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Learn about the piece:

Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”, K. 551

Composed by

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart



flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings

I. Allegro vivace
II. Andante cantabile
III. Menuetto: Allegretto
IV. Molto allegro

Composed 1788.

notes by Katherine Baber

The Symphony No. 41 in C major, nicknamed “Jupiter” by the London public, is a fitting capstone to a concert celebrating Mozart. Although the reference to an Olympian god was not the composer's choice, he did signal clearly with his _musical _choices that he meant the work as a bold statement. The choice of C major as the key still carried imperial associations. The fanfares, march-like rhythms, and flourishes that pervade the whole, but especially the first movement, also expressed a military, courtly, or otherwise dignified character. This ceremonial tone dominates the first theme, while the second theme is both lyric and a touch dramatic. This is not to say that the Allegro is over-serious, however, as what follows is some patter-like music that imitates the comic singing of _opera buffa _characters, reminding us that the nobility loved the theater as much as anyone. The Andante begins as a sarabande — a stately dance of the upper classes — and the following Menuetto has an unusually serious character. Rather than starting with a lighter upbeat, as would fit the usual pattern of the dance, this minuet begins on a heavier downbeat. Even the trio in the middle of the third movement, which should be a lighter or more rustic contrast to the outer sections, features a rhythmic motto more typical of the serious minuet. And all of this is crowned by a finale that is a masterful integration of tradition and stylish ingenuity.

The first theme of the finale consists of a simple four-note motto, stated by the first violins, that Mozart's audience had likely heard before. Used multiple times by Haydn and Mozart, its history runs back at least as far as Palestrina. Most notably, it was used by Johann Joseph Fux in his compositional manual _Gradus ad Parnassum _— this theme was the subject of a basic exercise given as “homework” for generations of composers. Here Mozart uses it to tease those in the know, unfolding three of the standard “species” of counterpoint within the first theme, but withholding the fourth. The second theme moves in almost the opposite direction with its singing, _galant _character. Like the sonata form of the whole movement, the second theme is a thoroughly modern choice for Mozart, its simplicity and directness seemingly at odds with the contrapuntal passages. Especially in the development section that follows, there is an abundance of older styles, including complex fugal techniques and imitative canons. In the recapitulation, he finally gives his audience the “missing” species of counterpoint, as if correcting the exercise in the exposition, and follows up with a fugue on five distinct subjects taken from the whole of the movement. This finale is a stunning feat in which up-to-the moment melodies and a clear sonata form, readily grasped by the audience, are combined with complex, even obscure traditions. Mozart may not have bestowed the title “Jupiter” himself, but he certainly earned it.

notes by James Keays

It was common during the classical period for composers to write primarily on demand, either at the request of an employer or out of the need to present a concert for the expressed purpose of raising money on which to live. This was especially true for large, time-consuming works such as operas and, to a slightly lesser extent, symphonies. It was also particularly true in the case of Mozart after he moved to Vienna in 1781 and attempted to support himself solely through performance and composition.

The fact that, without a commission—and at a time (June 26 through August 10, 1788) when it would have been more financially sensible to write piano concertos—Mozart would compose his three greatest (and final) symphonies has long been a mystery. It had long been believed that the works were created out of an inner need or, at the very least, for a projected concert that never took place, and that Mozart never heard the works performed. Although it is true that there are no records with which to disprove this conjecture, research strongly suggests that Mozart did, in fact, perform the works either separately or as a set in 1789 at Dresden and Leipzig and again in 1790 in Frankfurt. Whatever the reasons for their composition, the works were to be a fitting valedictory statement to a form in which Mozart excelled. They are among the finest symphonies ever composed.

The Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551, is, in terms of its architecture and the majesty of its gestures, an appropriate climax to the trilogy. Its popular subtitle, “Jupiter,” originated in London around 1821 and was probably inspired by the flourishes of the trumpets and drums in the first movement, gestures that evoked images of nobility and godliness in the minds of the audiences at the time. The name became permanent in 1823 when it was included on the title page of the first printed edition of a version for solo piano. One can only speculate as to what Mozart would have thought about the appendage.

The first movement begins with a theme alternately martial and lyrical. A second contrasting one uses a chromatic scale as a central feature. This is followed by a closing theme borrowed from a concert aria written a few months earlier. The lyrical second and third themes serve perfectly to balance the somewhat bombastic flourishes found in the opening theme. It is the unexpected third theme that is extensively developed in the central part of the movement.

The beautiful second movement contains one of the longest themes Mozart would ever write—eleven bars. Furthermore, it is unusual in that the strings play with mutes throughout. The broad, stately minuet that follows could easily function as an actual dance in an imperial ballroom. It is the final movement that stands out as one of the most interesting symphonic movements written by any composer. It begins with a very simple four note theme that could have been taken from a church work. What follows is a strict sonata form, but with so much use of fugal imitation that early 19th century German musicians referred to the entire work as the “symphony with the fugal finale.” The movement has also been described as Mozart’s most “learned” piece of music, in that it could easily serve as a textbook of fugal devices. In the final coda, all five major thematic elements are played simultaneously, yet the overall effect is not a lesson in counterpoint, but a fitting conclusion to a dramatic symphonic movement.

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