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Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551 "Jupiter"

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Upcoming Performances

Image from National Symphony Orchestra: Christoph Eschenbach, conductor: Midori, violin, plays Schumann's Violin Concerto / Symphonies by Mendelssohn & Mozart National Symphony Orchestra: Christoph Eschenbach, conductor: Midori, violin, plays Schumann's Violin Concerto / Symphonies by Mendelssohn & Mozart - Oct. 30 - Nov. 1, 2014
An artist of "great imagination and depth" (Philadelphia Inquirer), Midori plays the first NSO performances of Schumann's Violin Concerto on a program that includes Mendelssohn's "Reformation" Symphony and Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony.

Past Performances

Image unvailable for NSO Family Concerts: <i>Happy Birthday, Wolfgang Amadeus!</i> NSO Family Concerts: Happy Birthday, Wolfgang Amadeus! - Sun., Mar. 12, 2006

Image unvailable for National Symphony Orchestra: Composer Portraits: Mozart National Symphony Orchestra: Composer Portraits: Mozart - Jun. 15 - 17, 2006

Image unvailable for National Symphony Orchestra: Composer Portraits: Mozart National Symphony Orchestra: Composer Portraits: Mozart - Jun. 15 - 17, 2006

About the Work

Wolfgang Mozart
Quick Look Composer: Wolfgang Mozart
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Composer Portraits: Mozart Jun. 15 - 17, 2006
© Richard Freed
Mozart was a miracle of creativity that walked like a man. So, in a somewhat similar sense, was Franz Schubert, who was born six years after Mozart's death and nearly matched him in the sheer volume of his output--though Schubert wrote many more songs and never became known as an opera composer (though he was one). In any event, this year in music is all about the Mozart bicenquinquagennial, and by now a great deal has been produced in the way of documentation--and of debunking some of the notoriously untrue biographical details that had circulated so energetically for so many years--as well as celebratory performances. The work chosen to represent this composer in the NSO's "Composer Portraits" series is the last of his symphonies, about which a great deal of mythologizing took root shortly after his death and held on tenaciously until quite recently.

Even the title of this work is subject to question, and on more than a single count. That number--41--what exactly does it mean? Mozart had composed a dozen or so symphonies before he got round to the ones that bear numbers in today's standard usage, which would have brought the total to more than fifty, even if we dismiss the symphonies known not to be his own. (Several of his earliest ones were more or less transcriptions of works by senior colleagues; "No. 37" is actually a symphony by his Salzburg colleague Michael Haydn--the illustrious Joseph's younger brother--which Mozart simply provided with a slow introduction.) His famous cataloguer Ludwig Ritter von Köchel did not affix enumeration to the symphonies, the concertos, the string quartets, etc., except his own catalogue numbers, which were intended to indicate chronology (but which in several cases were erroneous in this respect). Thus the only number applied to his entry for this symphony, on page 436 of the first edition of his catalogue, published in Leipzig in 1862, is the "KV" (Köchel-Verzeichnis) number 551, over the title Symphonie mit der Schlussfuge--Symphony with the concluding fugue.

The sobriquet "Jupiter" does not appear in Köchel's catalogue. It is thought to have been affixed by Johann Baptist Cramer, a German who made a name for himself as a pianist (Beethoven regarded him as the finest of his time) before settling in London and founding a musical publishing house. The same Cramer is apparently the source of the nickname "Emperor" on Beethoven's final piano concerto as well--and it must be acknowledged that both of these terms really do suit the respective works down to the ground.
Apart from these details of labeling, this final symphony of Mozart's, together with the two that immediately preceded it, were the collective subject of one of the most touching and longest-enduring of the several romanticized myths associated with this composer. For nearly two hundred years it was accepted as gospel that Mozart composed his last three symphonies--Nos. 39, 40 and 41--in a mysterious burst of inspiration in the summer of 1788, without a request from a publisher or a performing organization, and then even more mysteriously put them all away without ever hearing them performed. Like the similarly popular legend of his having been done in by his "jealous rival" Antonio Salieri, however, this story simply has no basis in fact.

It would have been highly unlikely for so productive, so experienced and so thoroughly professional a composer as Mozart to create any music without either a commission, a request from a publisher, or at the very least a fairly definite assurance of a performance. He did create his three final symphonies as a set, as indicated by the conspicuous contrasts from one to the next in terms of character and instrumentation, and he accomplished the performance of all three in less than two months, while at the same time producing a few other works in different forms. All these elements support the notion that he did have some definite purpose in mind for these symphonies, and it appears that it may have had to do with his thoughts of visiting London, where he had enjoyed some success as a child prodigy and had in fact composed his earliest symphonies more than twenty years earlier--and where he now had thoughts of seeking a position.

The visit to London did not materialize, but in the spring of 1789 he made a tour of several German cities, in the course of which he conducted concerts of his works and, while the program details are incomplete, it is known that he conducted a symphony in his Dresden concert of April 14, and/or two symphonies in Leipzig on May 12. Surely these would have been the new ones he had composed the previous summer, all three of which may well have been performed during that tour.

We know, too, that he heard one or two of these symphonies in Vienna two years later, the last year of his life, in concerts the aforementioned Salieri conducted on April 16 and 17, 1791. Again the program details are incomplete, but it is fairly certain that No. 40 in G minor was performed on the 16th, and No. 39 in E-flat may have been presented the following evening. The "Jupiter" would have been the least likely of the three works to be presented in either of those concerts, for the orchestra included the celebrated clarinetists Anton Stadler (for whom Mozart composed several certifiable masterworks (the "Kegelstatt" Trio, the Clarinet Quintet, and the last of his concertos for any instrument) and his brother Johann. Surely the presence of the Stadler brothers would have been exploited, but only one of the three final symphonies, No. 39 in E-flat, called for clarinets in its original scoring; Mozart added clarinets to No. 40 in G minor, though, apparently for this occasion.

While the "Jupiter" may have been left out of Salieri's Viennese concerts because it did not call for clarinets, the very absence of those instruments in its scoring would have made it the more likely that Mozart would have been able to include this work in his own earlier tour programs, in cities in which clarinets may not have been available. (The instruments called for in the score are a flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.)

In any event, the name "Jupiter," whether actually affixed by Cramer or by someone else, suits this work brilliantly. Its Olympian character is suggested at once in the commanding emphasis of its terse opening strokes, and is maintained to the end. Among the themes in the first movement is one Mozart had used three months earlier in the arietta for basso "Un bacio di mano" (K. 540), whose virile character is expanded upon here.

Jovian, too, is the broad melody of the succeeding Andante cantabile. The differences in the wind complements of the three final symphonies serve in large part to establish or define the contrasting character of the respective works. In the outer movements of the "Jupiter" the winds enhance the music's lean, thrusting character, while in the slow movement they emphasize its songfulness, with affecting lyric passages even for the bassoon. The minuet restores the assertive mood of the opening movement and brings with it a certain air of expectancy, as if by way of prelude to the greatest of all Mozart's symphonic finales.

The opening theme of the final movement is one that opens also the finale of Haydn's Symphony No. 13 in D major, composed in 1763. Mozart may or may not have known that work, but he had used the theme himself in no fewer than four of his own earlier compositions--two very early symphonies, the first movement of the Symphony No. 33 in B-flat (K. 319), and in the Credo of the Mass in F major, K. 192--and glorified it in this final use, much as Beethoven was to do in the finale of the Eroica with the simple dance tune he had used earlier in three compositions of different kinds.

Four additional themes are heard in the "Jupiter's" finale, which is in sonata form, and all five motifs are splendidly combined in the fugal coda noted in the heading over the entry for this work in Köchel's catalogue. The end is an exultant C-major blaze of trumpets and drums, the sort of gesture that may be expected in such a work, but one whose effect is no less stunning for all that.