THE STORY BEHIND: Mozart’s Symphony No.41 (Jupiter)

On January 25, violinist Karen Gomyo will join Bramwell Tovey, the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & the Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra to perform a special program featuring music composed by Wolfgang A. Mozart.

werk_00a_symphonien_gross_c3692b26_f220THE STORY BEHIND: Mozart’s Symphony No.41 (Jupiter)

Title: Symphony No.41 in C Major, K.551 (Jupiter)

Composer: Wolfgang A. Mozart (1756–1791)

When was the last time the Rhode Island Philharmonic played this piece: November 10, 2001

Orchestration: This piece is scored for on flute, two each of oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani and strings.

The Story: 

During the summer of 1788, life was not going well for Mozart. Despite the successes of The Marriage of Figaro in Vienna (1786) and Don Giovanni in Prague (1787), Mozart’s lack of income had reduced him to begging money from his friend, a textile merchant named Michael von Puchberg. During June and July, he wrote four letters to Puchberg continually asking for loans and making blue-sky promises of repayment as soon as his music started making money again.

Unfortunately, Mozart’s sincerity was much greater than his prospects. Through the summer, he composed diligently. In the remarkably short period of about two months, he composed three symphonies (the last in C major), which would prove to be his “final great trilogy.” These have become a Mozartian mystery. What occasion did he have in mind for performing these sublime works?

p17mozartALAMYDynamic contrast is the rhetoric of the Jupiter symphony’s opening two-motive theme, which Donald Tovey describes as “energetic gestures alternating with gentle pleadings.” The first movement’s second and concluding themes are lighter and more rococo. However, lightness is not long lived, as the latter becomes the theme of the development’s dramatic first half. In the second half, Mozart concentrates on the “energetic” first motive of the movement, leading naturally to a solid recapitulation.

In the Andante cantabile, also a sonata form, Mozart creates a mood by calling for muted strings. The idea of dynamic contrast recurs in this movement through sudden forte chords that punctuate the opening theme. The serenity of the opening soon gives way to a mood of agitation and unrest that dominates much of the remainder of the movement. Only towards the end does the placid opening theme return.

Some lighthearted relief comes in the form of the Menuetto. The main section’s grace and charm are suitably complemented by the dry wit of the trio section.

After Mozart’s death, the C Major Symphony was nicknamed Jupiter. Another sobriquet was “symphony with a fugue-finale.” The finale is not actually a fugue but a sonata form containing fugato (fugue-like) sections built on the five themes of the exposition: (1) the opening four-note theme; (2) the fanfare-like theme that immediately follows it; (3) the rising transition motive leading to (4) the sonata form’s “second theme” in a related key; and (5) a short, spiky countertheme to (4). Mozart’s method in the exposition is to present a fugato passage on a theme soon after it is first introduced. The development section concentrates almost exclusively on theme (2) in both the original form and inverted. The main body of the recapitulation is abbreviated and non-fugal, no doubt to allow for the full impact of the coda, the famous grand fugato that combines all five themes at once. Each is heard in every register—a heady kaleidoscope of “quintuple counterpoint.” This final passage is the crowning glory of this work—and perhaps of all Mozart’s symphonic works.

Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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