Symphony No. 39 (Including Demo Lesson #1)

This is a post that I have been very tardy on, for which I apologize. We have now reached Mozart’s final three symphonies, which are considered to be very different than the rest. They still have his same perfectionist qualities, but he does tend to expand heavily on his harmonic progressions and his counterpoint. However, there is especially one shared aspect of all these symphonies: they are much more dark. One still hears Mozart’s happy tunes, like in the fun finale of this symphony (No. 39), but, especially in the second movements, there are these sorrowful and somber sounding themes. The movement of this symphony that I will focus on today is the second movement, just to show those dark features. Firstly, it is important to note that Mozart’s life was starting to fall at this point in 1788. He was struggling to earn money, he was a drinker, and, three days after the completion of this work, his infant daughter tragically died. The pains would only get worse until his death three years later. The dissonances one hears in the introduction of the first movement in this symphony and during the second movement are astoundingly odd, yet they pull the listener in emotionally. Another weird component of this movement is the form. Mozart usually used what is called sonata form for composing his movements; this system consists of an exposition (a statement of the main material), a development (adds new ideas, but still relates to the movement as a whole), and a recapitulation (a reinstatement of the main material) for a complete movement. However, this movement omits a full development, and instead, he extends his motivic structures that he uses in the exposition and recapitulation sections. The moment that stands out to me is at the beginning. The piece first starts out with a sweet and gentle theme in major, introduced by only the strings. After introducing this main theme, the winds finally come in. However, they bring in a dark transition into minor, which is quite jarring. Mr. Meyer and I did a demo lesson on this movement, where he put up a recording of Sir Colin Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra on his stereo speakers, and I pretended to conduct a mock orchestra, while he watched and critiqued me. Now, this was a fun experience, because Mr. Meyer and I had an interesting talk after my performance of that movement. We talked about the importance of interpretation throughout this whole symphony, and how it calls for major attention to line direction. I wish to continue these with Mr. Meyer in the future and have more interesting conversations about how to interpret pieces that call for much focus.