Mozart – Symphony No. 34 in C-Major, K. 338

by Max Derrickson

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart     (b. January 27, 1756 in Salzburg; d. December 5, 1791 inVienna)

Symphony No. 34 in C-Major, K. 338*
1. Allegro vivace
2. Andante di molto
3. Finale – Allegro vivace

Symphony No. 34 is a wonderful testament to Mozart’s astounding genius, for in 1780, at the age of 24, he wrote it in a state of frustrated pique, and yet it is one of his most exuberant and charming symphonies.  The cause of this frustration was his stagnating career in his hometown of Salzburg as the Concertmaster of the Salzburg Court Orchestra, for which he composed, co-conducted, played keyboard for every necessity, and performed as soloist.  Already, by 1780, he had served this archiepiscopal musical establishment for 10 years and had dozens upon dozens of compositions to his name.  But Mozart, with his exceptional talent and ego, was dreaming much bigger – dreaming of writing operas (for which Salzburg had no opera house), and of writing symphonies for sophisticated audiences, which his ego was sure did not include the provincial, backwater listeners of Salzburg.  He also dreamed of escaping his Archbishop, an unsympathetic and heavy-handed man whose appreciation of Mozart’s talents was dim, and who was disinclined to offer Mozart any endorsements as he went on an unsuccessful job hunt through Europe.  And so it was in 1780 that Mozart was called upon to write another symphony full of the conventional musical clichés that Salzburgers still loved, though by then that style of music making was out of vogue in such cosmopolitan cities as Vienna and Paris – cities where Mozart justifiably felt he belonged.  But even as annoyed as he was with his situation, an extraordinary symphony came to fruition.

The first movement begins with a main theme that was one of those musical clichés of the time – a ceremonially martial theme filled with trumpets and timpani in the “ceremonial” key of C-Major – suitable for that pompous Archbishop who fancied himself as so terribly important.  Here, of course, is where Mozart gives voice to his splendid gift for subtle satire, and his delight in new approaches to music making.  The first movement flirts with the newer techniques of the Mannheim School,
[. . .]

With his love of satire temporarily sated, the Andante movement is a genuine wonder of delicacy and light tenderness.  Through the centuries it has become one of Mozart’s most cherished slow movements.  It’s a nocturnal romance
[. . .]

Constrained by conventions, however, meant Mozart had to leave out the Minuet movement, a “modernist” symphonic feature that the more avant garde audiences elsewhere were considering to be indispensable.  And so, the next movement is the traditionalist’s Finale.  But it’s a rollicking one, and of the kind that would turn even his staidly, wooden Salzburg audiences (who Mozart called “tables and chairs”) into twinkle-toed dancers.
[. . .]

(* Thanks to Alyson McLamore for spotting my previous error in the Kochel number.  It’s now correct.)