W. A. Mozart (1756-1791)

Symphony No. 40 in g minor, KV. 550

Allegro molto
Allegro assai

Mozart wrote his 39th (in E Flat Major, K 543) 40th (in g minor K 550) and 41st (in C Major-the Jupiter) symphonies in a period of 2 months over the summer of 1788. It is possible that they were written for a subscription series that was to take place in the winter of that year. However, it seems almost certain that Mozart himself never heard these three symphonies performed.

The 40th symphony was written in two versions, the first without clarinets and the second with clarinets. In the second version he also edited the oboe parts to compliment and suit the addition of the clarinet voices. The work remained unpublished for many years. At one point the manuscript was owned by Brahms who refused to allow its publication. The work only became known after his death in 1897- 106 years after Mozart’s death.

Mozart had, earlier, in 1773 written a symphony in g minor (KV. 183). It is a powerful and expressive work, possibly influenced by Mozart’s acquaintance with Haydn’s symphonies in the minor key written around the same time. It is likely that he was especially influenced by Haydn’s symphony in g minor (No.39). Nevertheless it would be foolish to read too much into his choice of key for the 40th symphony despite the dramatic difference in tonality between the 39th symphony in E flat major and the 40th symphony in g minor.

The rhythmical impulse created by the violas at the beginning of the symphony is carried throughout the first movement. This movement sets the mood of tension, which pervades the entire symphony. The role of the strings is so important as to almost create a string symphony. The vital role of the strings is also apparent in the second movement. The woodwinds' almost disturbing role continues the tension created in the 1st movement.

The third movement was once described by Hermann Kretschmar in his "Führer durch den Konzertsaal" (1887) as ‘one of the most combative movements ever constructed from an old elegant dance form. Throughout it, voices are not allowed to finish their line before being interrupted by others '. The trio is in complete contrast creating the most peaceful moments in this symphony .

The symphony’s dramatic climax in the 4th movement is remarkable for an extraordinary development section. Here Mozart creates such a powerfully emotional section as to almost induce fear. He does this through a series of almost grotesque intervals. The remainder of the movement is driven mercilessly to its dramatic end.

copyright © Lygia O'Riordan