Length: c. 18 minutes
About this Piece
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: December 22, 1934, Otto Klemperer conducting
The “Haffner” Symphony arose from Mozart’s connection with Salzburg’s most prominent family. Sigmund Haffner senior, who built the family’s banking and import-export business into one of the few things in Salzburg (other than Mozart) with any claim to an international reputation, was also mayor of Salzburg until his death in 1772. It was for the 1776 marriage of
his daughter that Mozart had written the “Haffner” Serenade. Sigmund junior was a few months younger than Mozart and had been his childhood friend, but they apparently had no contact once Mozart moved to Vienna. Sigmund was known to be a retiring, solitary person who may have suffered from depression and died at 30 in 1787. In 1782, he was officially elevated to the nobility, and it was for that occasion that Mozart was commissioned to write what we now call the “Haffner” Symphony.
The request came through Mozart’s father Leopold in Salzburg. Mozart wrote to Leopold that he was swamped: busy with several new compositions, the premiere of his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, preparations for his marriage, and a move to new lodgings. Perhaps there was a subtext in which the younger Mozart was letting Dad know that he had more important things to do than compose music for the provincial burg that he had abandoned over his father’s objections. In any event, Mozart did not finish and send the Symphony until two days after the ennoblement ceremony, and we don’t know whether it arrived in time for whatever celebration it was intended to adorn.
Leopold was doubtless miffed at what seemed like disrespect toward an important patron and Salzburg generally, and months later, when Mozart needed the Symphony back for a Vienna concert, Leopold showed his annoyance by waiting three months to send it back. “My new Haffner symphony positively amazes me,” wrote Mozart when he finally saw the Symphony for the first time in half a year, “for I had forgotten every single note of it.”
For the Vienna premiere he eliminated a march and second minuet, making the work a symphony rather than a serenade, and added flutes and clarinets to the outer movements (there were no clarinets in Salzburg). The Symphony is a fiery and forceful work. The opening movement sets the tone with its bold, leaping principal theme, running scales, and big, slashing chords. An Andante of aristocratic refinement and elegance is followed by a thunderous minuet of regal, if not imperial, pomp, and a rushing, dazzling finale.
— Howard Posner