Friday, July 18, 2008

Mozart: Symphony #30, #31, #32

Today we'll cover three Mozart symphonies, the 30th, the 31st and the 32nd, from a Deutsche Grammophon CD of the Wiener Philharmoniker, conducted by James Levine (remember, he's the guy who keeps allowing himself to be photographed wearing his terrible 1980s glasses).
James Levine and the Wiener Philharmoniker
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Symphony #30, #31 ("Paris"), and #32
Deutsche Grammophon, 1990

These symphonies are brief enough that all three fit onto one glorious CD. Unfortunately, I can't find the identical disc on Amazon, so I've substituted a link to an exceptionally high-quality collection of the complete Mozart symphonies below.

Listener notes for Symphony #30:
1) Throughout the 30th symphony Mozart repeats entire sections of music, sometime more than once. And what Mozart does in the first movement is particularly interesting: he repeats sections within other repeated sections, creating an involuted, Escher-like piece of music. Yet it sounds neither repetitive nor confusing; instead it sounds perfectly logical, as if it couldn't be written any other way.

2) Note that Mozart was only 18 when he wrote this symphony. His precocity never fails to shock.

2) How about in the third movement how the music modulates from major to minor key? Creates some compelling tensions in an otherwise light and lilting symphony.

3) Listen for the strings playing upbeats at three separate points in the third movement at 0:37, at 1:11 and then most in its most complex form, at 1:45. Highly incredible for an 18-year-old to come up with that kind of special effect, isn't it?

4) What did I say before about Mozart and Haydn and any movement labeled Presto? Get ready for some fun.

6) I have to make a comment on the horrendous afterthought parts for the trumpets (or as I've called them before, oom-pah parts). Not only do they not get to play at all until the fourth and final movement, but they only get to pipe in for some nearly irrelevant backup notes. I need to let go of this, obviously. But imagine what it's like, being a teen-age boy in school band, sitting in rehearsal all day long, having to pay close attention (against all your biological urges by the way), and count rests so you don't miss your entrance and get in trouble, and then "getting" to come in for some irrelevant notes in the last 120 seconds of a symphony? I'm not bitter or anything.

7) An interesting pianissimo coda at the very end of the 30th symphony. Even if I were an 18-year-old genius composer, I don't think I would have the confidence to take compositional risks like that. Clearly Mozart ignored the proverbial classical music rulebook from an early age.

Listener notes for Symphony #31:
1) Note the "power chord" which opens the first movement. Mozart composed this symphony while in Paris, and this was apparently a typical feature of Parisian classical music of the time.

2) This symphony sounds quite a bit more difficult to perform than #30. In Paris, Mozart could use musicians--as well as instruments (e.g. clarinets)--that were beyond what was available to him in Salzburg.

3) It's funny but the introductory power chord of this symphony makes me dream of what Mozart could do if he lived 100 years later and could compose music using the full armament of a modern symphony.

Listener notes for Symphony #32:
1) With a length of less than eight minutes (yes, this entire symphony is only 7:23 long), this beautiful work is over practically before it begins!

2) An unusual feature of this symphony is the use of four french horns, unheard of for symphonies of this era. At least their parts are halfway decent. Unlike--once again--the trumpet parts.

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