18 Jul 2019

Mozart – Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K. 425, “Linz”

by Michael Clive

Performance time: 26 minutes

Mozart composed many of his greatest works with a speed that confounded many of his contemporaries and continues to amaze us to this day. His Symphony No. 36 is an example: all indications are that its four fully elaborated movements took shape within four or five days in 1783, when Mozart was living in Vienna and was passing through the Austrian town of Linz on his way back to Vienna after visiting his hometown of Salzburg. It was on that trip that he introduced his wife, Constanze, to his father.

Once in Linz, a deadline loomed, as Mozart had promised a symphony for performance there on November 4. On October 31 he wrote to his father, “On Tuesday…I am giving a concert in the theater here, and as I have not a single symphony with me, I am writing a new one at breakneck speed, which must be finished by that time. Well, I must close, because I really must set to work.”

Any stress in the encounter between Constanza and the skeptical Leopold Mozart, and any haste that Wolfgang might have felt in composing the Linz symphony, are entirely belied by the music itself. From its confident opening bars, which comprise Mozart’s first slow introduction in a symphony, the sound is confident and persuasive. (This introduction is said to have fascinated Beethoven.) The allegro that follows this introduction is cited as an exemplar of symphonic construction. Then, in the stately third movement, Mozart introduces trumpets and drums—his first use of these instruments in a slow movement. (The marking is andante.) The final movement, marked presto, sparkles with melody, energy and speed.

In this symphony’s combination of freshness and classical tradition, the eminent musicologist Phillip Huscher detects a tip of the hat to Haydn, the great progenitor of symphonic form. Especially in the dazzle of the finale, Huscher notes, the music “suggests that Mozart knew his Haydn well and that he was inspired and challenged by this great man whom he would publicly salute, within the year, as his ‘most dear friend.’” The feeling was mutual: Haydn, for his part, called Mozart the greatest composer he knew.