Mozart Symphonies Nos 38 and 41

Young Mozart

Young Mozart

A few weeks ago we went to Dubai to watch some cricket.  Because we were hiring a car and doing a considerable amount of driving, I insisted on hiring a Sat Nav.  As we set off from the airport to find our hotel, the atmosphere in the car was tense as the Sat Nav directed us into a third car park and my daughter announced in the back that she wanted to go home!  As we later found out the Sat Navs have not managed to keep up with the road building, so the moral of the story is do not hire one in Dubai or even better stick to taxis

All Mozart's music is easy to listen to, whether it is a flute sonata, a symphony or a string quartet, he had a knack of being able to write tune after tune after tune.  Yet in his home town Vienna his popularity waxed and waned.  He was one of the first free-lance composers, all his predecessors were employed so Mozart had to court his audience in order to earn a living wage.  So what were the reasons for Mozart's lack of popularity and as a result financial problems (he was given a pauper's burial)?  Could it have been that he churned out too much music - his three symphonies Nos 39, 40 & 41 were written in 9 weeks compared with say Brahms who took years to write one symphony. Or was he just plain odd?  He was the Michael Jackson of his day in that he didn't have a childhood because at the young age of seven his father realising he had a child prodigy on his hands took him performing all around Europe.  According to his letters he appears to lack empathy and could be arrogant so perhaps audiences found it hard to relate to him as a person.

Rene Jacobs

Rene Jacobs

None of these features are apparent in his music and the two symphonies Nos 38 and 41 and widely considered to mark the pinnacle of his career in this art form.  Written in the late 1780s at a time when Mozart had a huge following in Prague as a result of the success of the Marriage of Figaro.  The opera knocked them dead and for a while the people of Prague went crazy for everything Figaro.  An invitation was sent and accepted so Mozart accompanied by a sizeable entourage went to Prague in June 1787 and it was here that Symphony No 38 in D major received it's first performance hence the name "The Prague"  Unusually for Mozart and for the time the symphony has three movements rather than the more normal four.

Symphony No 41 "Jupiter" in C major was the last symphony he composed and the longest.  It is not known if it was ever performed during his life.  It is a very positive and optimistic work hence the key of C major which is a very 'bright' key and one Mozart often uses for this purpose.  The great conductor Claudio Abbado said of this work "The Jupiter Symphony is one of Mozart's greatest creations.  The Finale has all these ideas superimposed bursting out one after another, like fireworks". 

Listen to the first movement of Symphony No 41 on YouTube     

The recommended recording for these two works is by the Freiburger Barockorchester directed by the Belgian conductor Rene Jacobs.  Jacobs originally came to fame as a countertenor but in recent years has become renowned as a conductor of  baroque and early music and has made over 250 recordings.  The recording has a clarity of texture which is precise and as a result very dramatic.

Download Mozart Symphonies Nos 38 & 41 from iTunes     
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Posted on April 19, 2015 .