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On This Day – January 19

Today we look at one of Mozart’s Late symphonies. Written in 1786, it was written to thank the people of Prague who devoutly followed his work. Mozart’s Prague symphony, Symphony No. 38, premiered on this day in 1787.

In the early classical period, symphonies would have three or four movements, the four movements adding a minuet. By the time of the Prague symphony, it had left its opera overture origins, and he shows that a symphony without a minuet could still be similar in weight to those that had a minuet. He wrote for a full orchestra, minus clarinets, but does include timpani and trumpets to provide some power.

The first movement, an Adagio-Allegro in D major, begins with an Adagio introduction. Slightly odd for Mozart, it’s only done in two other symphonies, Numbers 36 and 39. This gives way to the sonata form portion, where six melodies are developed, recapitulated and exploits Mozart’s contrapuntal writing. The second movement’s structure, an Andante in G major, is similar to other second movements around the time this was written, though it does veer off into minor-keys to contrast the mood. Harmonically, it is unstable, providing several polyphonic surprises, but structurally stable, following the sonata form. The Finale, a presto in D major, is exuberant, showcasing the flute in balancing the main melody in the development section.

Mozart’s thematic catalogue bears the date of completion as December 6, 1786, and the symphony was premiered in Prague on January 19th, 1787. Today we have a performance by the Prague Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras.

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