In 1783, Mozart traveled to Salzburg with his new bride, Constanze, in an attempt to reconcile with his father, who did not approve of the marriage. On the return trip to Vienna, the couple spent three weeks in the Upper Austrian town of Linz as guests of Count Johann Thun-Hohenstein, an old friend of the Mozart family. In a letter dated October 31, Mozart wrote to his father,
When we reached the gates of the city, we found a servant waiting there to drive us to Count Thun’s, at whose house we are now staying. I really cannot tell you what kindnesses the family is showering on us. On Tuesday, November 4, there will be an academy [concert] in the theater here and, as I have not a single symphony with me, I am writing a new one at breakneck speed…Well, I must close, because I really must set to work.
Mozart composed the “Linz” Symphony (No. 36 in C Major) in four days. It is music which is blazing, celebratory, and festive. For the first time, Mozart begins the Symphony with a slow introduction. The stately dotted rhythms of the initial musical “call to order” recall the Baroque French overture. The introduction continues with mysterious, searching lines in which the instruments of the orchestra seem to awaken. Then, 3/4 time switches to 4/4, and we are off on the rollicking adventure of the first movement (Allegro spiritoso).
The second movement (Andante) unfolds with the lilting 6/8 rhythm of the siciliano. The graceful dance is punctuated by sudden, bold interjections by the trumpets and timpani. Throughout the movement, serene F major is clouded by turns to minor.
The Menuetto is a bright, bucolic dance, enlivened by irregular phrases which threaten to throw the music off-kilter. The trio section features a warm, canonic duet between the oboe and the bassoon.
Perhaps with a twinkle in his eye, Mozart instructed that the final movement (Presto) be played “as fast as possible.” Herbert Glass described this frolicking, organically unfolding movement as “a profusion of thematic ideas, each subtly developed from its predecessor.” In the development section, a bold, arpeggiated figure rings out triumphantly, moving around the orchestra from one voice to another. Mozart’s hurriedly written masterpiece springs to life, as if with a divine spark. The occasion for which it was conceived is long forgotten; it is the music, itself, which remains.
I. Adagio – Allegro spiritoso:
II. Andante (Poco adagio):
III. Menuetto – Trio:
Five Great Recordings
- Mozart: Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K. 425, Sir Charles Mackerras, Scottish Chamber Orchestra Amazon
- Karl Böhm and the Berlin Philharmonic
- Carlos Kleiber and the Vienna Philharmonic (concert performance)
- Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert
- Frans Brüggen and the Orchestra of the 18th Century
Featured Image: a view of Linz around 1694