Symphony No 25

in G Minor, K. 183, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

When he was seventeen, Mozart wrote one of his two symphonies in G minor, K. 183. Fifteen years later he would again choose this key, one which often had been associated with lament or tragedy for his fortieth Symphony, K. 550. For this reason, the first has often been called “the little g minor.”

Teenagers are often attracted to experimental, anti-establishment ideas, and after Mozart was exposed to the options expressed by the popular Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) aesthetic, he was quite interested. Contrary to the calm, rational, and controlled values of the Enlightenment, the new viewpoints espoused individuality, turbulence, restlessness, doubt, ambiguity, sentimentality, and subjectivity, which were first manifested in German literature, starting in the 1860’s in the works of Johann Hamann and Johann von Herder. Prominent examples exist in the works of Schiller (The Robbers) and Goethe in his novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. 

Elements of this style in music are represented by strong dynamic changes, pulsing rhythms, syncopation, tremolos, unsettling melodic lines, and harmonic experimentation. Haydn symphonies written in the late 1760’s and early 1770’s have often been called his “Sturm und Drang Symphonies,” (Nos 26,39, 44, 45, 46 and 49.) It’s quite likely that the young Mozart was familiar with many of these works. A strong admirer of Haydn, Mozart once stated; “He alone has the secret of making me smile and touching me to the bottom of my soul.” With his opera Lucio Silla (1772) and Symphony number 25 (1773) Mozart tried his hand in this new, beguiling freedom.

The first movement Allegro con brio starts with fast nervous syncopations on a repeated note in violins and violas while an oboe holds steadily on four long held tones. The effect is pure sturm und drang with its immediate pace, nervousness, and intensity. Adding to the drama, there is a sudden stop before the strings resume their quick syncopations and the oboe sings a mournful tune, with added horn pairs interjecting a fanfare. A jagged first theme emerges from the strings with rough accompaniment. Order finally enters with a bouncing tune, introduced by the strings. The exposition per classical “rules” is repeated. The development keeps up the fast momentum, and accelerates leading to a momentary reprieve with winds softly singing a beautiful contrasting subject. The recapitulation restores the intensity, boldly driving the movement to a brisk close.

Mozart’s Andante moves to E-flat, with muted violins relaxing into a gentle melody. Listen for the bassoons offering delicate commentary in short gestures, conversing with the strings. Overall the mood is relaxed, yet often questioning.

The third movement is a stately, firmly accented menuetto, which also references elements from the first movement.. A genial second theme sung by the winds and horn is an elegant, lyrical touch, but the third section quotes the opening and concludes with two stern chords.

The fourth movement Allegro opens with an energetic theme presented by the strings. As the movement unfolds, notice the contrasting dynamics, often shifting back and forth without preparation—sudden emotional changes are given free rein. In the end, however, Mozart concludes Number 25 on a graceful controlled platform, filled with classical restraint and poise, sealed with two firm chords.

© Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2017

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