Mozart Symphony #40 in G Minor

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II. Composer background.

At the time of this symphonys composition, in the first half of 1788 when Mozarts creative powers were at their peak, his everyday life suddenly began to deteriorate. Although he had recently been appointed a composer to the Court of Emperor Joseph II, the salary was meager and the duties were light. Two or three years previously Mozarts concert schedule was busy and an abundance of students provided him with an adequate income. He had triumphed in Prague with The Marriage of Figaro in 1786 and Don Giovanni in 1787. Now his fortunes went into a slump. When Don Giovanni was performed for the first time in Vienna, on the 7th of May, 1788, it aroused mixed reactions. Although it was given fifteen times that year, it does not seem to have been regarded as a success in Vienna. In the spring of 1788 Mozart could not obtain enough subscribers to a set of three string quintets, and the projected publication was postponed and then abandoned. In June Mozart planned a series of public concerts, but these apparently did not occur. After 1788, Mozart would never again perform a public concert in Vienna, and his desperate financial situation made him write letters to relatives and friends, asking for money (Broder vii).

Nevertheless, Mozart continued to compose with his characteristic and inspiration. The failures of his performances and the consequent financial hardships took a heavy toll on Mozarts already fragile health. The lack of commission or public recognition, however, did not stop Mozart from writing. Mozart composed his last three symphonies (Nos. 39, 40, and 41) in only two months, without commission or payment. Furthermore, at least two of these symphonies were never performed during his lifetime. As to why they were not performed, some people believe that Mozart had such an intense inner need to express himself that he could not wait for a patron from whom to charge commission. Perhaps these were the circumstances that inspired such a feeling of insecurity, anxiety, and urgency in Symphony No. 40. The composer needed success, recognition, and simply money.

IV. Personal Reaction.

On a personal level, I was also inspired with the same unexplained feeling of urgency and anxiety while listening to this symphony. The first movement creates this mood with its very first motive. However, it seemed hard for me to follow through the entire piece without having lost some of this impression to the more subdued second and third movements. Perhaps Mozarts emotions at the time were too complex for me to understand at this point; after all, these two movements were not composed just to fill the void between the first and the last movements. But maybe Mozart knew that the listeners would be exhausted if the same mood prevailed throughout the entire symphony.

Either way, my personal preference remains with the more sonically and emotionally powerful productions of such composers such as Chaikovsky, Prokofiev, Grieg, and Wagner who managed to deliver similarly strong emotions through shorter, more concise pieces of music. For example, Chaikovskys famous ballet The Nutcracker is comprised of several short suites, each one with its own feeling, mood, and character The entire work feels like a wonderful theme park, rather than a long, consuming labyrinth that comes to mind with Mozarts Symphony No. 40. Edward Grieg in his In der Halle des Bergknigs and Richard Wagners The Ride of the Valkyries fascinate and inspire me to a much greater extent, despite their much smaller duration. Of course, it should not be forgotten that the pieces I listed are all operas and ballets and have very little to do with the symphony in general, but they are still the music I prefer thanks to their equally high power and better understandability.

: 14/08/2008