The three works on this program, Symphonies K. 199 and K. 201, and the Violin Concerto K. 216, were composed in Salzburg in 1773, 1774, and 1775 respectively. These were not happy years professionally for the composer. He had just returned from his third trip to Italy, having spent twenty exciting and active months in Milan, to find his new patron Count Colloredo, the Elector and Archbishop, tight-fisted in his support of music, and not fully appreciative of Mozart’s musical genius and contributions. It was probably during this period that Mozart realized that there was no future for him in Salzburg, and that he had to seek his fortune elsewhere. It is possible that these three works are among the many composed during 1773-1775 with an eye towards the future, for we know of no specific occasions for which they were intended.

Symphony in G Major, K. 199, is a three-movement work in the Italian style, scored for two flutes (instead of the more usual two oboes), two horns, and strings with continuo. It is an exuberant work infused with youthful energy and spirit. From the initial chords of the first movement, one senses immediately the influence of Italian opera. All three movements are in sonata form. The first movement is characterized by the contrast between the scintillating first theme and the lyrical second theme, which heightens the dramatic effect throughout the movement. The second movement is a duet with a simple accompaniment, in which the theme is first heard as a duet for the violins, then the flutes, in both the exposition and recapitulation. The development section features the violins in a dialogue. The third movement begins as a fugue but wittily transform itself into a waltz-like dance movement, and ends with a brilliant coda.

Symphony in A Major, K. 201, is indisputably the best of Mozart’s early chamber symphonies scored for the modest instrumentation of two oboes, two horns, strings and continuo. It surpassed all the others in its strong characterization of themes, the vitality and variety of rhythmic motives, and the effective juxtaposition of homophonic and contrapuntal textures. Three of the four movements, excepting the Menuetto, are in sonata form. By the extensive development of motivic ideas within each movement and the presence of common elements in the themes of different movements, such as the prominence of the octave in the first and last movements and the dotted rhythm in the two middle movements, this work possesses a structural coherence and grandeur not found in his earlier symphonies. Many Mozart lovers consider this work to be his first great symphony.

Inexplicably, this great achievement was followed by a hiatus in Mozart’s symphonic writing, lasting from late 1774 until the appearance of the Symphony in D, K. 297, in Paris in June of 1778. It was during this unfruitful symphonic period, namely in 1775, that Mozart composed four of his five violin concertos. (The first violin concerto, K. 207, long thought to belong to this same year, was actually composed in 1773.)

The Concerto in G is a work of eloquence and elegance, in which one finds the fusion of vocal lyricism and instrumental virtuosity. In the sonata-form first movement, this quality is most apparent in the development section, where the seemingly random juxtaposition of the contrasting motives of the soloist and the harmonic modulations of the orchestra together create a dramatic tension that is operatic.

The second movement is a song with a richly decorated melodic line that in style and expressiveness is akin to that of a coloratura soprano aria. Its modest length and its simplicity of structure (an introduction of the first four bars of the theme by the orchestra, followed by the complete theme and its repetition, which are separated only by a short modulatory passage) is an effective contrast to the structural complexity of the Rondeau that follows.

This finale is in the sonatarondo form, and as suggested by its name, the formal structure of ABACABA comprises the principles of both the rondo and the sonata form. As a rondo, the primary musical interest is the alternation of the dance-like refrain in the fast triple meter of 3/8 with other couplets of musical contrast. As a sonata movement, sections A and B of the rondo are construed as the two themes in the exposition of the sonata form, the C section usually as the development section, and the repeat of the A and B sections as the recapitulation. In this unusual movement, however, section C cannot be taken as the development section of a sonata movement. It is instead an extended contrasting couplet in the rondeau scheme, consisting of a pair of dances in duple time: an gavotte in g minor, marked Andante, followed by a bourrée in G major, marked Allegretto. The irresistible charm and elegance of this section, in contrast to the lively gigue-like refrain, makes it the unforgettable, savory part of the movement.

©2006 John Hsu

(Additional note by Daniel Pyle — Mozart’s name which he was given at his baptism was Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Theophilus Mozart: “Johann Chrysostom” in honor of the saint of the same name, and “Theophilus” in honor of his godfather. “Amadeus,” by which we know him, is simply a Latin translation of the Greek “Theophilus,” He also used the form “Amadeo” at times, but the form he himself used most often was “Amadé” or “Amadè.”)