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Symphony No. 32 in G major, K. 318

About the Work

Wolfgang Mozart
Quick Look Composer: Wolfgang Mozart
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra Leonard Slatkin, conductor/Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin Jun. 2 - 4, 2005
© Richard Freed
Untitled Document

Mozart completed this miniature symphony on April 26, 1779, in Salzburg, where it was probably performed within a week or two. The National Symphony Orchestra first performed this work on April 7, 8, 9 and 12, 1988, under the direction of Christopher Hogwood, and, following performances under Sir Neville Marriner in May 1991 and Zubin Mehta in December 1993, presented it most recently on June 24, 1994, again with Christopher Hogwood conducting.

The score indicates 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings. Duration, 10 minutes.

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Like the similarly proportioned symphonies of Mozart's friend Johann Christian Bach and several of the earlier entries in his own symphonic cycle, this brief work is assuredly a sinfonia, but hardly what we would categorize today as a symphony. While the word sinfonia is the Italian word for "symphony," it is also the term traditionally used for the overture (as distinguished from a brief preludio to an Italian opera, and an overture in the Italian style is exactly what this piece is: a sprightly curtain-raiser whose principal material (Allegro spiritoso) is wrapped around a contrasting middle section (Andante). It is even less "symphonic" than Christian Bach's overture/symphonies, in fact, for he typically developed each of the three movements more extensively and his finales did not repeat material from the opening movement. In the present work, however, the movements are shorter than Bach's, there is no real pause between movements, there is no change of key, and the opening material is repeated, with hardly any alteration.

It was for some time believed that Mozart intended this sinfonia for use as the overture to Zaïde, a Singspiel he never quite finished, or perhaps to Baron von Gebler's drama Thamos, König in Ägypten, for which he composed incidental music between 1773 and 1779. Neither seems to have been the case, however. Zaïde was composed a year after this G-major Symphony, and it was always Mozart's practice to leave the composition of the overture for a theatrical work till he had completed the rest of the score; and the symphony appended to Thamos appears to have been an earlier one, the similarly brief No. 26 in E-flat, K. 184. It seems likely that Mozart created K. 318 as a general utility piece, to be called into service when an overture might be needed. It was put to such use after he settled in Vienna--not with a stage work of his own, but to introduce his remarkably prolific contemporary Francesco Bianchi's musical farce La villanelle rapita.

Souvenirs of Mozart's sojourns in Mannheim and Paris during 1777 and '78 may be heard in this work, which opens with the premier coup d'archet the Parisians liked so much (Mozart had used this device in his last full-scale symphony before this piece, the one in D major, K. 297, composed in the French capital) and closes with the typical Mannheim alternations of loud and soft passages. The use of two pairs of horns, in different keys, to broaden his range of color was another idea he picked up in Mannheim. resents its world premiere revival of Don Quixote