Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is definitely one of the outstanding composers of symphonies who was well known and highly reputed during the classical period of music development (1750-1830). Although there were other symphonies during his time, his legacy stood out to be the best since his productions withstood the test of time.
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He was born in January 27, 1756 by Anna Maria Perti and a musician Leopold. In his lifetime, Mozart composed forty one (41) symphonies in which thirty nine (39) were in major keys while only two (2) were in minor keys (Laitz and Bartlette 54). Coincidentally, both symphonies in minor keys were in G minor.
These are symphony number 25 which was composed in October 1773 and symphony number 40 which he produced way back in 1788. It is imperative to note that Modern study to Mozart’s work has proved that he was indeed an intelligent as well as a talented musical genius who had attained musical virtuosity during his lifetime career in music. Evidently, Mozart’s last symphony “Jupiter” in C major has overwhelming beauty that may not be forgotten quite easily.
A symphony is an artistic work of music mostly produced and played for the orchestra. In addition, it is also worth noting that symphonies contain at least one movement or episode which usually follows the sonata principles. Symphonies can also be tonal works written in four movements with the first always in sonata form.
This type of musical production grew during the period between the Baroque and the Romantic when music had lighter and undoubtedly clearer texture. Moreover, emphasis in the symphonies was in contrast created by a variety of keys, rhythms, dynamics, and melodies, (Downs 106). In the case of Mozart, he mainly dwelt on symphonies that were performed with instruments such as the flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet (wind instruments), violin, viola, double bass (stringed instruments), and the timpani among others.
As a matter of fact, this collection of instruments that were used by Mozart were indeed vital in his productions largely due to the fact that they blended quite well in producing masterpiece symphonies. In addition, the manner in which these assortments of musical instruments were played clearly brought out the much needed flavor in his symphonies. This explains why he remained as music icon who was to be remembered long after he was dead.
Historical background of the Mozart symphonies
Many scholars have studied and described symphonies that were produced by Mozart as full rigor that have been applied in modern musicological methods. Moreover, these productions have proved to be comprehensive both in terms of contemporary and secondary literature (Zaslow 1991).
However, there is no great creation that surpasses a critique’s eye bearing in mind that even the Mozart symphonies were criticized as being too complex with unnecessarily far too many lines and notes within the compositions. In other words, there are those who perceived his music as extremely complex to appeal to most audience and especially those who would be interested to learn the notes.
While the latter argument would perhaps be authentic to some degree, it is also imperative to mention that the dynamisms employed by Mozart included taking familiar musical lines of one piece of music and inserting them in his other new creations or compositions to bring out a completely new flavor.
In due course of creating the symphonies, Mozart entered into a severe financial strain and debt in 1784. By 1788, he was in serious debt. Fortunately, he survived on money that he had borrowed from his Masonic brother called Michael Puchberg. This fact did not deter Mozart from accomplishing his dream since he gave his best during his last years of life.
There are amazing complexities of symphony number 39 in E-flat; number 40 in G minor; and number 41 in C major. Close inspection of these symphonies portray a crowning achievement of Mozart’s instrumental music even though they appear complex. There is also a clear indication of how Mozart was quite thorough with the absorption of his contrapuntal style in most of his music. For instance, the latter characteristic was quite profound in two of his creations namely the virtuosos J.S. Bach and Handel.
Classical-style symphonies as employed by Mozart were mainly in four movements. Their usual arrangement was fast (allegro), slow (adagio), minuet with trio (scherzo), and then fast (allegro, rondo or sonata). However, there are many symphonies by other classical masters that do not conform to this four part model (Prout 92). In addition, Mozart was keen in style and structure. He introduced the third movement (minuet) and gave it splendor. He gave it a pattern that followed an outline of ABA or Minuet-Trio-Minuet.
Capability of Mozart to adapt to the external environment was apparent. He adapted to style of the moment like in symphony number 25 that was inspired by storm and stress of that time (Zaslaw 38). Mozart moved and stayed in Paris for a short period. He composed 3 symphonies including symphony no. 31 while at this place.
These works portrayed Mozart’s ability to adapt to the likes and dislikes of his new hosts and consumers of his music. The three symphonies had distinct Parisian qualities different from his other works. Urgency did not deter Mozart. He was a musical genius and was able to compose, rehearse, and perform symphony no. 36 ‘Linz’ in only four days! Despite the breakneck speed of writing this symphony, he was able to open a work with a slow introduction.
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He demonstrated his prowess by going the way of his loyalists in writing symphony no. 38 ‘prague’. He was widely accepted in Prague, and he wrote this symphony for Prague people (Deutsch 87). Mozart slightly deviated from his norm when he left out the third movement in this symphony but was able to make it profound and quite provocative.
To recap it all, Mozart was undoubtedly great and a model to those who came after him. This was proven by the mid 19th century composer, Johannes Brahms. Mozart’s last symphony Jupiter was so popular, and Brahms knew its structure so well. The fugue finale of Jupiter begins with notes C-D-F-E-A-A. In this respect, Brahms had his first symphony in C minor; second in D major; third in F major; and forth in E minor – the first four notes of the Jupiter (Laitz and Bartlette 91).
Different music experts in composition and performance interpreted symphonies by Mozart differently. Some viewed majority of his works as possessing lightness, passion, and grace while others considered them “works of violence and grief” (Downs 52). Despite these interpretations, the symphonies are unquestionably admired and are frequently performed and recorded.
Deutsch, Otto. Mozart: A Documentary Biography. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1965. Print.
Downs, Philip. Classical Music: The Era of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven; Introduction to Music History. New York, NY: Norton & Company, 1992.Print.
Laitz, Steven and Christopher, Bartlette. Student Workbook to Accompany Graduate Review of Tonal Theory: A Recasting of Common Practice Harmony, Form, and Counterpoint. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
Prout, Ebenezer. Applied Forms: A Sequel to ‘Musical Form’ (3rd. ed.). Augener: London, 1971. Print.
Zaslaw, Neal. Contemporary and Secondary Literature of Music. New York: Cornell University Press, 1991. Print.