Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 – Work No. 91 in our collection

The Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27.01.1756 – 05.12.1791) was, during his short lifetime, one of the most prolific composers of the classical era. He showed prodigious ability from an early age. Already competent as a pianist and violinist, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty. Mozart went on to compose more than 600 works, many of which are acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music.

In 1781, Mozart moved away from Salzburg to the musically more sophisticated Vienna, where he was a freelance composer, pianist and teacher. From the outset, in Vienna, he enjoyed considerable success, particularly as a pianist performing his own concertos and with his early comic opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782). During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known concertos, operas and symphonies, including Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550 the score of which was completed on 25 July 1788. This great symphony is written in the key of G minor and the melancholy feel of this key pervades the first movement, although other movements are lighter in mood. The work comprises the usual four movements, but what is slightly unusual is that Mozart uses sonata form to structure the first, second and fourth movements. The third movement is the usual minuet and trio.

There are many fine versions of this symphony on record. One of our favourites remains Karl Bohm’s 1961 account with the Berliner Philharmoniker recorded in Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin as part of the first complete set of Mozart’s symphonies to be recorded. This symphony is currently available as part of a bargain two-CD set containing symphonies Nos. 35 – 41. This is a big orchestra version. Another great recording of this work is directed by Claudio Abbado and his Orchestra Mozart recorded at Teatro Manzoni, Bologna in June 2009.

However if we are to recommend one version is must be the one conducted by that superb Mozartian, Sir Charles Mackerras with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra recorded in excellent ly balanced sound by Linn Records that enables every fine detail to be heard. In these unrivalled performances Mackerras encourages his players to move between this work’s passages of tenderness and beauty and those of high intensity and great excitement in a most natural manner. This is some of the best playing of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra that I have ever heard – they were truly on top form.

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