Mozart and the “C-D-F-E” Motive

Towards the end of the finale of Mozart’s last symphony (the “Jupiter,” No. 41), there’s an extraordinary moment when five independent musical themes combine to form an explosion of counterpoint unlike anything else in the symphonic repertoire. This dazzling display of musical fireworks culminates Mozart’s symphonic output with a celebratory bang. But one of this finale’s most prominent motives- the four notes, “C-D-F-E” which open the movement– has roots much earlier in Mozart’s writing. Go back and listen to the second movement of the First Symphony, which Mozart composed in 1764 at the age of eight, and you’ll hear this same motive in the horns. It makes a subtle appearance again in Mozart’s Symphony No. 33, as well as a few other works. Actually these fascinating four notes have roots as far back as ancient plainchant. You can hear them in Josquin’s Missa Pange lingua.  

Tomorrow marks the 262nd anniversary of Mozart’s birth. In celebration, let’s listen to Mozart’s first and last symphonies, side by side. Consider the strange and fitting significance of this four-note motive appearing at both ends of Mozart’s symphonic arch.

Symphony No. 1 in E-flat Major, K. 16:

Here is the final movement of Symphony No. 41:

Recordings

  • Mozart: Symphony No. 1 in E-flat Major, K. 16, German National Symphony Orchestra Gunther Hasselmann (This recording is featured, above) Amazon
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, London Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (This recording is featured, above) iTunes

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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