Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony Number 40 in G-Minor

What’s not to like?

Sorry, I don’t mean to be so cavalier, but Mozart’s music sometimes strikes me that way. It lilts along so effortlessly. You can imagine that that’s what’s playing right now on the 24-hour all hits classical music station in heaven. Again, no blasphemy intended there. I think back to the play, Amadeus in which Salieri transcribes Mozart’s Requiem. Salieri describes Mozart as almost channeling the music straight from God.

The Symphony Number 40 was another piece that the M*** family introduced me to in high school, and I became so smitten with it that I had to have a copy of it. They suggested one on the Deutsche Grammophon label, conducted by Karl Böhm. He and Von Karajan were the two heavies on that label during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Usually Karajan got the Beethoven and Böhm did the Mozart.

Mozart wrote this symphony along with the 39th and 41st during the summer of 1788, completing all three in a span of six weeks. The first movement contains a restless melody, which sounds a bit dark, perhaps because of the minor key. A lovely serenade graces the second movement, which retains some of the darkness of the first movement. The third starts out with more of the anguished feelings, but then a nice quiet uplifting melody, punctuated by the flutes and horns, takes over for a while. You think you’re home free for a while, but then the anguish of the beginning returns. The feeling of a storm or some great struggle starts off the finale, which is full of drama. It stops midway through, a little fugue then starts off which recaps the main theme, but then it leads to a full resolution. At the end, you have the feeling that you just went through some great emotional struggle, and though you came out alive, you bear a few scars for it.

Here’s the full thing with Harnancourt conducting, about twice as fast as Bohm.

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