Mozart – Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, “Jupiter”

by Max Derrickson

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

Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, “Jupiter”
1. Allegro vivace
2. Andante cantabile
3. Menuetto: Allegretto
4. Molto allegro

In the summer of 1788, Mozart found himself in financial despair.  With the mystifying disaster that was Vienna’s disdain for Don Giovanni, closing after only 15 performances, Mozart’s debts accrued 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 three astounding symphonies: Numbers 39, 40 and 41.  All are masterpieces, but the joyful and ascendant No. 41 is considered one of the greatest symphonies ever written.  Its nickname is “Jupiter” after the mightiest of the ancient Roman gods, applied later, clearly out of awe for the Symphony’s character.  Given the severe circumstances Mozart was under and the lightning speed in which he composed it, the Jupiter certainly seems divinely inspired.

The sparkling first movement begins regally, with three forte unison chords graced by upward dashing “string-rips” and, with brilliant symmetry, Mozart will end the Symphony by exploiting this dashing string idea extensively in the last movement to breathless effect.
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The exquisite second movement is marked “slowly, singingly.”
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This Andante is one of those rare musical moments that melt the world of the senses into pure song.

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The glorious finale opens with a remarkably simple theme of only four notes, along with that hyper-speed-wavering accompaniment.  Four other equally simple themes appear soon after, but those first four notes seem to launch us into flight for the rest of the movement.  What Mozart then does with these five themes rivals Bach’s great counterpoint and the dramatic strength of Beethoven’s symphonies.
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