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About this Piece

Composed: 1780
Length: c. 20 minutes
Orchestration: 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: January 19, 1950, Alfred Wallenstein conducting

In the summer of 1780, Mozart was in his final months as a working court musician in Salzburg, although he would not be dismissed by Archbishop Colloredo for almost another year. Only a year-and-a-half into his appointment as court organist – a substantially better job than his previous post as violinist – Mozart was again irked with provincial limitations and the archbishop’s not unreasonable emphasis on church music. He busied himself increasingly with instrumental music, dating this Symphony – the last he wrote in Salzburg – August 29, 1780. He gave court performances on September 2, 3, and 4, one of which undoubtedly was the work’s premiere.

The Symphony opens with a bright, ceremonial fanfare that Mozart must have liked, for he returned to it in the overtures for his operas Così fan tutte and La clemenza di Tito. Mozart extends and develops this fanfare here into a blithe and bustling movement in sonata form without repeats, energized with frequent harmonic digressions. He originally intended a minuet to come next, but tore it from the manuscript, leaving only 14 bars behind. This has prompted some scholars to propose an alternative minuet, an idea now largely discredited, although it can still be heard on some recordings.

Mozart first marked the genial slow movement Andante di molto, but later added the phrase “più tosto allegretto” to encourage something more sprightly. The exuberantly dancing finale, with important featured parts for the oboes, comes as an explosive surprise on the heels of the gentle Andante. Although an athletic jig like the finales of many Baroque orchestral works, it is in a fully developed Classical sonata form, with both sections repeated.

Although the Symphony’s reception in Salzburg is unknown, Mozart took it with him to Vienna, where he performed it with enough success that he was able to sell it in manuscript for other performances. It was not published, however, until after his death.

— John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.