Symphony No. 25 in G Minor

Composed by Mozart

Wolfgang Mozart was born in 1756 in Salzburg and died in Vienna in 1791. Synonymous with what history-makers now call Viennese Classicism, Mozart’s music is actually better described as an amalgamation of Italian and German musical sensibilities, with Italian operatic genres commingling with the Austrian and Southern German instrumental soundworlds. The result was a cosmopolitan and polished style which, by 1781, would produce one of the most influential bodies of musical work in Western history.

Before 1781, however, Mozart had already written a great deal of music. Beginning in 1772, Salzburg saw a series of reforms that accompanied the regime of Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. Meant to "modernize" Salzburg along the model of Vienna, these changes had an ambivalent impact on the cultural life of the city. Previously established opportunities for music-making, in particular, dwindled: The university theater, where school dramas (the local equivalent of operas) had been performed since the seventeenth century, closed in 1778; the practice of the Mass was generally shortened, while concerts at court were also curtailed.

Despite these obstacles to local music practices, Mozart himself experienced a period of major productivity from 1772 to 1774: three masses, several divertimentos, as well as over a dozen symphonies, not least of which was his Twenty-Fifth Symphony in G minor. Composed in October of 1773 when the composer was 17 years old, the Symphony No. 25 is probably best known for the first movement, which is excerpted in Peter Shaffer’s 1984 film Amadeus. Not to be confused with the famous Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, K. 183 is a consummate example of the Sturm und Drang ("storm and stress") style of composition, in which metaphorical thunderstorms or crashing waves are rendered audible in quick runs and ferocious tremolos, often in a minor key.

The opening bars of the first movement waste no time in setting the tone. Syncopation and repeated notes take an ostensibly simple minor theme and immediately inject a stormy effect. The off-beats are accented, but so are the downbeats of each measure—the result is panic and disorientation, which is only mildly assuaged in the fifth bar, as sixteenth notes swirl in the upper register in a moment of rhythmic clarity. But that stability is an illusion, as Mozart then latches onto those quick sixteenth-note turns, pushing them faster and faster, off the strong beats as the music tumbles into a half cadence. The sonata-form movement continues with a major-key second theme that returns us to the elegance of the Classical style, without ever letting us totally forget the stormy opening.

Formal clarity and elegant balance are somewhat restored in the second movement’s courtly andante, although the rhythmic instability persists once again in the primary theme. The stentorian opening of the third movement represents another departure from the famous opening mood, although this time in a minor mood. This stern and gloomy movement, a stylized minuet, conforms to the standard practice of a dance-influenced third movement—while the major-key trio section gives us the more familiar Mozartian clarity. The final "Allegro" movement begins with the now-familiar churning minor, but on a slightly more even keel than the opening, as befits the elegant craft that Mozart never left for long.

Program Notes written by Joseph Pfender