Review Summary: Transcendent and masterful – this is Mozart at his best.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s death was a tragedy. He died poor, ill, and was tossed into a common grave with thousands of other nameless bodies. But while his death was a morose and anonymous tableau, Mozart’s contributions to classical music and opera were the exact opposite. His works are just as awe-inspiring today as they were centuries ago, and today Mozart is rightfully remembered as the most talented composer in music history. His composition style was very technical and intricate; he would actually write entire symphonies in his head before putting pen to paper. Many of his symphonies are light and jumpy in nature, having multiple melodies dance off one another with such fluidity and elegance it’s surreal to imagine how he wrote such happy music in his terrible living conditions. However, one of Mozart’s better-known compositions, “Symphony No. 40,” was written in the key of G minor. Mozart has written in a minor key before (25th symphony), but ironically “No. 40” is catchier than many of his other works. It also had the benefit of being conceived at the height of Mozart’s creative genius, with the “Jupiter Symphony” and “Requiem” coming shortly thereafter.
The first movement is Molto allegro
, and you’ve undoubtedly heard it before one way or another. It begins with the famous exposition that is both somber and infectious. It’s a methodical piece of music really, namely its development section where the main melody is tweaked ever so slightly in various ways, changing the tone and mood of the piece just as subtly. Mozart toys with the multiple melodies he’s established in the exposition through multiple key changes, wavering dynamics, and bombastic climaxes until the movement closes with the recapitulation of the main melody just before the last marcato notes. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece. To call it the apex of music composition wouldn’t be much of a stretch (although I’d personally give that honor to Beethoven’s 7th symphony, II. Allegretto
). Regardless, it’s still among the most recognizable and timeless melodies ever written and a hell of a way to open a symphony.
Hyperbole aside, it’s a shame the symphony opens so powerfully because the other movements simply pale in comparison. II. Andante
suffers the most from this. It’s over 10 minutes long with little variation throughout, and worse yet it tends to drag, which makes it feel longer than it actually is. Thankfully the Trio
section is far more interesting. It uses various canon techniques along with a recurring call-and-response motif; repeating melodies and rhythms are overlapped on top of each other with different instruments and accents, and counterpoint is nearly omnipresent. The symphony then closes with the playful Allegro assai
which, much like the first movement, is both dark and joyful and contains more than enough twists to keep you fully invested until the final seconds.
Although it was intended to be between symphonies 39 and 41, “Symphony No. 40 in G minor” alone is an important piece of classical history; not only for being one of Mozart’s most famous symphonies, but also as an excellent representation of the genre itself. There’s a good reason why Molto allegro
is so popular. It’s essentially the pop music of the 18th century – it’s memorable, well structured, and most importantly, it’s fun. Again, it baffles me how Mozart was able to write so meticulously even with his financial struggling and depression, and the subsequent illness, death, and anonymity. But that just goes to show that Mozart honed his talent and used it to live through other means – his music. So technically, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart never died; and he never will.