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Symphony No. 33 in B-flat, K. 319

Composed by

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart



2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings

notes by Chris Myers

Completed July 9, 1779.

I. Allegro assai
II. Andante moderato
III. Menuetto
IV. Finale: Allegro assai

In January of 1779, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart returned from a disheartening 16-month tour of Europe. He had been unable to achieve his goal of finding a new and more lucrative position, and he was still grieving the loss of his mother, who had died while he was away. At some point over the next few months, he began work on a new symphony.

His 31st symphony was a colorful three-movement work tailored for Parisian audiences, who didn’t receive it with as much enthusiasm as Mozart had hoped, and his 32nd symphony was an experiment at writing in the Italian style. Symphony No. 33 saw him return to a more Austro-German style. The manuscript bears a completion date of July 9, 1779, but, as with so many of Mozart’s symphonies, the date of its premiere is uncertain. Symphony No. 33 was originally a three-movement work; the composer added the minuet movement for a mid-1780s performance in Vienna, where four-movement symphonies had become popular.

Scored for two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and strings, Symphony No. 33 is the smallest of his late symphonies. The lightness of the work extends to the mood of the piece. Despite the disappointment one might expect the composer to have felt after such a disappointing period in his life, the symphony is a light-hearted and witty work. Though intimate at times, it rarely strays into sadness or introspection. It became one of only a few of his symphonies that were published during his lifetime.

The work opens with a light, cheerful Allegro assai. The bouncy triple-meter theme may remind us of a waltz, a dance which was only just beginning to emerge from Austria’s Ländler, the predominant folk dance of the region. Unlike what we consider to be traditional sonata form, the “development” section of this movement introduces new themes rather than developing the music laid out in the exposition. Among these is a motive that should be familiar to any Mozart lover: the figure which would return as the principal theme in the finale of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony.

The second movement pulls back a bit on the energy, contrasting a broad and leisurely principal theme against a minor mode secondary theme. The strings take center stage here, and the winds only make a brief appearance in a short canonic episode. This is followed by the energetic minuet that he added years later for the Viennese performance. We conclude with a bright and witty finale that would later serve as a model for the final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8.

Copyright © 2015 Chris Myers. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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