Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Mozart - Symphony No. 40 In G Minor, K. 550

Not all composers keep a record of when a composition was written, but Mozart kept a catalog of his compositions, so we do know that his final three symphonies were composed over the summer of 1788.  Musicologists have disagreed whether any of the last three symphonies were performed in Mozart's time, but in the case of the 40th Symphony, it exists in two versions. The original with no clarinets, and the revision with clarinets added. It's improbable that Mozart would have revised the symphony without a performance of the original version. 

Mozart was fond of the clarinet, but at the time it hadn't become a permanent member of the orchestra. That began to change in the 1780's. Mozart had a great understanding of wind instruments and their possibilities. With its large range of notes, flexible dynamic range, and different tone colors, the clarinet became a valuable member of the orchestra in a short time.  

Mozart used the key of G minor in isolated instances in many works, but based only four major compositions on that key; String Quintet No. 4  K.516 Piano Quartet No. 1 K.478, Symphony No. 25 K.183/173db, and Symphony No. 40. It is a key that depicts sadness, tragedy, sometimes even rage, in Mozart's music.

I. Molto allegro - The symphony begins with the disquieting murmur of the violas playing an accompaniment three quarters of a bar before the theme itself begins. The theme is a simple one of slurred eighth notes and quarter notes that sigh out the theme with an occasional louder outburst. The second theme is chromatic in nature, but is rooted in the key of B-flat major.
The first theme is heard again, and is shortly developed into the key of B-flat major, and the exposition is repeated.  The development begins strangely in the key of F-sharp, and snippets of the first theme go through numerous transformations of key and sections of intensity alternating with sections of quiet tension. The recapitulation has the return of the first theme in G minor, and a longer section that segues to the second theme, this time played in the home key of G minor. A coda includes a rising, syncopated section that leads to the final statement of part of the first theme, and the closing chord in G minor. 

II. Andante -  The movement is in E-flat major, and begins with a lyrical theme that weaves its way contrapuntally through the orchestra. It is written in sonata form and has a chromatic character to the music similar to the first movement. There is an increase in volume and tension in the development section. The recapitulation plays through the music until the music ends calmly.

III.  Menuetto - Allegretto - The key of G minor returns with the next movement. Although marked a 'menuetto', it bears no resemblance to the refined dance. It is gruff, off the beat accented music that begins with two irregular three-bar phrases. This music also has a fair amount of chromaticism going on, which in this case adds to the terseness.
 The trio is in marked contrast, and has a dialogue between strings and winds, in the key of G major.

IV. Finale - Allegro assai -  The finale begins with a Mannheim rocket in the first violins. This quiet snippet is followed by a louder answer in the orchestra. 

The theme alternates from piano statement to forte answer, until a section of running eighth notes leads to the second theme in B-flat major which leads to the exposition being repeated. 

The lead-in to the development is an astounding eight bars of music that begins with the Mannheim rocket in B-flat major that suddenly loses all sense of key. In 1788, Mozart wrote a section of music that carries on the chromaticism of the 3 previous movements to the ultimate extreme as all the notes but one of the chromatic scale are played over 4 octaves in unison by the full orchestra.
The only note left out of this tonal and rhythmic chaos is G natural, as if to disorient the listener even more by denying the sounding of the tonic note. The development continues with chromaticism that must have been alarming to listeners at the time. The music turns borderline violent as themes are stated against each other in counterpoint, when suddenly the first theme returns with the recapitulation. The second theme appears in G minor, and running eighth notes keep up the severity until the closing G minor chord. 

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