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Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 1 in E-flat, K.16
By Steven Ledbetter, a member of Pro Arte's Board of Advisors.
The symphony was still in its adolescence when Mozart was. It had as yet no fixed place in the musical hierarchy. It might be an opera overture heard in the theater, or played in church, or even heard as chamber music in the private home of a wealthy patron. The symphony might have three movements or four, arranged in many possible patterns. Only gradually did the genre assume a reasonably fixed shape, settling into the familiar pattern of four movements. Eventually the symphony came to be regarded as the highest level to which abstract music could aspire. That transition occurred gradually, and it was still going on during Mozart's brief lifetime.
We know from a recollection by Wolfgang's sister Nannerl that he wrote his first symphony in August 1764, on the outskirts of London, while their father Leopold was dangerously ill with a throat infection. To pass the time, young Wolfgang composed his "first symphony with all the instruments of the orchestra," while Nannerl helped him copy it, and he commented to her, "Remind me to give the horn something worthwhile to do!"
The symphony now known as "No. 1" was composed in London in 1764, but it seems to be a different work, probably written a few months later, after Leopold's recovery and the family's move into London. Though it is far shorter and simpler than the Jupiter Symphony, it is nonetheless an astonishing achievement for a first essay in the medium, even overlooking the fact that the composer was only eight years old! Already Mozart has learned from his contemporaries in England, Johann Christian Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel, how to write for the orchestra, to make the grand gesture, dynamic contrasts, different types of themes, and so on. The opening movement offers a compact sonata form of consider-able energy. The slow movement, in the relative minor, is short and direct. The finale is the first of many delicious dancing rondos that cap off the work with a smile.
Shapley wrote:11) German, is the composer, per chance?
Land of lederhosen (German short pants).
Is the composer from this land so fine?
The answer, I fear, is nien.
To pass the time, young Wolfgang composed his "first symphony with all the instruments of the orchestra," while Nannerl helped him copy it, and he commented to her, "Remind me to give the horn something worthwhile to do!"
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