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Shifting the Weight of The Symphony: Mozart's Symphony 41 Jupiter

Updated on February 5, 2013

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Posthumous portrait of Mozart
Posthumous portrait of Mozart | Source

Symphony 41

Mozart's 41st Symphony is the final published symphony of his career. Written simultaneously with his 39th and 40th symphonies Mozart looked to improve his financial situation with performances of these works, and he also looked to push musical boundaries that had been previously established by the symphonic genre.

Inspired by the polyphonic music that was written during the Baroque Era, it is with Mozart's final symphony that a major breakthrough was achieved. The symphonies written before Mozart's 41st tended to place an emphasis on individual movements. This was probably done to catch people's attention, and to emphasize various popular styles of the day.

The result of this is you have four separate movements working individually instead of collaboratively. This incidentally gives more weight to the first movement of the symphony because if people didn't enjoy the first movement, why the would they bother listening to the rest of the work? As a result, a lot of symphonic composers at this time would place extra effort in the first movement, which usually resulted in a stronger first movements when compared to the rest of the subsequent movements.

In Mozart's 41st Symphony all the movements are strong, but he shifts the weight of the symphony towards the last movement of the work, forcing the audience to wait for the most climactic part, the coda of the final movement.

Historical Background

Mozart's 41st Symphony was believed to have been written for a series of concerts Mozart was planning on having at a new casino in the Spiegelgasse in 1788. It is not known whether these concerts ever took place. Subsequently it is not known if Mozart ever heard his 41st Symphony performed as he would die a few years later, and no other performances of it are mentioned in between that time.

The final movement of this symphony was inspired by Mozart's growing interest in fugues and other contrapuntal musical forms. Although Mozart was taught counterpoint (the art of writing independent melodic/rhythmic musical lines with one another) at a young age, his interest in polyphonic music didn't grow until he began being paid to make arrangements of music by Bach and Handel.

The musical arrangements were part of Mozart's work with Baron van Swieten, who was largely responsible for extensively exposing Mozart to the Baroque masters of counterpoint. Although Handel's music was somewhat accessible, Bach's was not, since he wouldn't receive public acclaim until the 19th century. Nevertheless, van Swieten, hired Mozart to take fugues and other works written by Bach and Handel and arrange them for instrumental ensembles so that they could be performed for social gatherings.

These transcriptions gave Mozart access to a lot of music he previously had no access to. Some of his future compositions would incorporate a lot of contrapuntal ideas in them. It is very likely that new polyphonic music ideas began to germinate inside Mozart's head after van Swieten's request for transcriptions of Handel and Bach's music.

Instrumentation in the 41st Symphony

Woodwinds
Flutes, Oboes, and Bassoons
Brass
Trumpets and Horns
Percussion
Timpani
Strings
Violins, Violas, Cellos, and Basses

The First Three Movements

First Movement

The first movement begins with a bold statement with the full orchestra, that is immediately followed by a soft lyrical passage in the strings. This juxtaposition is repeated again, but on the dominant chord. After the second reiteration the symphony expands into a melodic full orchestral segment. This bold introduction was sure to catch listeners attention, however it does not function as a high point of the symphony either, which is reserved for the final movement.

Mozart uses a lot of imitation in this movement and the subsequent movements. This is a technique that involves taking melodic ideas and distributing them to other instruments in the orchestra. It is a technique that is used a lot in contrapuntal music, in many ways the increased use of imitation in this symphony foreshadows the contrapuntal climax that will take place in the final movement.

Second Movement


The introduction to the second movement is almost like the reverse of the first movement's introduction. A slow lyrical passage is interrupted by loud chords played by the entire orchestra, again it contrasts the first movement in style and makes use of a lot of imitation.

The second movement is similar to a Sarabande, a slow dance in a triple meter. This dance reached the height of its popularity in the Baroque Era, or the era of Bach and Handel. It's inclusion in this symphony, which would have been uncommon at this time, is another subtle nod to the masters of counterpoint.

Third Movement


The third movement is a Menuetto and Trio. This form was typically used as a third movement for symphonies. Like the sarabande, the menuet (French spelling, which is used in Mozart's score) also became popular during the Baroque Era, however it was still widely played during the Classical Era, too.

Mozart's third movement is also slower,like the second movement. These different tempos contrast nicely with the tempo of the final movement, which is very fast paced and exciting.

Themes From The Final Movement

The five themes that make up the fourth movement of the 41st Symphony.
The five themes that make up the fourth movement of the 41st Symphony.

The Final Movement

The final movement of this symphony, like the first two movements, is in sonata form. However, instead of using two themes, Mozart uses five themes. The thematic material for this movement is based off of Theme 1, or the first four notes that open this symphony.

Theme 1 is not an original Mozart melody. The earliest documented form of this motif comes from Missa Panga Lingua by Josquin de Prez. It's unknown whether or not Mozart ever heard this composition, most likely he didn't though. Nevertheless this motif was passed down through generations and shows up in a number of compositions before and after Mozart's time.

Mozart probably came across motif for the first time in Gradus ad Parnassum by Johann Joseph Fux, one of the most important pedagogical books written on the subject of counterpoint at the time. The motif shows up as a compositional exercise in the book, and thus it is possible to say that the last movement of the 41st Symphony may have been based off of a composition exercise.

The two themes that make up the sonata form are labeled Theme 1, the first theme, and Theme 4, the second theme. The other three themes act as either transitions or counter themes to the first two themes of the sonata form.

For more on how sonata form works read this article


Mozart uses these themes in various combinations with one another throughout the final movement as it progresses through the sonata form. The climax of the symphony occurs in the coda. The coda begins by introducing an inverted version of Theme 1. After this introduction Mozart starts up a fugato which begins with Theme 1 playing in counterpoint with Theme 4. As the fugue progresses all five themes join together to play at the same time. The tension is finally released when Mozart returns with the opening statement of the fourth movement which he uses to end the entire work.

Significance

The coda of the final movement of the 41st Symphony is a testament to Mozart's genius. It is impossible for the human brain to process each melody independently when all five melodies are playing together at the same time. This creates an overwhelming effect on the listener because the human brain cannot process all of the music playing together at the same time.

The combination of five very independent themes serves as a climax not only to the fourth movement, but to the whole symphony itself. As a listener of this symphony, a person is waiting until that moment in the music. It is the climax, and it is occurring in the fourth movement. This allowed the weight of the symphony to be shifted to the last movement.

This idea of shifting the weight of the symphony, or having the symphony build to a final thunderous conclusion was an idea that would be imitated by future composers. One of the most notable future examples of shifting the weight of the symphony is found in Beethoven's 5th Symphony which builds towards the triumphant finale in its fourth movement.

The 41st Symphony was Mozart's final contribution to the symphonic art form. He opened the door for future symphonic composers in terms of structure with this symphony, and that is why it is still an important and popular composition today.

Share Your Thoughts On Mozart's 41st Symphony

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    • Music-and-Art-45 profile image
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      Music-and-Art-45 4 years ago from USA, Illinois

      Hello cuttler thanks for stopping by and sharing. I'm glad you found the article informative.

    • cuttler profile image

      Cuttler 4 years ago from HubPages

      it's funny how I understand so little of the music I love so much. That is just one thing I love about classical music. I like the info am getting here. Voted up and shared

    • Music-and-Art-45 profile image
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      Music-and-Art-45 5 years ago from USA, Illinois

      Hello Jamila thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • jamila sahar profile image

      jamila sahar 5 years ago

      Great well researched hub, very interesting !