Symphony No 29

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Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 186a (201)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria
Died December 5, 1791 in Vienna, Austria

By Marianne Williams Tobias
The Marianne Williams Tobias Program Note Annotator Chair


Approximately one third of Mozart’s total symphonic output was generated in just two years between 1772–1774.   After that, between the summer of 1774 and the spring of 1778, Mozart turned away from symphonic writing because other forms of instrumental compositions received his interest. One of the most interesting and polished symphonies emanating from fertile two-year period was Symphony No. 29, K. 201.

On every count, Symphony No. 29 is a fine specimen of gallant writing: well bred, charming, polite and faithful to the Viennese classical model. Its light-hearted charm and elegance intends a work which is truly meant to entertain and delight. For this purpose, Mozart chose to score the work modestly. Aside from the basic string component, only a pair of oboes and pair of horns are required. The economy of means in no way limits or impedes  its symphonic character.

The first movement, allegro moderato, begins softly introducing the first main theme immediately. The tune is catchy, marked by an octave drop and pulsing repeated notes. That opening idea rises sequentially by step, as if  making certain that we do not miss the point. Horns and oboes later join with an expanded repetition. A lyrical second theme is sung by the violins.   The  very small development (approximately thirty measures) follows before a standard, literal recapitulation with a coda finishes the movement.

An elegant Andante concerns itself with a delicate theme spun by muted violins.  Edward Downs commented, “It is full of eighteenth century clichés and turns that were used a hundred times before and after by other composers, but here they are so spontaneous and lovely that each phrase bears repeating and repeating. And still the movement seems too short.” The form is tri-partite with the opening theme returning in the last part with increased violin embroidery.

The third movement is a minuet.  However, Mozart now moves to a slightly more aggressive style than polite convention would have expected. Neal Zaslaw has astutely characterized the music as more symphonic than dancelike.

The fourth movement recalls the first theme of the first movement with its distinctive octave-drop profile. Another theme is typically galant, filled with decorative trills and grace notes. Mozart creates an informal fun-loving atmosphere (complete with hunting calls), spending more time on the development than in the first movement, thereby adding more weight to this final section.  Overall, the music remains elegant and cheerful until the close.

A symphonic silence after Symphony 29 led to a significant change when Mozart returned to the genre: a much broader canvas, scope and emotion would infuse the later works. Symphony No. 29 summarized a world and a style which was young and fresh, but not  quite different from the maturity and content of Mozart’s future style.

© Marianne Williams Tobias, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016.

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