Friday, November 25, 2005


Mozart: Symphony in C major (K.551)

This brings us to the last, and crowning creation of Mozart's symphonic domain, the Symphony in C major (K.551), to which some unknown enthusiast attached the name by which it has since been called---the Jupiter Symphony. It is Mozart's greatest, most scholarly Symphony, though probably not the most popular with the majority of music lovers; for here, as in the case of all works of genius, that which is most scholarly does not make as strong an appeal to the average heart, as a work which lies nearer to the level of human sympathy and comprehension.

It is scored for the usual classic orchestra, but without clarinets. It opens without Introduction. The first Movement is in sonata-allegro form. The Development utilizes chiefly the first Codetta, especially its easily recognizable second Phrase.

The second Movement, Andante cantabile, is perhaps the finest of all of Mozart's slow Movements. It is cast in sonata-allegro form.

The Menuetto is of the traditional graceful type. The Trio is unique: it begins with a perfect cadence, against which the violins seem gently to remonstrate.

In the Finale, Mozart assumes a serious, almost austere attitude (somewhat after the manner not uncommon with Haydn), and creates a contrapuntal masterpiece worthy of the great Bach, sacrificing to this end, it must be admitted, the winning qualities of sheer musical beauty to some extent. Its Exposition is woven out of five Themes, each one a proper thematic contingement as in any regular Exposition. (Theme 5 partly resembles Theme 4.) After the statement of the subordinate Theme, the Exposition is spun out with contrapuntal manipulation of Themes 2,3 and 4, interspersed with a few extra motives. The Development, also, naturally deals with these Themes (including No. 1), rather briefly, but in a great variety of shapes (inversion, stretto, diminution, shifted measure, even "retrograde"). The Recapitulation copies the Exposition closely (with the transpositions), but is slightly abbreviated. Then follows the Coda, and this Coda becomes a stage for the most remarkable polyphonic feat in symphonic literature---a feat that is very rarely encountered in any type of published music. After twenty-seven measures of polyphonic network involving Themes 1,4 and 3, all of the five Themes are announced simultaneously, and thus carried through a complete fugal "exposition" in five successive presentations, and, of course, in Quintuple-counterpoint, so applied that each voice presents the entire set of Themes in succession. The first announcement is scored in the string quintet, duplicated in the wind-body. The combination starts in G major, and alternates with C, so that the final (fifth) announcement shall be in C, the principal key. A very few additional homophonic measures bring the Symphony quickly to an end.


To me, both this symphony and K.550 are among the most symphonic of symphonies ever written prior to Beethoven. All 4 movements are variants of the sonata-form with extensive thematic developments in the expositions (even the Menuetto in K.550 has a development!). For instance, I think it is often overlooked that the exposition of 1st movement of K.551 is almost a development of sorts, especially for the lyrical phrase that follows the rumbling motive at the beginning:
- the modulatory bridge passage
- after the statement of the graceful primary theme of the 2nd group
- the climax after the silence afterwards
Another feature prefiguring Beethoven's methods is the combination in the traditional development section of the march rhythm in the modulatory bridge passage in the exposition is combined with the dainty theme that appears after the 2nd group climax. This seems curiously similar to Eroica's 1st movement, where the appregio 1st theme is combined with the muscular minor-mode violin theme in the development proper.

What is disappointing is that many people belittle Mozart's development sections. While not as outwardly imposing or lengthy as Beethoven's, one should not overlook Mozart's subtlety in slipping in quasi-developments sections all over the place in a sonata form movement. I believe there was no orthodox model for a development section in his day like what has become textbook examples (probably derived from Beethoven by 19th century scholars). To me, he seems to be quite original in this aspect.

Maybe Mozart and Beethoven are more similar in their techniques than commonly acknowledged. Charles Rosen thinks Beethoven's handling of large scale sonata forms owes a lot to the example of Mozart, and I agree after re-examining their works! From a reading of anecdotes concerning Beethoven's admiration of Mozart, I think this is quite possible.
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