Mozart – Symphony no.25 in g minor (1773)
If you ever feel like you’re getting too full of yourself, look up what Mozart was doing around your age. That will probably take you down a notch or two. I say that because Mozart wrote this symphony when he was 17 years old. When I was 17, I went to school in pajama pants and had a handful of atrocious stories and poems to my name. Anyway, the symphony was one of only two that Mozart had written in a minor key [the other one, no.40, is also in g minor and is usually nicknamed “the Great” in comparison to this one which is sometimes called “little”]. It is written with “sturm und drang”, which is a proto-romantic trend a few late-Classical composers played around in, writing minor key music that pushed for fiery drama and deeper expression, alluding to the kinds of intensity we will see later in the 19th century. Since we like to think of adolescence as being the optimal time for going against “the man”, I think it’s kind of charming to think of a young wild Mozart itching to experiment with writing a symphony that wouldn’t be so charming for the aristocratic audience. It also feels fitting for autumn. Apparently Mozart wrote this in October, so now I can’t help think that he had changing leaves, chilly wind, and ghostly moonlight in mind as he wrote this one. Mozart’s symphony isn’t considered to be at the same quality as his later “greater” symphonies, but even so this work skyrocketed to popularity through the success of Forman’s Amadeus (1984). The opening is less of a “melody” and more of a syncopated rhythmic chord progression. We calm down, but only a minute into the piece we are pushing through with a kind of galloping horses celebration. The chamber-like size of the orchestration helps the sections work together to pull off interesting colors. The movement moves forward like rough ocean waves, playing with the two main ideas, changing the tone and density with each mutation. In an expected twist, the jubilant major key theme is twisted into the minor and really emphasizes the “strum”. With one final repeat of the main theme [including the minor-key twist of the B section], and with a stretto treatment of the opening motif, the movement ends in a sinister horn call. The slow movement is a breath of fresh air after the heart pounding opening. We follow a delicate melody that is like a call and response between the instruments. The sea has calmed. And then we get some of that lively “Mozartian” charm. The minuet start with a bit of a “swing”, calling back to its origins as a courtly dance. The first section has the sinister atmosphere of the opening, but the second is the expected contrast where the winds do most of the work. The last movement takes us back to the energy that dominated the opening, along with the syncopated rhythm that forces us to move forward. It doesn’t go overboard though, and the combination of drama and charm makes this feel like a mirror to the first movement. There are a few loud dissonant chords, but unlike Beethoven’s angsty teenage years, the teenage Mozart still holds onto a sense of grace.
1. Allegro con brio
Weinberger Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Gábor Takács-Nagy