Composed during several very productive weeks for Mozart, the 40th Symphony, sometimes referred to as the Great Symphony in G minor, is among two other symphonies which he produced within a six week span. It is one of only two symphonies Mozart composed in minor keys.
The continuity of the 40th symphony with 39th and 41st leads many music historians to believe that this piece along with the 39th and 41st symphonies constitute a single work. This symphony has no true introduction, but starts in media res with an anxious, purposeful Molto allegro first movement, nor does it have a finale to match that of the 41st symphony.
Whatever the case maybe, it is my favorite Mozart symphony.
The symphony is scored (in its revised version) for flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and strings. Notably missing are trumpets and timpani.
The work is in four movements, in the usual arrangement (fast movement, slow movement, minuet, fast movement) for a classical-style symphony:
1. Molto allegro, 2/2
2. Andante, 6/8
3. Menuetto. Allegretto — Trio, 3/4
4. Finale. Allegro assai, 2/2.
Every movement but the third is in sonata form; the minuet and trio are in the usual ternary form. This work has elicited varying interpretations from critics. Robert Schumann regarded it as possessing “Grecian lightness and grace”. Donald Francis Tovey saw in it the character of opera buffa. Almost certainly, however, the most common perception today is that the symphony is tragic in tone and intensely emotional; for example, Charles Rosen (in The Classical Style) has called the symphony “a work of passion, violence, and grief.”
Although interpretations differ, the symphony is unquestionably one of Mozart’s most greatly admired works, and it is frequently performed and recorded. Ludwig van Beethoven knew the symphony well, copying out 29 measures from the score in one of his sketchbooks. It is thought that the opening theme of the last movement may have inspired Beethoven in composing the third movement of his Fifth Symphony.
Relax and grab a glass of something you like and enjoy the following recording of Mozart’s 40th Symphony in G minor. Performers as well as date of performance and venue are unknown.
“Mozart – Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550 [complete].” YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 July 2015. <https://youtu.be/JTc1mDieQI8>.