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Symphony No. 35 in D major, K. 385, "Haffner"

About the Work

Wolfgang Mozart
Quick Look Composer: Wolfgang Mozart
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Christoph Eschenbach, conductor / Dvorák's "New World" Symphony, plus Mozart and an NSO premiere with Martin Grubinger, percussion Jan. 23 - 25, 2014
© Thomas May

When Mozart relocated from Salzburg to Vienna in 1781, he entered on a brand new chapter of his career with a sense of fresh possibility. The first few years of adjusting to the bustling imperial capital were exhausting and risky but offered the opportunity to achieve the artistic and personal independence which had been unattainable in his native Salzburg. Mozart had to work his way through the complexities of Viennese social and musical politics to make it as a freelance artist who no longer depending on the security of steady patronage. He survived by devising a combination of private lessons and an increasingly demanding series of concerts, usually featuring himself as keyboard soloist.

The "Haffner" Symphony is a kind of bridge work dating from those first years in Vienna while also having ties to Mozart's Salzburg past. Back in 1776, Mozart had been commissioned to write a serenade for the wedding of the daughter of one of his hometown's powerbrokers, a wealthy merchant named Sigmund Haffner. This elaborate and delightful serenade obviously left a lasting impression. In the summer of 1782, Haffner's son (the same age as Mozart) received an aristocratic title, and to honor the occasion the family wanted more music from the same source. Leopold Mozart (a friend of the Haffners) wrote to his son-now living in Vienna-to request a new celebratory symphony.

But Mozart was already overextended with multiple projects. He couldn't manage to turn the request around with his usual lightning speed and may even have missed the original deadline. Intensifying the stress was the fact that just at this time Mozart was planning his own wedding in August-a match of which Leopold disapproved. The scholar Neal Zaslaw has suggested that, on top of his work burden, Mozart may have experienced a creative block owing to "disaffection toward Salzburg and anger at his father." Whatever feelings of resentment may have been involved, Mozart unquestionably filtered them out of the music he did compose to produce one of his most scintillating orchestral works. And of this new music, at least, Leopold expressed unstinting approval. "I am delighted that the symphony is to your taste," responded Wolfgang.

In the summer of 1782 Mozart sent the new music to Papa in Salzburg movement by movement, as he completed each, and then forgot all about it. The following spring, when he needed fresh material for one of his Vienna concerts, Mozart looked the score over again and made some revisions (adding flutes and clarinets to his orchestration for the outer movements, for example). In a letter to Leopold he remarked that "my new Haffner symphony has positively amazed me, for I had forgotten every single note of it. It must surely produce a good effect."

Mozart's prediction came true when it was played at his Vienna concert in March 1783. A contemporary newspaper reported that among the "exceptionally large crowd" in attendance was the emperor, who stayed for the whole concert "against his habit" and joined in "such animous [sic] applause as has never been heard of here."

The "Haffner" opens with a unison leap of joy, a two-octave-spanning smile that sets the spirited Allegro in motion. Mozart wrote to Leopold that it "must be played with great fire." The movement is dominated by the character of the opening theme-a kind of writing influenced by his friend Haydn and sometimes called "monothematicism." Mozart even foregoes the conventional repeat of the exposition; the commentator Michael Steinberg surmises this is because the movement's "striking tautness" and thematic concentration make that gesture unnecessary.

The G major Andante entertains with urbane pleasures, as if in spirited acknowledgement of Mozart's new public in the big city. The Minuet by contrast evokes the festive, unforced mirth of Mozart's music for public celebrations from the earlier Salzburg years. Mozart wanted the finale to be played "as fast as possible." You can hear a premonition of the boisterous Figaro music to come in just a few years. Here the ambitious young Mozart seems to celebrate not only his Salzburg friends of old but the liberating prospects of his new life in Vienna, where he was just beginning to make his mark.