Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 39, K. 543, in E Flat Major (1788)

MozartMozart’s Symphony No. 39, completed on 26 June 1788, was the first of a set of three final symphonies composed in rapid succession in the summer of 1788. No. 40 was completed 25 July and No. 41, on 10 August. No less an authority than Nikolaus Harnoncourt argues that the three symphonies were composed as a unified work, noting that, among other things, while Symphony No. 39 has a grand introduction in the manner of an overture, it has no coda.

There is nothing in the first movement of the Symphony No. 39 that does not fit the textbook model of classical form. Even the large and slow introductory section is a standard feature of Haydn’s output at the time. The magic here is the way the opening melody of the Allegro is effortlessly spun out of the extended false cadence of the introductory section. The Andante, on the other hand, is a marvel of sustained eloquence, capped by moments of great power and passion that are all the more remarkable in music of such spare, chamber music textures.

The third movement is one of Mozart’s most celebrated minuets, and features a middle trio section based on an actual ländler (Austrian folk dance), rather than an imaginary one. Mozart clearly had the Stadlers, Johann and Anton, in mind when writing the clarinet parts of this movement. The central trio section features a solo for the first clarinet while the second clarinet accompanies with soft arpeggio figures in the chalumeau (low) register of the instrument. The presto finale is basically a monothematic movement. While Mozart’s “second theme” appears to be new, it is essentially just a clever makeover of the first theme.