The symphony n.36 was written by Mozart in only 4 days during a stopover in the Austrian town of Linz. Mozart and his were returning back home to Vienna from Salzburg in late 1783.
In a letter dated October 31st, 1783 Mozart wrote to his father:
“On Tuesday November 4 I will give a concert in the theater, but, not having brought any Symphony with me, I am composing one at great speed, because I have to finish it by this date”
To complete the program of a concert organized by the local count, only an opening piece was missing, so they turned to Mozart.
With it Mozart added to his catalogue a work that takes leave from the world and sonorities of the Haffner’s Symphony. The following three years will be filled with a mysterious silence in terms of composition of symphonies. A silence during which the world of the last 4 symphonies fully matures.
The symphony in G major K444 that normally follows this one as the number 37 is now recognized as having been written by Michael Haydn. Only the introduction is Mozart’s.
Drawing of Mozart in silverpoint, made by Dora Stock during Mozart’s visit to Dresden, April 1789
Mozart – Symphony n.36 “Linz” K425
Should you need a score you can find one here.
As with many symphonies of this period, the Linz opens with a slow introduction. The tempo indication – Adagio – literally simply means “with ease“.
Three bars of powerful chords in full orchestra grab the attention of the listener and change the key right away moving from the starting C major to F major. Notice also one other thing: the flutes are completely missing from the orchestra. This creates, in general, a slightly darker and heavier sound.
The whole introduction is based on repeating models. The second violins start a phrase on F and raise it to A two bars later. The first violins gently answer with a downward scale, while the rest of the orchestra pulses underneath
The model changes: the accompaniment intensifies, moving from 8th notes to 16th, and the line moves from the bassoon to the oboe, gradually darkening in a series of 9th chords to F minor.
The same line is picked up by the cellos and basses moving to even darker places (and to C minor). And then by the first and second violins, one after the other.
A question and answer moment based on a chromatic scale seems to be closing the introduction in a mysterious way until the last chord – on the dominant of C – brings back the power of the beginning and prepares us for the Allegro.
By the way, the chromaticism in Mozart is something that came up already with the Prague symphony.
The challenge in the first few bars of this introduction lies in switching between subdivided and non-subdivided movements.
To get a broader sound in the initial chords, do not stop the stroke right away but stretch it for the full length of the eight note value.
For a technical analysis, along with some exercises, take a look at this other video
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The second movement opens with a phrase that is quintessential Mozart: cantabile, broad, structurally perfect, logical and full of sentiment. With the typical rhythm of a siciliana – a genre often included in baroque works that reminds in its core rhythm of a slowed down tarantella.
Notice the game played between violins and horns with the latter answering with an arpeggio.
The descending figure of 32nd notes reminds the listener of the central part of the first phrase. Mozart moves on to a parenthesis in a dark C minor and back to the major scale. But look how he proceeds: the chromaticism of this section, which anticipates the Prague symphony, keeps the attention constantly up.
Imagine to be someone who listened to this for the first time in the 18th century. A lot of these harmonic ventures would capture your interest because you wouldn’t know where they would end up.
In this case, we end up on a safe C major in conclusion of the first part of the movement. The development begins with the head of the theme. Things move around, hinting towards a change of key, but we are back to C major
Repeated chords of the winds and timpani throw us in much darker place, incredibly dramatic.
A peculiarity of this movement is the presence of both trumpets and timpani, normally omitted in slow movements where the lyrical aspect is more emphasized. Mozart uses them to create a different sound, a different atmosphere from the one the regular listener of the time would be accustomed to
The development proceeds with a passage that to me sounds almost sarcastic, portrayed by the bassoon and the cellos and basses. After landing on an F minor, the same scale element is picked up by the violins and then further developed. Look at the bass line, moving up chromatically from Ab to C and picking up the scale again in the final part of this development
With a few minor changes, the recapitulation repeats the material of the exposition, finishing, this time, in F major.