Lesson 6

The Late 1780s: Mozart’s Last Symphony, No. 41

This lesson begins with a short description of Mozart’s life in the last years of the 1780s, when his popularity, support, and fortune had declined. Then we’ll examine his development as a symphony composer, focusing on his last three symphonies, especially the “Jupiter.”
Freemasonry and Mozart’s Finances

Mozart joined the Freemasons in 1784 and for the rest of his life was an active member. Interestingly, he sought financial help from a fellow Mason, not from a member of Vienna’s established nobility or the rising middle class. For more on this, see Chapter 21, “Freemasonry,” in Solomon’s text. And if you want to read more about Mozart’s declining finances, see Chapter 29, “A Constant Sadness” or the Appendix.

Mozart in Debt in the late 1780s

In Lesson 5 we examined the development of Mozart’s genius at the keyboard as a composer and performer. We discussed his earliest compositions before introducing the first accounts of his performances. Today’s lesson begins by describing Mozart’s life in the last years of the 1780s. We’ll see that, by this time, his popularity and support had declined while his debt increased, but his poverty was not to the degree of earlier “romanticized” biographies. After this discussion, we’ll then introduce Mozart’s development as a composer of symphonies. We’ll see how his symphonies, especially the “Jupiter,” continue the traditions established by his predecessors and contemporaries while also being new and revolutionary.

Mozart in Debt

By 1788 Mozart was in serious debt and, during the summer, he began the first of a series of letters seeking money from his fellow Masonic brother Michael Puchberg. Mozart’s financial straits resulted in part from the Turkish war waged by Emperor Joseph II. Since this campaign wasn’t going too well, the nobility had to conserve its financial resources, thus impinging upon Mozart’s main source of income. In addition, Mozart and Constanze had become accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, one perhaps beyond their means. The effects of repeated difficult pregnancies also meant that his wife had to spend time at the expensive spa town of Baden, southwest of Vienna.

Given his dramatic pleas for money, it is easy to understand how many historians and artists have romanticized Mozart’s poverty, especially his latter years. The work of many others, including Solomon, the author of our text, has rectified this misconception to a great extent.By showing that, while Mozart was indeed deeply in debt, he wasn’t exactly on skid row, either, their efforts have helped establish a much more accurate picture of the last years of Mozart’s life.

The Enlightenment and Music

The 18th century is the era of the Enlightenment, which emphasized order and balance, symmetry and rational thought. This emphasis extended to virtually all fields, and it was important for music to demonstrate these same characteristics. Mozart’s melodies thus are normally comprised of two sections, equal in length and balancing each other. On a larger scale, this same type of symmetry is called sonata form, which we’ll discuss next.

Mozart’s Last Three Symphonies

Despite his financial difficulties and Constanze’s poor health, Mozart completed his last three symphonies in the amazingly short span of about two months during the summer of 1788. Symphony No. 39 in E-flat, K. 543, is dated June 26; Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550, is dated July 25; and Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, is dated 10 August 1788. They are considered by many to be the crowning achievement of his instrumental music.

Taken together, these last three symphonies provide an overview of Mozart as a composer. The warmth and rich beauty of the E-flat Symphony, No. 39, moves to the frenetic, almost neurotic energy of the famous G Minor Symphony, No. 40. The true crown of the three, however, is his last one, the C Major Symphony, No. 41. With its spectacular Finale, it is one of the greatest compositional achievements of the 18th century. It provides a worthy example of how thoroughly Mozart had absorbed the involved contrapuntal style of Bach and Handel.

The “Jupiter” Symphony

The nickname “Jupiter” was apparently given to Mozart’s C Major Symphony, No. 41 by Haydn’s London sponsor, the violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon. The designation “Jupiter” was probably inspired by the pomp of the first movement, with its prominent use of trumpets and timpani and stately dotted rhythms. The earliest printed edition to employ the subtitle was a piano arrangement made and published by Muzio Clementi in London in 1823. In the early 19th century, German-speaking lands knew the work not as the “Jupiter” but rather as “the symphony with the fugal finale.”

The nickname “Jupiter” was famous enough from mid-19th century onward that the following story is told about Johannes Brahms (in Robert Haven Schauffler’s The Unknown Brahms):

How many readers, bearing in mind that the first three Brahms symphonies were in C (minor), D, and F — will instantly appreciate the following jest? On the appearance of the Fourth symphony, in E (minor), young Robert Kahn remarked to the Master (Brahms): “Your next three must all be in A.”

Without a moment’s consideration, Brahms gave a great laugh and shouted: “Mozart!” He had realized that the fugue finale of Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony begins with the notes C-D-F-E-A-A.

Brahms’s first four symphonies are in the keys of C (minor), D (major), F (major), and E (minor) — the first four notes of the “Jupiter” Finale’s theme. Thus, according to the anecdote, the next “logical” keys for Brahms to choose are the next notes in the theme of the “Jupiter’s” Finale — A-A-A. I’ve included this anecdote for several reasons. First of all, it’s an amusing story (and a good one to tell at cocktail parties!). But more to the point: it demonstrates how well Brahms and others knew Mozart’s music and how Mozart’s music, and especially the “Jupiter” symphony, was a model for those who followed him.

Before we look at the Symphony, and especially its Finale, let’s take a moment to review the concept of sonata form — the way that Mozart organized many movements in his symphonies.

Mozart’s Personal Catalogue

Mozart compiled a catalog of his works, Verzeichnüÿ aller meiner Werke (The Index of All My Works). Each entry includes the name of the composition, including its date of composition, instrumentation, and a measure or two of each movement’s opening theme. The catalog runs from February 1784 to November 1791. So, since Leopold kept a similar catalog of Mozart’s youthful works, we have a pretty accurate picture of Mozart’s complete output and its chronology.

Time Out: What Is Sonata Form?

A great example of Mozart balancing two sections of equal length against each other can be found in the opening melody of the “Jupiter” Symphony’s first movement:

Listen to the Jupiter Symphony’s First Movement: An example of Mozart balancing two sections of equal length

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The Jupiter Symphony’s First Movement

Notice that each phrase is four measures long and, together, they make a larger unit of 4 + 4 measures. This is the musical equivalent of a sentence.

Sonata Form’s Balance

Mozart strings together balanced sentences like this to make orderly “paragraphs,” and musical “paragraphs” grow to make larger sections, which in turn are joined to make the complete composition. We call this pattern “sonata form.” (Don’t get confused; the word “sonata” can also be used as the name for a composition for solo piano, or piano plus a solo instrument. In the following discussion, though, I’m going to be using “sonata” to describe the form of a single movement — almost always the first movement, but often later movements, too.)

Sonata form has three large sub-sections:

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The first and last sections are very similar; they provide balance and symmetry. They are not identical, though, and thus the Exposition is characterized by a sense of harmonic instability, while the Recapitulation is harmonically stable:

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In more technical terms, the Exposition moves harmonically from one harmonic area (the harmony based on the first note of the scale, called the “tonic” chord) to another (usually the harmony based on the fifth note of the scale, called the “dominant” chord). This change of harmonic area is why we call the Exposition “unstable.”

The Exposition and Recapitulation often have at least two, and often three or more, themes, heard at the points where the changes of harmony occur:

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There’s often a transition theme that the composer will use to form the connection between the first and second main themes.

The middle section, or Development, is often the most interesting, since it allows the composer virtually an unlimited choice of harmony, and complete freedom in using any of the themes heard in the Exposition. The themes can be combined, shortened, extended, or subjected to other variations, and so this section is where the composer’s imagination can be most free.

Sonata form is not only a structural plan which looks balanced when it’s charted out on paper, but it can also provide a “road map” for your listening. A great example of Mozart balancing two sections of equal length against each other can be found in the opening melody of the “Jupiter” Symphony’s first movement:

Listen to Theme 1 of the Jupiter Symphony’s First Movement

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Theme 1 of the Jupiter Symphony’s First Movement

Listen to Theme 2 of the Jupiter Symphony’s First Movement

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Theme 2 of the Jupiter Symphony’s First Movement

Listen to the Closing Theme of the Jupiter Symphony’s First Movement

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Closing Theme of the Jupiter Symphony’s First Movement

Now listen to the entire movement several times. See if you can follow these themes in the Exposition and Recapitulation. Be sure to listen for the themes Mozart chooses for the Development section. Were you able to discern these themes? Why do you think Mozart decided upon those themes for the Development section? Go to the Message Board and share your thoughts.

Back to the “Jupiter” Symphony

The “Jupiter” symphony’s second movement, Andante cantabile, with its muted violins and use of the darker subdominant key of F, turns away from the bright sounds of the outer movements. Beneath its galant surface, the Minuet and Trio movement foreshadows the contrapuntal textures of the Finale.

The last movement is unique in Mozart’s symphonic output, and one of the architectural triumphs of Western music. This movement is based on the very same unassuming theme that Brahms had remembered:

Listen to the Jupiter Symphony’s Final Movement

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The Jupiter Symphony’s Final Movement

In the coda, however, these themes are combined in the most ingenious fashion. Listen to each of these themes in turn, then study the list below to see how Mozart combined them into a rousing whole. After, be ready to share your opinion of why these themes were combined so ingeniously.

In the coda, however, these themes are combined in the most ingenious fashion. Listen to each of these themes in turn, then study the list below to see how Mozart combined them into a rousing whole. After, be ready to share your opinion of why these themes were combined so ingeniously.

Listen to the first theme from the “Jupiter” Symphony’s Finale

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The first theme from the “Jupiter” Symphony’s Finale

Listen to the Second of the Six Themes of the Jupiter Symphony’s Second Movement

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The Second of the Six Themes of the Jupiter Symphony’s Second Movement

Listen to the Third of the Six Themes of the Jupiter Symphony’s Second Movement

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The Third of the Six Themes of the Jupiter Symphony’s Second Movement

Listen to the Fourth of the Six Themes of the Jupiter Symphony’s Second Movement

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The Fourth of the Six Themes of the Jupiter Symphony’s Second Movement

Listen to the Fifth of the Six Themes of the Jupiter Symphony’s Second Movement

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The Fifth of the Six Themes of the Jupiter Symphony’s Second Movement

Listen to the Sixth of the Six Themes of the Jupiter Symphony’s Second Movement

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The Sixth of the Six Themes of the Jupiter Symphony’s Second Movement

The following shows how Mozart combines these themes.

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The wind instruments are also playing, but only double the stringed instruments’ roles in the chart above, and thus I’ve not listed them separately. Although you can see how complex this section is from the chart above, it sounds deceptively simple.

In the “Jupiter,” however, Mozart builds the level of complexity from one movement to the next, creating a type of “crescendo of intensity” that culminates in the coda of the last movement. Beethoven and the Romantic composers of the 19th century adopted the pattern that Mozart uses in his last symphony.

You might also like to see Mozart’s original manuscript for this Symphony. I’ve included the first page of the first movement (ex. 12), the first page of the Finale (ex. 13), and the first two pages of the coda (ex. 14).

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The First Page of the Symphony’s First Movement
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The First Page of the Symphony’s Finale
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The First Two Pages of the Symphony’s Coda
You might be interested in learning that Joseph Haydn was the only contemporary of Mozart’s able fully to comprehend his matchless compositional virtuosity. He was also the only one Mozart respected as an equal. Haydn paid the “Jupiter” the ultimate compliment a composer can make by quoting from its slow movement in his Symphony No. 98 and by modeling the Finale of his Symphony No. 95 upon it.
Moving Forward

Today we learned about Mozart’s life in the last years of the 1780s, when his popularity, support, and fortune had declined. Then we examined his development as a symphony composer. Lesson 7 begins with a short description of Mozart’s life in his last year — how his fortunes were reviving, and how his future looked brighter than it had for several years. It also discusses the circumstances leading to the commission for the Requiem, of which we’ll examine several movements. The lesson then focuses on the cause of, and circumstances surrounding, Mozart’s death.

Assignment : Second and Third Movements of Mozart’s Symphonies

In Lesson 6 we didn’t have much time to talk about either the second or third movement of Mozart’s symphonies. The third movements in Mozart’s symphonies are structured in a pattern that follows the outline of ABA, or “Minuet — Trio — Minuet.” Listen to the third movement several times and make a list of the things ways in which the “Trio” contrasts with the “Minuet.” Then make a list of the ways in which the “Trio” is similar to the “Minuet.” Then go to the Message Board and compare your lists with your classmates.

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