Wednesday, July 25, 2018

July 25, 1788: Mozart completed Symphony No. 40

Last updated August 27, 2018.

Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (composer)

Composed: 1788

Completed: July 25, 1788

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Quotable: “One of the greatest works of a composer whose music so frequently defies adequate description” – Brian Robins, All Music Guide

Genre: classical > symphony

Average Length: 26:40


  1. Molto allegro
  2. Andante
  3. Meuetto & Trio, Allegretto
  4. Allegro assai


Symphony No. 40, sometimes referred to as “the Great G minor symphony,” WK was composed in the summer of 1788 along with Mozart’s other two final symphonies. BR Some have argued that “Mozart had no specific occasion in mind for their performance” BR and that he simply wrote them for posterity. WK However, “scholar H. C. Robbins Landon has…[argued they were] written for a series of concerts…in the fall or Advent season of 1788.” BR Neal Zaslaw has offered evidence that “Mozart took the three symphonies on the tour he made to Germany the following year.” BR There is also other evidence of performances of the symphony from 1789 to 1791. WK

“One aspect of the symphonies upon which commentators reach universal agreement is their extraordinary diversity of character; each has unique qualities which together utterly explode the myth that the extreme agitation and pathos of the G minor Symphony reflected the abject circumstances in which Mozart found himself at this period…Neither should it be forgotten that the tragic qualities so often associated with the symphony today have not always been apparent to all. To Robert Schumann the symphony was a work of ‘Grecian lightness and grace,’ while for a later writer, Alfred Einstein, there are passages that ‘plunge to the abyss of the soul.’” BR

“The symphony is cast in the usual four movements; the opening Molto allegro immediately announces something unusual by starting not with characteristic loud ‘call to attention,’ but with quietly spoken agitation. The uneasy passion of the main theme leads to conclusions that seem to protest rather than find any consolation. The movement’s dominant feeling is urgency: upbeat after upbeat after upbeat occurs. Amid great instability and a questioning aura, we experience a peek into Don Giovanni’s abyss. In the finale, the horns intrude with wild swatches of color. There is even an eerie twelve-note insertion after the double bar in the Allegro assai section.” BR

“There are two versions of the G minor symphony. The first is modestly scored for flute and pairs of oboes, horns, and strings, but at some point shortly after composition Mozart added parts for two clarinets, slightly altering the oboe parts to accommodate them. Such second thoughts surely also add credibility to the idea that Mozart led performances of the work – he would hardly have bothered with such refinements if the symphony was not being used for practical purposes.” BR

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