Thursday, November 24, 2005


Mozart: Early Symphonies

No little historic interest attaches to Mozart's very first Symphony, written in London in 1764 (at the age of eight!). It is scored for the quartet of strings, two horns and two oboes. The first movement is a simple but regular sonata-allegro. This is followed by a second Movement, Andante , and a Finale, Presto. (There is no Minuet.)

One extraordinary thing about it is that it is the work of a child of eight years; and another thing that compels our amazement, is the ambition, self-assurance, and temerity of the youngster in assailing such a problem. Regarded as artistic music, it has, assuredly, no special value. But you cannot expect much of a boy of eight, especially in an encounter with so formidable an object as the Symphony. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that Mozart was preternaturally precocious, equipped with an intelligence and experience far beyond his years. He already possessed more instinctive knowledge of the language of tone than many a professional musician can boast of having acquired at the end of a long and studious career. He was saturated with a consciousness of the basic principles of tone-relation and tone-organization; he was quick to apprehend the operation of these principles in the music he so dearly loved and eagerly devoured; the "rules" of the art were second nature to him. But besides this the youthful Mozart possessed---as the future confirmed---a musical imagination of extraordinary scope, originality and vitality, and was strongly impelled by the desire to pour out his musical feelings, reproduce his musical visions, and record them in tangible form.

Passing over a few other Symphonies composed by Mozart in his next succeeding youthful years, it is instructional to pause at one of his later ones (his twelfth), written in July, 1771---at the age of fifteen,---and to verify the marked progress in assurance and technical grasp.

The first Movement, scored for full quintet of strings, two oboes and two horns. The design is sonata-allegro, regular and very concise. The Development is short; the Recapitulation complete.

In the second Movement, an Andante, two flutes are substituted for the two oboes. The design is sonata-allegro, but so concise that it barely reaches beyond the Three-Part Song-form. Both this and the first Movement are fine illustrations of the expanding process from the Three-Part Song-form into the sonata-allegro form.

A keen ear will sense in the Themes of this Andante the distinctive quality of Mozart's melodic conception, nascent and unpronounced, but not to be mistaken. Haydn would not have written them thus; perhaps no one but just Mozart, even in this, his formative, period.

For the third Movement, Mozart, following Haydn's lead, inserts a Minuet with Trio.

The Finale is animated, but heroic rather than gay. The design is that of the Dance, Song with Trio, each in the regular Three-Part form (the same as in the third Movement).


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