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Mozart married Constanze Weber on August 4, 1782, and the two planned to visit Salzburg later that autumn so that his new wife could meet his family. But the composer had only been in Vienna for just over a year and had just begun to make a name for himself when his Singspiel, The Abduction from the Seraglio, premiered there in July 1782. He had to strike while the iron was hot if he wanted to keep the attention of the flighty Viennese public, so a trip to Salzburg a mere two months after his first big success was out of the question. Instead, he and his wife remained in Vienna until the end of July 1783, where Mozart gave concerts and composed numerous works, including the C-minor Wind Serenade, the “Haffner” Symphony, three Piano Concertos (K. 413, 414, and 415), and the Mass in C minor.
It was during the return trip from Salzburg, in November of 1783, that Mozart added to his roster of masterworks during a visit to Linz, which lies on the route between Salzburg and Vienna. At the end of the 18th century, Linz was an important trading city whose location on the Danube made it a point of entry into Bavaria and Bohemia. It was also home to one of the two residences of Count Johann Joseph Thun, the head of a family that held many important positions in Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague. Mozart had met several members of the family, including the Count’s wife in Vienna, to whom the composer had played each act of Abduction as he composed it. Mozart’s reputation preceded him to Linz, so it was only natural that the Count would ask Mozart to stop there and give a concert.
Mozart arrived in the city on October 30, and the concert was scheduled for November 4. According to his own admission, he wrote the “Linz” Symphony at “breakneck speed” because he apparently had no manuscripts with him. The music hardly reflects any of this, its perfection becoming all the more remarkable when its genesis is taken into account.
The first movement’s Adagio introduction opens majestically, with trumpets and timpani underscoring the winds and strings in a passage reminiscent of the dotted rhythm of the baroque French overture. The Allegro spiritoso steals in after the Adagio with a gentle rocking figure in the second violins that yields to an elegant figure for the first violins. From there, the full orchestra launches forte into a breathless exposition whose propulsive rhythms and melodic vigor never let up, even in moments that seem comparatively reposeful. What Mozart does in the development is nothing if not surprising. He constructs the section out of material that had merely provided a transition from one theme to the next in the exposition. By giving such prominence to music that may not have struck the listener the first time around, Mozart makes the ensuing recapitulation much more than just a repetition with a change of key. Now, in addition to those vigorous, monumental themes from the exposition, the transitional material assumes new prominence. The recapitulation has become a musical event, something that the listener appreciates anew because of the development that came before. It furthers the argument and continues the drama, rather than merely providing a classical sense of balance and proportion.
The F-major Poco adagio opens with a long-breathed theme under which the horns, timpani, and trumpets take turns sketching in the movement’s compound (6/8) rhythm. The movement sojourns briefly in C minor before modulating back to F major. Bassoon and basses playing in unison introduce the dominant element of the movement’s development – an ascending figure that ends in a pair of octave leaps.
The stately minuet continues the Symphony’s rhythmic assertiveness with emphasis on the downbeat in spite of the deceptive leading quarter note. The winds play a prominent role in the serene trio.
Mozart returns to the scheme of the first movement for the finale. He manages to cultivate the movement’s development section from a four-bar seed, the four that open the exposition. It’s another example of the genius that fills out every page of the music Mozart wrote in the last decade of his life, music that his Viennese public became increasingly unwilling to appreciate.
John Mangum is Artistic Administrator for the New York Philharmonic.