When we arrived at the gates of Linz, a servant was standing there to conduct us to the Old Count Thun's, where we are still living. I really cannot tell you how they overwhelm us with kindness in this house. On Thursday, the Fourth of November, I am going to give a concert in the theater, and, as I have not a single symphony by me, I am writing away over head and ears at a new one, which must be ready by then.Mozart had been married for just over a year and he and his wife were returning from visiting his father--an unhappy occasion as his new bride and his father did not get along. But this stopover in Linz was a happy contrast and the symphony reflects this.
There are some aspects of the music that clearly reflect the influence of Haydn, the leading symphony composer at the time. One is the slow introduction to the first movement, a first for Mozart, but very common in Haydn's symphonies. This introduction makes use of mixture from the minor mode and short chromatic scales to give it a mysterious quality. The opening theme of the following allegro is rather more asymmetrical than Haydn would likely have used: it begins with a 17-measure sentence. The first part, the presentation, is extended by two measures, but the continuation is shortened by one measure! Haydn was certainly capable of odd phrase lengths, but he wrote them fairly rarely. Without analyzing the symphony in detail, I have the impression that the way it is put together is looser than we would find in Haydn. At the same time, there are rhythmic details that make for a brilliant surface. The basic material, instead of being very focused as in Haydn (who often made one simple thematic idea provide all the material for a whole first movement) tends to be more various and in constant flux. For example, the opening theme, which begins with two whole notes ascending by step, is answered in the next phrase with whole notes descending by step, and this continues into a new fanfare passage.
Here is that opening theme:
Haydn, at this point in time, is smoothing out and making more consistent his rhythmic writing, while Mozart's seems much more variegated. His wonderful gift for melody compensates for this as does his command of harmony, but one still has the impression that, at least in 1783, Mozart is not writing symphonies at the same level of mastery that Haydn is. Of course, Mozart has complementary abilities to Haydn's. While Haydn had to write quite a number of operas for his patron, none of them have made it into the core repertoire. Nearly every one of Mozart's operas is not only in the repertoire, but, as in the case of Don Giovanni, they are some of the very finest operas ever written. The same could be said of Mozart's piano concertos, which I need to explore in another series of posts. But, up until his final symphonies, numbers 38 to 41, Mozart does not offer the kind of profound symphonic writing and emotional depth that Haydn does.
I know this might seem heretical! But have a listen to the symphony for yourself and leave a comment. Here is the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Karl Böhm:
Just for comparison, here is a link to my post on a Haydn symphony written around the same time.