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Symphony No. 36 in C major, K. 425, "Linz"

About the Work

Wolfgang Mozart
Quick Look Composer: Wolfgang Mozart
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: James Conlon, conductor/Wagner & Mozart Jan. 12 - 14, 2006
© Richard Freed
Mozart conducted this symphony in Linz during the four days preceding its first performance, which he conducted there on November 4, 1783. Antal Doráti conducted the National Symphony Orchestra's first performances of this work, on October 26, 27 and 28, 1971, during the orchestra's first month in its present home; the most recent one, on October 5, 1995, was conducted by Barry Jekowsky at the University of North Texas.

The score calls for pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets, with timpani and strings. Duration, 28 minutes.

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In the spring of 1781 Mozart severed his ties to the Archiepiscopal court in Salzburg and settled in Vienna, where he took a room in the house of Cäcelia Weber. He had met her four daughters—all of them singers—in Mannheim a few years earlier and had fallen in love with one of them, Aloysia. She had married the actor Joseph Lange in 1780, but the other three sisters still lived with their mother, and Leopold Mozart was so concerned about Cäcilia's possibly marrying one of them off to his son, that Wolfgang moved out of the house around August 1. A year later, however (August 4, 1782, 18 days after the premiere of The Abduction from the Seraglio ), over his father's objections, he married the 20-year-old Constanze Weber in St. Stephen's Cathedral. Baroness Waldstätten, who had befriended Mozart and his bride and charmed old Leopold sufficiently to intercede on their behalf, gave them a lavish dinner after the ceremony, but the parental letter of grudging approval did not arrive until after the ceremony and attendant dinner had taken place, and it was not until the following summer that Wolfgang was able to take his bride to Salzburg to meet her father-in-law. The couple's departure from Vienna was delayed by a threat of arrest for a minor debt, and that proved to be an omen for the frustrating expedition itself. According to most of Mozart's biographers, Constanze was either incapable of making conciliatory gestures or simply unconcerned about the need for them. Three unpleasant months in Salzburg passed with neither Constanze nor Leopold doing anything to lessen the hostility between them.

The trip home, though, proved to be both restorative and productive. On their way back to Vienna Wolfgang and Constanze stopped in Linz, where they stayed for more than two weeks as gusts of Count Thun, whose daughter-in-law was one of Mozart's Viennese piano pupils. Toward the end of that sojourn Mozart, who had a talent for drawing, sketched one of the paintings in the Count's palace and presented it to Constanze with the mock-serious inscription, “Dessiné par W.A. Mozart Linz ce 13 novembre 1783; dédié à Madame Mozart son épouse.” Of the music he composed in Linz, and the hospitality he enjoyed there, he wrote to his father with some excitement on October 31:

When we arrived at the gates of Linz, a servant was standing there to conduct us to the Old Count Thun's, where we are still living. I really cannot tell you how they overwhelm us with kindness in this house. On Thursday, the Fourth of November, I am going to give a concert in the theater, and, as I have not a single symphony by me, I am writing away over head and ears at a new one, which must be ready by then.

The Symphony in C major composed for that occasion, apparently in the incredibly brief period of four days, is clearly Mozart's finest work in this form up to that time; it marked the beginning of a new and magnificent phase for him as a symphonist. The mellowness (a term Joseph Haydn would use in describing his own symphonies for London, which share certain characteristics of this work), the self-confidence and all-round maturity of this music not only belie the haste in which it was created, but reflect the therapeutic effect of the elegant hospitality and cheerful surroundings in Linz following the dispiriting sojourn in Salzburg. It need not surprise us, perhaps, that Mozart would respond to his contrasting experiences in that city and in Linz by producing a masterwork in a fury of inspiration, by way of reassuring both himself and his obdurate father of his stature as an artist.

The slow introduction to the first movement represents Mozart's first use of such a format in his symphonies; he was to repeat the gesture only in his next two: the “Prague” Symphony in D major, K. 504, and the one in E-flat, K. 543, that began his final trilogy of symphonies in the summer of 1788. This kind of opening is far more characteristic of Haydn than of Mozart, and this work throughout its four movements bears a closer kinship with the symphonies of Haydn that Mozart revealed in any of his other symphonies. This kinship extends down to the shape of the themes themselves, as the onset of the Allegro spiritoso emphasizes, but it must be added that the Haydn likenesses most strongly evoked in this splendid movement are in fact among the symphonies composed for London after Mozart's death.

(Apparently while he was in Linz, Mozart created another slow introduction, for a symphonic opening movement that documents a different kind of “kinship” with Haydn, and which also explains the gap in the enumeration of his symphonies between the “Linz,” which is No. 36, and the aforementioned “Prague,” which is the next in the cycle but is called No. 38. For use in his Vienna concerts he composed a slow introduction for an already existing Symphony in G major by his erstwhile Salzburg colleague Michael Haydn, the younger brother of the illustrious Joseph. That entire work somehow came to be identified for a time as Mozart's Symphony No. 37, K. 444, and, although the matter of authorship was set right, the numbering of Mozart's own subsequent symphonies was never changed.)

Something more than parenthetical notice is called for in respect to a similarly long-standing misrepresentation of the “Linz” Symphony's second movement. In this instance the question was not one of authorship, but of the tempo marking, which may be said to bear directly on the character of the music. Poco adagio , the heading accepted for a century and a half, was shown only about twenty years ago to have been a gratuitous 19th-century replacement for Mozart's actual marking of Andante. The music, in any event, is in 6/8 time and in the nature of a siciliana ; there is even a certain thematic resemblance to the Largo alla siciliana called La Paix in Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks. Trumpets and drums, often silent in slow movements, are used effectively in both the outer parts and the vigorous contrasting middle section of this one.

The sturdy minuet is an eminently danceable specimen, and has been interpolated as such in some productions of both Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro. In the finale, as in the first movement, one might gather from both the general outline and the themes themselves that Mozart was writing in conscious homage to Haydn, but again, in the words of Alfred Einstein, “chromatic passages and flexibility of texture unknown to Haydn betray Mozart's hand, even when he was writing in extreme haste.”