Mozart: Symphony No. 36 in C major, K.425, Linz

Symphony No. 36 in C major, K.425, Linz

Joannes Chrisostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart
BORN: January 27, 1756. Salzburg, Austria
DIED: December 5, 1791. Vienna

COMPOSED/WORLD PREMIERE: Mozart composed the Linz Symphony in about 4 days, beginning after his arrival at Linz at 9:00 am on October 30, 1783, and having it ready for performance by Count Thun’s orchestra on November 4

US PREMIERE: March 28, 1860, at a concert by Carl Zerrahn and the Boston Orchestral Union

INSTRUMENTATION: 2 each of oboes, bassoons, horns, and trumpets; timpani; and strings

DURATION: About 26 mins

THE BACKSTORY  Linz is Austria’s third-largest city. It is an industrial center with a flourishing steel industry and renowned for a heady almond, raspberry jam, clove, and cinnamon torte, and for this symphony of Mozart’s. Wolfgang and Constanze Mozart visited Linz for three weeks in the fall of 1783 as guests of Count Johann Thun-Hohenstein, an old friend of the Mozart family. They had gone from Vienna to Salzburg to present Constanze to Leopold Mozart in the hopes of reconciling that possessive fussbudget of a father to what he was convinced was an unwise and precipitate marriage. Leopold, however, was adamantly difficult, the visit was awkward, and the young couple, unhappy about the storm clouds chez Papa, were relieved to get away. When they got to Linz after stops at V√∂cklabruck, Lambach (where Mozart arrived just in time to accompany the Agnus Dei at Mass), and Ebelsberg, they were met at the city gates by a servant of the Thun household to make sure they not stop at the inn, but go instead to the family’s house in Minorite Square. A concert was arranged to take place in the theater on Tuesday, November 4. Mozart reported the next day in a letter to his father that he had no symphony with him, and that he had to “work on a new one at head-over-heels speed.”

THE MUSIC  It is a grandly inventive work that Mozart made in such a hurry. For the first time, he begins a symphony with a slow introduction, declamatory at the outset, then yielding and full of pathos, and cannily creating suspense. The Allegro to which it leads is energetic and festive, with a touch of the march about it. And how delightful the first theme is, with those slow notes that so carefully fail to prepare us for the sudden rush of the third and fourth bars. Only the recapitulation—more a repeat than the continuation or development we are apt to expect from Mozart at this point in his life—reminds us of the daunting deadline against which he wrote.

Some editions give a marking of poco adagio for the second movement. That is incorrect, though not altogether wrong in spirit. This Andante, touched by the 6/8 lilt of a siciliano, is in F major, but yearns always for minor-mode harmonies. The Minuet is courtly, and the trio, with its delicious scoring for oboe an octave above the violins and for bassoon an octave below (or sometimes in canon and sometimes a sixth below), is demurely rustic. The finale brings back the first movement’s exuberance, but in heightened form.

Michael Steinberg

This note originally appeared in different form in the program book of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, © 1977.

Michael Steinberg, the San Francisco Symphony’s program annotator from 1979 to 1999 and a contributing writer to our program book until his death in 2009, was one of the nation’s pre-eminent writers on music. We are privileged to continue publishing his program notes. His books are available at the Symphony Store in Davies Symphony Hall.

(October 2017)