Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Mozart - Symphony No. 41 In C Major, K. 551

Such was the impression that Mozart's 41'st symphony made on 18th century and early 19th century listeners, that the symphony was given the nickname 'Jupiter'. Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, and is the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Zeus, the god of lightning and storms.

And it is a large work in every way. It is the longest symphony Mozart wrote, and pushes at the edges of the Classical era envelope of expression, skirting ever so closely to the approaching new era of Romanticism.  The three final symphonies are a trilogy, where No. 39 is firmly rooted in the Classical era but shows flashes of expanding the style of expression, while No. 40 bounces against convention in its more outward flashes of emotion, content, and key. No. 41 is the all-around grandest of them all, and continues to attract listeners after over 200 years. 

As large and grand as it is, Mozart did not include clarinets, nor did he write a revision with them included as he did for symphony No. 40.

I. Allegro vivace - Mozart does away with any kind of introduction and jumps right into the first theme group that begins loudly and with an upward figure drenched in C major. Two bars of more quiet music immediately answer this, and then the first two measures are heard again, this time in G major. The music continues in dotted rhythmic fanfares in the woodwinds and horns, with the 1st violins sketching out the harmony while the 2nd violins and violas play rapid downward runs. There is nothing harmonically that is daring in the first few bars. Rather, it is the tried and true chord progression of tonic, dominant seventh, subdominant, in this case C major, G dominant 7th, F major. But this beginning proves that a skilled and gifted composer can make a simple chord progression sound exciting.

The two motives are developed in the next section, which leads to the second theme group, which is begun quietly in the key of G major. There is a section in C minor that is in contrast to what has proceeded, after which the music flows back into the fanfare dotted rhythms. There is a third theme to be heard, then the fanfares return and the exposition is repeated.

The music shifts to E-flat major at the beginning of the development section, and parts of the third theme are developed until Mozart pulls a little bit of a trick on the listener. The opening theme is heard softly, as an anticipation of the recapitulation, but the fanfares come back and are expanded until the true recapitulation begins with the usual changing of keys of the second theme group along with some small development. The movement ends with a final fanfare.

II. Andante cantabile - The strings are muted in this movement, a type of extended song form.

The music begins in F major. An episode follows in snatches of F minor and C minor. The first theme returns with a more decorated accompaniment. This movement is in sonata form, so Mozart inserts a repeat sign that is not always adhered to in modern performances. This movement has some of the most beautiful music Mozart ever wrote, along with some emotionally more acute sections.

III. Menuetto: Allegretto -  Another Mozart menuetto that has little resemblance to the French dance. It resembles a Ländler, and has its chromatic moments as much of late Mozart does. 

It goes stomping on its merry way until the trio. The first part of the trio is gentle in character, while the second part is in a minor key and more forceful. In the beginning of the second part of the trio, the first four notes in the flute, oboe, bassoon, and violin contain what will become a prominent theme of the upcoming final movement.

IV. Molto allegro -  The finale begins with the theme that was foreshadowed in the trio of the previous movement.

This theme proceeds until another theme is heard. After that, the first theme is fugally developed. There are a total of five primary themes in this movement. They enter alone, sometimes in counterpoint to another; sometimes each theme is treated fugally by itself.  There is ready evidence that Mozart was flexing his compositional muscle with this movement, but the most astounding is yet to come.  Just before the end of the symphony, there is a coda that includes all five of the primary themes played together, each one a voice in a 5-part fugue.

No comments:

Post a Comment