Symphony No. 40 (Mozart)

Last updated
Symphony in G minor
No. 40
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart by Posch Wien SAM 841.jpg
Mozart c. 1788
Key G minor
Catalogue K. 550
Composed1788 (1788)
Audio samples
I. Molto allegro (8:13)
II. Andante (10:15)
III. Menuetto. Allegretto – Trio (4:32)
IV. Finale. Allegro assai (7:11)

Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550 was written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1788. It is 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. [1] [nb 1]




The date of completion of this symphony is known exactly since Mozart in his mature years kept a full catalog of his completed works; he entered the 40th Symphony into it on 25 July 1788. [2] Work on the symphony occupied an exceptionally productive period of just a few weeks during which time he also completed the 39th and 41st symphonies (26 June and 10 August, respectively). [3] Nikolaus Harnoncourt conjectured that Mozart composed the three symphonies as a unified work, pointing, among other things, to the fact that the Symphony No. 40, as the middle work, has no introduction (unlike No. 39) and does not have a finale of the scale of No. 41's. [4]

The 40th symphony exists in two versions, differing primarily in that one includes parts for a pair of clarinets (with suitable adjustments made in the other wind parts). Most likely, the clarinet parts were added in a revised version. [5] The autograph scores of both versions were acquired in the 1860s by Johannes Brahms, who later donated the manuscripts to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, where they reside today. [6]


As Neal Zaslaw has pointed out, writers on Mozart have often suggested – or even asserted – that Mozart never heard his 40th Symphony performed. Some commentators go further, suggesting that Mozart wrote the symphony (and its companions, Nos. 39 and 41) without even intending it to be performed, but rather for posterity, as (to use Alfred Einstein's words) an "appeal to eternity". [nb 2]

Modern scholarship suggests that these conjectures are not correct. First, in a recently discovered 10 July 1802 letter by the musician Johann Wenzel (1762–1831) to the publisher Ambrosius Kühnel  [ de ] in Leipzig, Wenzel refers to a performance of the symphony at the home of Baron Gottfried van Swieten with Mozart present, but the execution was so poor that the composer had to leave the room. [7] [nb 3]

There is strong circumstantial evidence for other, probably better, performances. On several occasions between the composition of the symphony and the composer's death, symphony concerts were given featuring Mozart's music for which copies of the program have survived, announcing a symphony unidentified by date or key. These include: [8]

Most important is the fact that Mozart revised his symphony (see above). As Zaslaw says, this "demonstrates that [the symphony] was performed, for Mozart would hardly have gone to the trouble of adding the clarinets and rewriting the flutes and oboes to accommodate them, had he not had a specific performance in view." [9] The orchestra for the 1791 Vienna concert included the clarinetist brothers Anton and Johann Nepomuk Stadler; which, as Zaslaw points out, limits the possibilities to just the 39th and 40th symphonies. [9]

Zaslaw adds: "The version without clarinets must also have been performed, for the reorchestrated version of two passages in the slow movement, which exists in Mozart's hand, must have resulted from his having heard the work and discovered an aspect needing improvement." [10] [nb 5]

Regarding the concerts for which the Symphony was originally intended when it was composed in 1788, Otto Erich Deutsch suggests that Mozart was preparing to hold a series of three "Concerts in the Casino", in a new casino in the Spiegelgasse owned by Philipp Otto. Mozart even sent a pair of tickets for this series to his friend Michael Puchberg. But it seems impossible to determine whether the concert series was held, or was cancelled for lack of interest. [3] Zaslaw suggests that only the first of the three concerts was actually held.[ citation needed ]


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

The work is in four movements, in the usual arrangement for a classical-style symphony (fast movement, slow movement, minuet, fast movement):

  1. Molto allegro, 2
  2. Andante, 6
  3. Menuetto. Allegretto – Trio, 3
  4. Finale. Allegro assai, 2

I. Molto allegro

The first movement begins darkly, not with its first theme but with the 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 (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). The first theme is as follows.

Symphony No. 40 (Mozart)

II. Andante

The second movement is a lyrical work in 6
time. It is in the subdominant key of the relative major of G minor (B major): E major. The contrapuntal opening bars of this movement appear thus in keyboard reduction:

Mozart-s40-part II-FirstTheme.JPG

III. Menuetto. Allegretto – Trio

The minuet begins with an angry, cross-accented hemiola rhythm and a pair of three-bar phrases, as shown in the following piano reduction:

Mozart-s40-part III-FirstTheme.JPG

Various commentators[ who? ] have asserted that while the music is labeled "minuet", it would hardly be suitable for dancing. The contrasting gentle trio section, in G major, alternates the playing of the string section with that of the winds.

IV. Finale. Allegro assai

The fourth movement opens with a series of rapidly ascending notes outlining the tonic triad illustrating what is commonly referred to as the Mannheim rocket.

Symphony No. 40 (Mozart)

The movement is written largely in eight-bar phrases, following the general tendency toward rhythmic squareness in the finales of classical-era symphonies.[ citation needed ] A remarkable modulating passage in which every tone in the chromatic scale but one is played, strongly destabilizing the key, occurs at the beginning of the development section; the single note left out is G (the tonic):

Symphony No. 40 (Mozart)



This work has elicited varying interpretations from critics. Robert Schumann regarded it as possessing "Grecian lightness and grace". [11] Donald Tovey saw in it the character of opera buffa . Almost certainly, however, the most common perception today is that the symphony is tragic in tone and intensely emotional; for example, Charles Rosen (in The Classical Style) has called the symphony "a work of passion, violence, and grief." [12]

Although interpretations differ, the symphony is unquestionably one of Mozart's most greatly admired works, [13] and it is frequently performed and recorded.


Ludwig van Beethoven knew the symphony well, copying out 29 bars from the score in one of his sketchbooks. [14] As Gustav Nottebohm observed in 1887, the copied bars appear amid the sketches for Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, whose third movement begins with a pitch sequence similar to that of Mozart's finale (see example below). [15]

Symphony No. 40 (Mozart)

Franz Schubert likewise copied down the music of Mozart's minuet, and the minuet of his Fifth Symphony strongly evokes Mozart's. [16] Zaslaw has suggested that a passage late in Joseph Haydn's oratorio The Seasons (1801), a meditation on death, quotes the second movement of the 40th Symphony and was included by Haydn as a memorial to his long-dead friend. [nb 6]

First recording

The first known recording of the 40th Symphony is by the Victor Recording Company and issued in 1915 under the title "Symphony in G Minor". The Victor Concert Orchestra performed under the direction of conductor Walter B. Rogers. [17]


  1. A possible exception is the so-called "Odense Symphony", whose attribution to Mozart is doubtful; see Mozart symphonies of spurious or doubtful authenticity.
  2. For discussion of claims of this sort, see Zaslaw 1994; the quotation from Einstein is taken from this source.
  3. The letter reads "im Wien habe ich selbst es von verstorbenem Mozart gehört, als Er sie bei Baron Wanswiten [sic] hat produciren lassen, das[s] er wärend der production aus dem Zimmer sich hat entfernen müssen, wie man Sie unrichtig aufgeführt hat", meaning "and in Vienna I have heard myself from the departed Mozart, that when he had it performed in Baron Wanswiten’s rooms, he had to leave the room during the performance because it was being played so incorrectly." [7]
  4. The text of the poster is given in Deutsch 1965, p. 393.
  5. Though quoted heavily above, Zaslaw is not alone in denigrating the old view that the symphony was never performed: Otto Biba 2009 writes, "Since there is no known date of a premiere performance, there developed the long standing legend among Mozart biographers of a romantic persuasion, who wished to portray primarily the brilliance and tragedy of a genius' life, that Mozart never heard performances of [his last] three symphonies. This arrogant assumption, which equates missing information with the theory that the event never happened, is not serious scholarship and must be rejected."
  6. See No. 38, the aria "Erblicke hier, bethörter Mensch". Source: Zaslaw & Cowdery 1990, p. 210.

Related Research Articles

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Composer of the Classical period

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical period.

<i>Eine kleine Nachtmusik</i> Composition for a chamber ensemble by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525, is a 1787 composition for a chamber ensemble by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The German title means "a little serenade", though it is often rendered more literally as "a little night music". The work is written for an ensemble of two violins, viola, cello and double bass, but is often performed by string orchestras.

Symphony No. 41 (Mozart) Last symphony by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart completed his Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551, on 10 August 1788. The longest and last symphony that he composed, it is regarded by many critics as among the greatest symphonies in classical music. The work is nicknamed the Jupiter Symphony, likely coined by the impresario Johann Peter Salomon.

Symphony No. 36 (Mozart)

The Symphony No. 36 in C major, K. 425, also known as the Linz Symphony, was written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart during a stopover in the Austrian town of Linz on his and his wife's way back home to Vienna from Salzburg in late 1783. The entire symphony was written in four days to accommodate the local count's announcement, upon hearing of the Mozarts' arrival in Linz, of a concert. The première in Linz took place on 4 November 1783. The composition was also premièred in Vienna on 1 April 1784. The autograph score of the "Linz Symphony" was not preserved, but a set of parts sold by Mozart to the Fürstenberg court at Donaueschingen in 1786 does survive.

Sonata da chiesa is a 17th-century genre of musical composition for one or more melody instruments and is regarded an antecedent of later forms of 18th century instrumental music. It generally comprises four movements, typically a largo prelude followed by a fugal allegro, an expressive slow movement, and an allegro finale, although there are also many variations of this pattern.

Symphony No. 25 (Mozart)

The Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183/173dB, was written by the then 17-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in October 1773, shortly after the success of his opera seria Lucio Silla. It was supposedly completed in Salzburg on October 5, a mere two days after the completion of his Symphony No. 24, although this remains unsubstantiated. Its first movement was used as the opening music in Miloš Forman's film Amadeus. A part of it is used as the theme of Indian watch manufacturer Titan.

Symphony No. 103 in E major is the eleventh of the twelve London symphonies written by Joseph Haydn. This symphony is nicknamed The Drumroll after the long roll on the timpani with which it begins. It is from 1795, and his second-to-last symphony.

Symphony No. 38 (Mozart)

The Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504, was composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in late 1786. It was premiered in Prague on January 19, 1787, during Mozart's first visit to the city. Because it was first performed in Prague, it is popularly known as the Prague Symphony. Mozart's autograph thematic catalogue records December 6, 1786, as the date of completion for this composition.

Symphony No. 39 (Mozart) Work by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The Symphony No. 39 in E major of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, K. 543, was completed on 26 June 1788.

Symphony No. 35 (Mozart)

Symphony No. 35 in D major, K. 385, also known as the Haffner Symphony, was composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1782. It was commissioned by the Haffners, a prominent Salzburg family, for the occasion of the ennoblement of Sigmund Haffner the Younger. The Haffner Symphony should not be confused with the eight-movement Haffner Serenade, another piece Mozart wrote on commission from the same family in 1776.

Symphony No. 31 (Mozart)

The Symphony No. 31 in D major, K. 297/300a, better known as the Paris Symphony, is one of the most famous symphonies by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It may have been first of his symphonies to be published when Seiber released their edition in 1779.

Symphony No. 26 (Mozart)

The Symphony No. 26 in E major, K. 184/161a, was written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and completed on March 30, 1773, one month after he returned from his third Italian tour.

Symphony No. 6 (Mozart)

Symphony No. 6 in F major, K. 43, was composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1767. According to Alfred Einstein in his 1937 revision of the Köchel catalogue, the symphony was probably begun in Vienna and completed in Olomouc, a Moravian city to which the Mozart family fled to escape a Viennese smallpox epidemic; see Mozart and smallpox.

Symphony No. 7 (Mozart)

Symphony No. 7 in D major, K. 45, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was completed in Vienna in January 1768 after the family's return from a visit to Olomouc and Brno in Moravia. The symphony is in four movements. Its first performance was probably at a private concert. The symphony was reworked to become the overture to Mozart's opera, La finta semplice, K. 51, composed and performed later that year, and the overture itself was subsequently adapted further to create a new symphony, known in the Köchel 1964 (K6) catalogue as K. 46a. The autograph of the score is preserved in the Staatsbibliothek Preusischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin.

Symphony No. 12 (Mozart)

Symphony No. 12 in G major, K. 110/75b, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was composed in Salzburg in the summer of 1771. The symphony was apparently prepared in anticipation of Mozart's second Italian journey, which was to take place between August and December 1771. The symphony is in four movements, the opening allegro being the longest movement that Mozart had written to that date. It is the first of a group of works "painted on a larger canvas and achieving a greater individuality than his earlier exuberant pieces".

Symphony No. 13 (Mozart)

Symphony No. 13 in F major, K. 112, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was written in Milan during his second journey to Italy in the autumn of 1771. The symphony is in four movements, the second of which is scored for strings alone. The third movement minuet may have been written earlier, and then incorporated into the symphony—the autograph manuscript shows the minuet copied in Leopold's hand. Nicholas Kenyon describes Symphony No. 13 as the last in "conventional mode"—thereafter "we are in the beginnings of a different world."

Symphony No. 11 (Mozart)

Symphony No. 11 in D major, K. 84/73q, was at one time considered unquestionably to be the work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Its status has, however, been challenged, and remains uncertain. It is believed to date from 1770, and may have been written in Milan or Bologna, if it is a genuine Mozart work. An early manuscript from Vienna attributes the work to Wolfgang, but nineteenth-century copies of the score attribute it respectively to Leopold Mozart and to Carl Dittersdorf. Neal Zaslaw writes: "A comparison of the results of two stylistic analyses of the work's first movement with analyses of unquestionably genuine first movements of the period by the three composers suggests that Wolfgang is the most likely of the three to have been the composer of K73q".

Symphony No. 5 (Beethoven) Musical composition by Ludwig van Beethoven

The Symphony No. 5 in C minor of Ludwig van Beethoven, Op. 67, was written between 1804 and 1808. It is one of the best-known compositions in classical music and one of the most frequently played symphonies, and it is widely considered one of the cornerstones of western music. First performed in Vienna's Theater an der Wien in 1808, the work achieved its prodigious reputation soon afterward. E. T. A. Hoffmann described the symphony as "one of the most important works of the time". As is typical of symphonies during the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is in four movements.

The Symphony in F major "No. 43", K. 76/42a, was probably written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.


The Tonkünstler-Societät was a benevolent society for musicians in Vienna, which lasted from the mid 18th century to the mid 20th. Its purpose was "to support retired musicians and their families". Beginning in 1772, the Society mounted a series of benefit concerts, often with large forces of performers, at which were performed works by leading Classical-period composers, including Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven.


  1. "Mozart – Symphony No. 40 in G minor". Classic FM . Retrieved 23 July 2020.
  2. Heartz 2009, p. 207.
  3. 1 2 Deutsch 1965 , p. 320
  4. Clements, Andrew (23 July 2014). "Mozart: The Last Symphonies review – a thrilling journey through a tantalising new theory". The Guardian .
  5. Zaslaw 1983, p. 10.
  6. See Zaslaw 1983 , p. 10, Swafford 1997 , p. 287, and this facsimile edition.
  7. Milada Jonášová  [ cs ]: "Eine Aufführung der g-moll-Sinfonie KV 550 bei Baron van Swieten im Beisein Mozarts", in: Mozart Studien 20, Tutzing 2011, pp. 253–268. An abridged English translation was published in the Newsletter of the Mozart Society of America 16.1 (2012),(online).
  8. List from Zaslaw 1983
  9. 1 2 Zaslaw 1983 , p. 9
  10. Zaslaw 1983, pp. 9–10.
  11. James 1967, p. 33.
  12. Rosen 1997, p. 334.
  13. "The 20 greatest symphonies of all time". Classical Music/BBC Music Magazine . 25 September 2018.
  14. Hopkins 1981.
  15. Nottebohm 1887, p. 531.
  16. Zaslaw & Cowdery 1990, p. 210.
  17. "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Symphony in G Minor". Discography of American Historical Recordings.


Further reading