Mozart – Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543

by Max Derrickson

Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543
1. Adagio – Allegro
2. Andante con moto
3. Menuetto and Trio – Allegretto
4. Finale – Allegro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(Born in Salzburg in 1756; died in Vienna in 1791)

In the summer of 1788, Mozart found himself on the brink of financial ruin.  With the mystifying disaster caused by Vienna’s disdain for Don Giovanni, that was forced to close after only 15 performances, Mozart’s debts had accrued nearly beyond control.  This only added to his grief over his infant daughter’s unexpected death earlier that spring.  Yet amidst all of this woe, in about nine short weeks between early June through August 10th, Mozart wrote [. . .] something of a mystery:  Although it was common in Mozart’s day to publish symphonies in sets of three, there is no record of any commission for them, and given Mozart’s hard financial straits and in a Vienna that seemed to disdain their once favorite son, it’s befuddling that Mozart would divert his energy on mere hopes.  It’s also hard to fathom three such different masterpieces being created each in less than three weeks’ time; what could have caused [. . .]

Whereas the 40th and the 41st are overt in their pathos and exuberance, respectively, the 39th is the subtle delight of the trio, a testament to refinement, yet no less a masterpiece.  The slow introduction is a grand affair, with dotted, stately rhythms and a feel that something magnificent is dawning, and seems textbook in its music making.  But underneath this grandeur is some almost unnoticed chromaticism.  Even more exquisite is how it becomes, after all, just the first part of the Allegro proper, when the introduction’s theme is then completed [. . .]

The second movement is again a model of sophistication, both in its light scoring and its handling of the deeper emotion that imbues it.  It’s a moving story told by a wise and understated teller.  The theme wants to morph into pathos as it dallies with the minor key, [. . .]  which would otherwise sound so daring, yet sounds perfectly natural in this lovely movement.

The Menuetto is one of Mozart’s most memorable works in that genre.  Filled with grace and charm, it dances us lightly into gladness.  Along the way we can especially hear Mozart’s love affair with [. . .]

The Finale is an extraordinary whirling demon kept tightly cornered – flying notes dart in many directions and yet Mozart makes it sound as if it’s all just a little bit of boiling water.  He also does something marvelous.  The entire perpetual motion-like movement is based on[. . .]