Conducting Mozart Symphony K504 “Prague” – 1st mov. [analysis]

Last updated Jan 30, 2024 | Published on Oct 29, 2020

Winner of a fellowship at the Bayreuther Festspiele, Mr. Griglio’s conducting has been praised for his “energy” and “fine details”. Mr. Griglio took part in the first world recording of music by composer Irwin Bazelon and conducted several world premieres like "The song of Eddie", by Harold Farberman, a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. Principal Conductor of International Opera Theater Philadelphia for four years, Mr.Griglio is also active as a composer. His first opera, Camille Claudel, debuted in 2013 to a great success of audience and critics. Mr. Griglio is presently working on an opera on Caravaggio and Music Director of Opera Odyssey.
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Table of contents

Introduction

Mozart’s Symphony n.38 premiered in Prague, in January 1787. It needs to be noted that while his popularity was declining in Vienna, in Prague Mozart was a rockstar. His latest opera, The Marriage of Figaro, had had an enormous success. In a letter, Mozart wrote:

“…here they talk about nothing but Figaro. Nothing is played, sung, or whistled but Figaro.”

It’s possible that Mozart did not write this symphony with Prague in mind: the work was completed in Vienna on December 6, 1786, before he received an invitation to Prague. Mozart in that period was actually thinking about traveling to London.

But: going to Prague was something he could have not passed on. And this symphony became a gift to the city, which, in turn, gave it its nickname.

Scheherazade by Édouard Frédéric Wilhelm Richter (1844-1913)

Le Nozze di Figaro: Cherubino hides behind Susanna’s chair as the Count arrives

However, there’s a couple of peculiar things that point in a different direction: while Mozart did not write the symphony in Prague, he might have kept as reference their tastes and aesthetics, perhaps hoping for a future trip.

For example, Mozart goes back to a 3 movement form, departing from the more common four-movement structure. The 3 movement form was typical of earlier symphonies but as the symphony as a form in itself evolved, so did its ambition to become greater and longer. Hence, the 4 movements adopted in the second part of the 18th century.

The 3 movements structure could be due to the simple fact that Mozart knew that in Prague they did not have a particular appreciation for Viennese dances (and therefore he cut the Minuet); or to the fact that the first 2 movements of the symphony are particularly extensive and a Minuet would have thrown off the balance of the entire symphony.

On another point, Prague was famed all around Europe for its wind players. Mozart, with the Prague, offers them more than a chance to show off, with so many passages where the strings don’t even play. And there’s the matter of the beginning of the last movement: a quote from The Marriage of Figaro (the little duet between Susanna and Cherubino in Act II).

Of course, all of these things could just be coincidental. We’ll never really know for sure.

Mozart Symphony K.504: an analysis of the 1st movement

Exposition

Adagio

The first movement begins with a slow introduction, something Mozart does in only 2 other symphonies (the n.36 “Linz” and n.39). Daniel Freeman has noted that it is probably the longest and most sophisticated slow introduction written for any major symphony up to that time.

It’s a regal D major. Except, we don’t know it’s major until the third bar, as the F or the F# is omitted the first 2 bars. As a matter of fact, the ambiguity of major/minor is a key factor of this introduction.

Mozart K504 - Mov 1 analysis - ex.1

After a couple of bars of a lyrical theme

Mozart K504 - Mov 1 analysis - ex.2

Mozart starts alternating major and minor

Mozart K504 - Mov 1 analysis - ex.3

and again

Mozart K504 - Mov 1 analysis - ex.4
Oops...

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Notes

Cover image by Lucas Craig from Pexels

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Gianmaria Griglio is an intelligent, exceptional musician. There is no question about his conducting abilities: he has exceptionally clear baton technique that allows him to articulate whatever decisions he has made about the music.

Harold Farberman

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