Composed by

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Jan 1756 – Dec 1791) in 1788

Duration

Approx. 26 mins

Instrumentation

1 flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings

Symphony No. 40 not only is one of Mozart’s most famous symphonies, but also an excellent representation of the genre. He wrote this piece, which was his last three symphonies, in summer 1788. This piece is one of the only two of his symphonies written in minor keys, reflecting his interest in the artistic movement, Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress), and showcasing darker and stronger emotions.

This composition is divided into 4 movements:

Movement I, Molto Allegro – The first movement depicts plaintive sighs, though it also contains gentle and graceful melodies, with occasional bursts of jubilation. A restless first theme is played first by violins and then iterated with power and insistence by the full orchestra.

Movement II, Andante – The softly elegant second movement is a reflection of a quiet moonlit evening. Firstly, the second violins are joined by the first violins imitating the successively higher pitches. The winds then cool down the atmosphere with a delicate colouration in their turn. A steady pulsating rhythm is constant in this movement.

Movement III, Menuetto & Trio. Allegretto – This movement offers both darkness and light, the dark passages strongly assertive and the light ones sweeter. It opens with a heavy minuet in a strutting heavily accented theme, which reflects the continuation of the dark emotions in the second movement. Then, the trio takes over in the G major tonality, but the light tone is just a temporary lyrical release. The piece returns to G minor, which asserts its potency and heavy atmosphere with a da capo.

Movement IV, Allegro Assai – The final movement returns to the more serious mood of the piece, often giving an urgent and fretful turn. Different sections of the orchestra simultaneously concern themselves with different melodic ideas, which blend into an intricate mix at the middle of the movement. The symphony ends with stress and agitation.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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Performed in 2018 at St John’s Smith Square, London.