But all that being said, Mozart, in a number of late symphonies, achieved heights that Haydn could not quite match and even Beethoven could rarely equal. Among these is the Symphony No. 38, nicknamed the "Prague" symphony as it was first performed there in early 1787. First let's listen to it and then we will dig into it a bit. This is the Vienna Concentus Musicus, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor:
I particularly like Harnoncourt's Mozart (and Schubert and Beethoven) because it is both rhythmically incisive and strongly expressive. He takes about ten minutes longer with this symphony than do most others, thirty-seven minutes as opposed to between twenty-five and twenty-nine minutes, and one of the reasons is that he repeats, not only the exposition of the opening allegro, but also the development and recapitulation, which is not marked to be repeated in the score. But it works, so why not--we can certainly stand to hear it again.
Like many of the later Mozart symphonies, though not the last two, this one begins with a dramatic adagio introduction:
Then V4/2 to I in G major:
And then this contrasting theme, which seems to grow out of the repeated-note one:
There are some slinky chromatic figures and the return of some earlier themes, but that along with some passage and cadential work, takes us to the end of the exposition.
Since this post is already pretty big, with a lot of scary musical examples, I think I will just stop here and let you discover how Mozart develops these themes in the rest of the movement. After he does that, the opening theme returns in the tonic key, which takes us into the recapitulation.
What is marvelous about this, and much Classical period music, is the fluidity, grace and adroit use of different keys to create a spontaneous sounding, but highly organized piece of music.
Let's listen again. This is René Jacobs and the Freiburger Barockorchester with quite a brisk version:
Footnote: Sometimes before doing one of my drive-by analyses of a Classical era piece I have a look at what Charles Rosen has written on it, but other times I prefer to just start from scratch. In this case I had quite forgotten that Rosen did a brilliant analysis of this movement in his Sonata Forms (pp 202 - 220) where he quotes nearly all of the first movement as a musical example. I recommend highly reading it for a detailed look at just how truly magnificent this movement is. Rosen calls it "Mozart's most massive achievement in the symphonic genre--a work which unites grandeur and lyricism as no other..."