Mozart in a “Minor” Mood: Symphony No. 40

Posthumous portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart painted in 1819 by Barbara Krafft (1764–1825).(Photo: Otto Erich Deutsch)
Posthumous portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart painted in 1819 by Barbara Krafft (1764–1825).(Photo: Otto Erich Deutsch)

Mozart’s last three symphonies were written in quick succession in the summer of 1788, and we’re not even sure why.

There is uncertainty about whether they may have been composed as commissions (or not). But one thing is certain: Mozart’s Symphonies 39, 40 and 41 are all masterpieces of the highest order.

Of the three, No. 40 (K. 550) is the only one in a minor key. In fact, it is one of only two symphonies the Mozart wrote in a minor key, the other being the much earlier Symphony No. 25 (K. 183, also in the key of G minor).

The generally exuberant and upbeat nature of so much of Mozart’s music is here tempered by a greater feeling of melancholy than in the major key symphonies.

Much of Mozart’s music has an elusive mix of moods, where suddenly an emotional ambivalence appears in the midst of joy and then is gone, like a few clouds briefly obscuring the sunshine.

This is part of the enduring mystery and appeal of Mozart’s music, reminding us of the fleeting changes and transitory nature of our own inner emotions as well.

http://youtu.be/aZD9nt_wsY0

Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor dwells in that emotional ambivalence and wistfulness a bit more than any of the others, making it a more bitter-sweet expression of Mozart’s inexhaustible genius.

This evening on Symphony at 7, we’ll feature this great work.

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