Length: c. 25 minutes
Orchestration: 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: February 27, 1941, with Thomas Beecham conducting
In late July of 1783, Mozart and Constanze Weber, who had been married in Vienna in August of the previous year, to the great displeasure of Mozart’s father, made their way to Salzburg. The principal aim of the trip was to bring about a reconciliation between father and son, which happened to a degree – but not to the degree of Leopold accepting Constanze into the bosom of the family. Wolfgang’s sister Nannerl – who found Constanze “unsuited to her brother,” for whatever reasons – remarked in her diary that on October 23 a mass by Wolfgang was performed in the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, the “Great” Mass in C minor, K. 427, large parts of which Mozart had composed earlier in Vienna, but had brought with him to Salzburg unfinished and had been unable to complete even there (or anywhere else, ever). Constanze, it should be noted, sang the exacting, high-lying first-soprano solos.
On their return trip to Vienna, the couple spent several days in Linz, at the invitation of an old family friend, Count Thun-Hohenstein. “When we reached the gates of the city,” Wolfgang wrote to this father on October 31, “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.” The first performance of this new symphony, which has since been given the nickname “Linz,” took place as scheduled.
The “Linz” Symphony, which opens the series of Mozart’s five great final symphonies, certainly shows no signs of haste. It is especially concisely worked out. Wolfgang sent his original score to his father from Vienna in February of 1784, and Leopold arranged to have it performed in Salzburg in September, chiefly, it would seem, to keep his son’s name alive there, since he (Leopold) assumed that Wolfgang would not make his way in the capital and would eventually return to his roots. Which, of course, did not happen. The first Vienna performance was in the following spring, and the work was probably performed once more in Mozart’s lifetime, in 1787 in Prague.
The first movement (Allegro spiritoso) begins, for the first time in Mozart but after the fashion of Joseph Haydn and his brother Michael, with a tension-filled slow introduction before launching into a blazing Allegro. “The fruits of the artistic freedom of Vienna, of working with that city’s outstanding orchestral musicians, of experience in orchestration gained in piano concertos and Die Entführung [aus dem Serail],” as Neal Zaslaw writes, are fully evident in this thematically rich, large-scale movement. And in the subsequent Adagio the presence of trumpets and drums, heretofore absent from Mozart’s slow movements, transforms what might otherwise have been “merely” a gracious instrumental aria into something, deeper, darker, even ominous. The Minuet is of the more or less conventionally pompous sort, but the Trio, with its duet for oboe and bassoon, is Mozart at his most wittily elegant. The dazzling finale, instructed to be played “as fast as possible,” is a profusion of thematic ideas, each subtly developed from its predecessor.
— Herbert Glass