strings in unison; the hidden drama of the theme suddenly bursts out in the orchestral tutti supported by the timpani. The soloist appears with his own theme. Throughout the movement, the musical material develops and changes in form with such intensity that researchers speak of the concerto’s “symphonism”. The second movement, Larghetto, is reminiscent of a lyrical operatic scene. The pianist presents the songful principal theme and the orchestra takes it up. There are two episodes in the Larghetto in a similar vein. The first episode in particular contrasts with the serene character of the refrain: a shading of C Minor creeps in. In the orchestration of the second movement Mozart contrasts, on the one hand, the solo piano and the strings and, on the other, the woodwind section. Among the variations in the finale the third stands out, march-like, with powerful piano chords. Associations with opera appear in the two major-key variations in the style of pastorale intermezzos. In the conclusion of the concerto Mozart changes the measure to 6/8 time, which leads to a gradual growth of tension and flows forth in full voice in the final passage.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s three last symphonies were composed in the summer of 1788 for a series of subscription concerts. These concerts, in all probability, never took place. There are no reliable sources as to any definite performance of these symphonies during the composer’s lifetime, yet the likelihood that they were performed is great. Mozart never returned to the symphony genre. The three symphonies are for a reasonably-sized orchestra with minor variations – there are no oboes in the 39th, there are oboes in the 40th but there are no clarinets, trumpets or kettledrums (Mozart later added clarinet music, so conductors are free to choose between the two versions) and in the 41st all instruments are present. With the exception of the minuets and the second movement of the 39th Symphony, the remaining eleven movements of all three symphonies are composed in sonata form and interpreted with the greatest diversity. Symphony No 39 which opens the triad, almost like an overture, begins with its triumphant slow introduction. The principal theme of the Allegro is in the style of a minuet and is lightly instrumented in a refined manner. Generally, the second movements of the classical symphonies are undisputedly referred to as lyrical, though the Andante con moto, at times stern and noble and at others dramatic, could hardly be called so. The minuet (the third movement) initially sounds harsh, but soon its character changes and in the trio Mozart adds the voices of the clarinets: the first performs a solo, the second accompanies and the Finale in the manner of a fast contredanse – the most “Haydn-like” movement of the symphony. Throughout the entire finale Mozart insistently develops one and the same theme, initially laid out by the violins alone, and he does this not without a sense of humour.