Staatskapelle Berlin plays Mozart's Symphony No. 40

Mozart – Symphony No. 40 (Julien Salemkour, Staatskapelle Berlin)

Conducted by Julien Salemkour, the Staatskapelle Berlin (the orchestra of the Berlin State Opera – Berliner Staatsoper Unter den Linden) performs Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, KV. 550. From a Mozart Gala from the Berlin State Opera (Deutsche Staatsoper). Published in HD by the EuroArts channel.

Completed on 25 July 1788, when the composer was 32 years old (Mozart composed his final three symphonies during the summer of 1788), the work sometimes referred to as the “Great G minor symphony,” to distinguish it from the “Little G minor symphony,” No. 25. The two are the only extant minor key symphonies Mozart wrote. Symphony No.40 is an iconic classical work andarguably the most popular of all of Mozart’s forty-one symphonies.

The symphony is scored (in its revised version) for flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and strings. Notably missing are trumpets and timpani.

The work is in four movements, in the usual arrangement for a classical-style symphony (fast movement, slow movement, minuet, fast movement). Every movement but the third is in sonata form; the minuet and trio are in the usual ternary form.

  1. Molto allegro, 2/2 The first movement begins darkly, not with its first theme but with accompaniment, played by the lower strings with divided violas. The technique of beginning a work with an accompaniment figure was later used by Mozart in his last piano concerto (No. 27, KV. 595) and later became a favorite of the Romantics (examples include the openings of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto).
  2. Andante in E-flat major, 6/8 The second movement is a lyrical work in 6/8 time is in E-flat major. It is in a more free rounded binary, or ABA, form with each of its halves repeated (AABABA). Its hesitant string gestures and subtle use of chromaticism lend it a certain grace and sensitivity.
  3. Menuetto. Allegretto – Trio, 3/4 The third movement is a clasic minuet and trio. A sinister minor-mode minuet full of polyphonic imitation is contrasted with a pastoral trio that puts the horns to good use. As always in a minuet and trio, the minuet returns at the end. This minuet is a far cry from the calm gentle minuet of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
  4. Finale. Allegro assai, 2/2 The fourth movement, is not as one might expect – a movement in rondo form. Instead, perhaps to express the seriousness of the symphony, it is cast in a modified sonata form. Instead of a traditional sonata of exposition, development and recapitulation, Mozart combines sonata form with a rounded binary (ABA’) form. As such we hear the entire exposition and its repeat as we would in sonata form, followed by the development and recapitulation and then a repeat of the development and recapitulation. While the first movement presents a sense of unease, the fourth movement expresses a far more violent nature and through its mixed form a more profound unease.

Julien Salemkour

Julien Salemkour
Julien Salemkour

Julien Salemkour was the assistant of Daniel Barenboim from 2000–2012 receiving the title Staatskapellmeister in recognition of his services to the Berlin State Opera. Salemkour is now an active guest-conductor specialising in opera internationally (Teatro Colón, Graz Opera, RSB Orchestra Berlin).