Friday, October 17, 2014

Mozart - Symphony No. 1 In E-flat Major, K.16

Statue of the young Mozart in London
The inception of the symphony began at the end of the Baroque era, and due to the form being taken up by many composers it became an important part of concert life by 1790. In the beginning, the symphony was an offshoot of the opera overture. In fact, many early symphonies were originally written as operatic overtures. Early symphonies had three movements with a tempo scheme of the movements fast-slow-fast. Eventually an additional movement was added, along with more flexibility of tempo and mood of the individual movements.

Not all composers wrote symphonies, but many of the famous ones did. Joseph Haydn is known for the 106 symphonies with his first being composed ca. 1759. His younger colleague Mozart wrote up to 68 symphonies (there remains debate among musicologists as to the actual number) with his first being composed in 1764, only six years after Haydn's first. The difference between these composers first symphonies begins with the difference in their ages when they wrote them; Haydn was thirty-seven, Mozart was eight! 

Mozart was already known as a wunderkind by the time he was eight, but only as a performer. Mozart first went on tour in 1762 to the courts in Munich, Vienna and Prague. A tour of Europe that began in 1764 lasted over three years and took the Mozart family to many of the capitals and courts of Europe. While on this tour, he met many of the leading composers of the day, and it was while he was in London that he met Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. Despite the twenty years difference in age, they became friends and just as important to Mozart, Bach mentored him in composition. 

Bach was a very popular composer in London at the time,  so Mozart got to hear much of his music as well as play Bach's keyboard works. Leopold Mozart, the composer's father wrote:
What he had known when he left Salzburg is nothing compared with what he knows now; it defies the imagination … right now, Wolfgang is sitting at the harpsichord playing Bach’s trios.
Mozart's sister Nannerl wrote about Bach and her brother in her diary years later:
Herr Johann Christian Bach, music master of the queen, took Wolfgang between his knees. He would play a few measures; then Wolfgang would continue. In this manner they played entire sonatas. Unless you saw it with your own eyes, you would swear that just one person was playing.
Mozart plaque in London
Bach was a great influence on Mozart's developing style and talent.  So it is natural that his first attempt at a symphony would be under the older composer's direct influence, and so it was that Mozart wrote his first symphony while in London in 1764. A statue of the young Mozart and a plaque have been erected on the spot on Ebury Street.

There has been some question among scholars if the young Mozart actually wrote the symphony himself. His father was not only a composer and master musician in his own right, he knew how to promote his son. What better to show the precocity of Wolfgang than a symphony written when he was but eight years old? It is thought that Leopold assisted his son on his earliest compositions, if not actually creating the music at least writing it down on paper. So perhaps it is all an example of a proud and ambitious father. Whatever the truth of the matter, what is offered as Mozart's First Symphony is an interesting early example of the form.  The symphony is scored for two oboe, two horns, strings and continuo, and is in three movements as early symphonies were.

I. Molto allegro -  The movement opens with the notes of the E-flat major triad throughout the orchestra after which a series of whole note chords leads to a repeat of the opening and the string of whole note chords.  A section of transition leads to the second theme in B-flat major. Another transitional section leads to the repeat of the the exposition. The development begins with the first theme section in B-flat major, and then in C minor. The first theme is not repeated as a section transition continues in C minor and modulates to the home key of E-flat for the repetition of the second theme, and the movement ends.

II. Andante - The second movement is in C minor and has the theme played by the basses over a half-note accompaniment by the oboes and horns. The rest of the strings play a triplet figure throughout the movement that creates a cross rhythm of 2 versus 3.

III. Presto - The music returns to E-flat major with the first theme in regular 4-bar phrases that lasts 16 measures and then repeats. A second theme group includes a section of eight bars that travels downward chromatically from B-flat to D. The first theme returns, followed by the second theme group. A transition leads to the final repetition of the first theme which ends the symphony.

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