Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Symphonies Nos. 32, 35, 39
Each of the three symphonies recorded here reflects
different circumstances of Mozart’s life and the manner in which he composed. He was
obviously less affected than some artists by the conditions of daily living, or he could
not have achieved so serene and lyrical a work as the E flat Symphony (No. 39) at a time
when, his finances having taken a turn for the worse, he was forced to write begging
letters to his friends. One, asking to borrow "a little money on these two
pawnbroker’s tickets", was dated at the time he would have been engaged on the
It was one of the last three such works he wrote down in
the space of six weeks during the summer of 1788, a miracle composition which has never
been surpassed. They represent the peak of his own symphonic achievement and of the 18th
century symphony in general. Thereafter, as Beethoven was to discover, music had to expand
its limits and its language in order to develop; Mozart simply hoped the symphonies would
benefit him from performances which were, however, always postponed for one reason or
another, and there is no evidence that he ever heard them performed before he died over
two years later.
No. 39 has uncommon variety of emotional mood, beginning
with a slow introduction, unusual for Mozart, which is notable for the way it creates
tension through changing harmony, never quite finding its home key until it reaches the Allegro.
Although this becomes settled and graceful in its three-four time, there is an element of
conflict between the charm of the main melody and an undercurrent of melancholy in the
more martial episodes for full orchestra.
In the slow movement, a single theme of beguiling
simplicity is so inventively varied as to sound almost like new melodies, with delicate
orchestration and prominent woodwind colour, but the regular rhythm is a unifying element.
The following Minuet and Trio often serves as a child’s introduction to Mozart in a
simplified piano version. Here it conjures up thoughts of Austrian country dances, not
least in the rustic gurgling of the second clarinet during the Trio.
The finale is dominated by another single theme, developed
with a wit and resourcefulness that recalls Haydn. There are many sudden and unexpected
modulations from one key to another; abrupt changes from loud to soft, and ingenious
instrumental effects such as a low bassoon answered by a high flute. The music continues
to spring its surprises right to the end.
Six years earlier, the "Haffner" Symphony first
came about as a form of serenade, the second Mozart wrote for the wealthy Salzburg family,
this time to celebrate Sigmund Haffner being raised to the nobility. Originally it was
written piecemeal in the midst of other work, and comprised an opening and closing March
(this survives as K408. NO. 2) and two Minuets, one on either side of the Andante.
For its Vienna performance in 1783 as a symphony in D, Mozart dropped the March and one
Minuet, and added optional flute and clarinet parts to the outer movements.
"My new Haffner Symphony has positively amazed me, for
I had forgotten every single note of it" he wrote to his father after Leopold sent
back the score from Salzburg. "It must surely make a splendid effect." And so it
does with the opening movement, and a principle theme that repeatedly leaps up two
octaves, acts as a counterpoint to a slighter second subject, and is treated to ingenious
harmonic and contrapuntal development.
The song-like Andante movement is a reminder of the
work’s serenade character, although its surface charm only partly hides a greater
depth of feeling underneath. The Minuet retained by Mozart is again reminiscent of Haydn
in its contrasts of loud and soft, and of vigour and restraint; the trumpets and drums are
silent in the graceful Trio.
Mozart told his father that the last movement should be
played "as fast as possible", which makes considerable demands on the fingers
and tongues of the two bassoonists, who are required to play along with the cellos for
much of the movement, even when the other wind instruments are silent. It is a Rondo with
elements of sonata-form about it, the second theme providing episodes between the
recurring main subject, one episode in the minor key, and ending with a coda of almost
operatic comedy spirit.
Although listed as a symphony, the remaining work here is
perhaps more operatic in its form of an "Overture in the Italian style", as it
is also known. No. 32 covered a multitude of purposes in Mozart’s time, and in Italy
it still signifies an operatic prelude today. It was written in the spring of 1779, soon
after Mozart returned from his long tour to Mannheim, Paris and elsewhere, and it was his
only orchestral music printed for publication during his lifetime.
Some evidence suggests it may have been used in the theatre
on occasion, perhaps for more than one production, but its unusually large orchestra (with
four horns) implies something quite grand. More significant for listeners now are the bold
string openings that Mozart learned from the Mannheim orchestra, and the lyrical Andante,
intruding on the opening themes before they have hardly begun to develop, and
foreshadowing the beauty of many later symphonic slow movements he was to write.
Noel Goodwin 1985©