Mozart’s Symphony No. 29

Accustomed as we are to the central importance attached to the later Symphonies of Mozart and Haydn, their earlier works often seem to be uncomfortably light in weight for two such masters to have created. The music may be as inventive, as beautifully crafted as the more famous later works, but that magical sense of emotional depth is much less apparent.

There are those who maintain that the two composers were merely feeling their way towards a greater musical expression in their earlier works, but a single hearing of one of Mozart’s Operas or of Haydn’s Masses from the same period quickly puts paid to that argument. The truth is, however, very simple. Symphonies, at least until the middle of the 1780’s, were not designed to be the most important part of a concert. They developed from, and at first were largely interchangeable with, Italian Overtures, and as such were intended merely to gather the audience’s attention towards the solo and the concertante works which were to follow. Over the decades, the Classical Symphony evolved in the direction of greater logic and structural efficiency, and almost by the way, grew more important in the scheme of things. Mozart and Haydn both started to express greater emotional depth in their Symphonies as more and more of their listeners began to pay attention, and as time went on, the Classical Symphony achieved the form and the style which we value so highly today.

Mozart’s Symphony no. 29 in A Major could well be regarded as being the finest of all of his early Symphonies. One of the seven Symphonies which Mozart composed was for the new Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg Hieronymous von Colloredo in the years 1773-4. The work was, according to the still extant manuscript, completed on April 6th, 1774. There is no record of the first performance in the Archbishop’s court. It is unlikely that the premiere of a new Symphony would be considered worthy of comment or even notice but Mozart apparently felt that the Symphony held a special significance, for he carried the work around with him for the rest of his life, scheduling it for performance whenever the opportunity would arise.

The Symphony no. 29 represents Mozart’s early maturity at its best. His personal synthesis of the three disparate Symphonic styles of the Mannheim School, of J.C. Bach and of Joseph Haydn would have been remarkable as a pastiche. Instead Mozart was able to develop a manner of Symphonic composition which partook of all three schools and yet was wholly his own. The Symphony is in the proper four movements.

The first movement, an Allegro moderato, begins quietly without the usual fanfare, but quickly establishes itself with an ingratiating charm, delightfully backed up by contrasting subjects. A short Development section rapidly leads to a direct Recapitulation.

The second movement, a serene Andante, is both civilized and somewhat pastoral in character, and is remarkably well written, even for Mozart.

The third movement opens in a brisk, business-like way in the opening Menuet section, only to become suddenly introverted, almost watchful, in the Trio.

The Finale, marked Allegro con spirito, is a dashing movement characterized by the use of hunting idioms, both rhythmic and melodic. The music swings along with real gaiety and even a certain amount of drama to bring the Symphony no. 29 to a satisfying close.

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Credit – Ronald Comber

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