Symphony No. 41 in C Major K.551 "The Jupiter"

W.A. Mozart (1756 - 1791)

The year 1788 saw Mozart harassed on all sides by debt, concerned about his own and wife's health, and not least by his position within Vienna's musical establishment and society. Nevertheless, his creative spirit rose to great heights over a period of 50 days, during the Summer of that year, during which time he composed his last three symphonies Nos. 39, 40 and 41.

Interestingly, despite the powerful impact this symphony engenders, Mozart chose not to include that "recently" invented and developing instrument, the clarinet which he had included in the orchestration of the previous two.

Jupiter in Greek mythology is the King of all the Gods, an apt appellation for such a magnificent work. Authorities point to two possible sources for this inspiration: to Mozart's son Xavier, and secondly to J. B. Cramer (1771- 1858) , the London piano maker, publisher and one of the founder members of the Philharmonic Society of London whose programme notes early in the 19th century included the name "Jupiter".


The movement's opening subject consists of two brief motifs; firstly two bars of an assertive orchestral tutti followed by two bars of a string motif that has a "questioning" air about it which leads into a tutti.

After the pause the opening subject is next heard in an expanded presentation with a flute and oboe counter melody above, and the full orchestra carries the music along with the "questioning" motif to the fore, until a silence, then the first theme of the second subject is introduced by the 1st violins and gradually builds, incorporating as it does so the "questioning" motif. This eventually fades into further silence. On the restart, there is a delightful rhythmic little theme which it is claimed Mozart purloined from an Opera by Paisello (1740-1816) and which presages the Development Section in the remote key of Eb Major.

Mozart now works upon this "stolen" theme in sequences and when it has been well used it leads the proceedings back to the movement's opening music, which is now in F Major, and continues rather stormily until pianissimo bars lead into the recapitulation, which is in C Minor. He now proceeds to thoroughly review all the movement's themes and motifs, and through subtle modulations brings the movement to its assertive end in C Major.


The movement opens serenely in F major, the theme being given to the 1st and 2nd violins, but when it is passed down to the cellos and basses against a restless accompanying figure the serenity is totally upset by the ensuing syncopated tutti in C minor. Calm is soon restored in the form of a broader second theme and sequel, which although chromatic is nevertheless quite sensual, and whose ending is presaged by four bars of 1st violins semi-quavers terminating on a szorfzando. This then kick starts the development which is centred about the earlier syncopated theme.

The recapitulation is a highly involved re-working of the exposition and the movement is completed by a Coda whose ten bars are a variant of the movement's opening.


This "compact" movement follows the traditional pattern. 1st violins open with a refined theme and in nearly every bar a falling semi-quaver adds perhaps a little sentimentality. After its repeat the second theme is a little more robust and ends with an intimation of the movement's opening.

Following the repeat of the second theme, the Trio opens rather unusually, with a "final" chord, but leaps back into life with one short lyrical theme. The second trio theme is somewhat pompous in character. With the traditional repeats of the trio completed, the minuet returns and is played through without repeats.


This glorious finale is basically in Sonata form, and the first subject consists of two short themes; the first, which is possibly an early church chant, is heard immediately and given to the 1st violins. The second is more vigorous and proceeds in imitation. The second subject also consists of two short themes: the first, again introduced by the 1st violins, is combined with a descending scale and a six note figure given to the woodwind. A further four note motif from the oboes leads to the development section.

The "development" does not show Mozart at his most charming as he works at the five themes of the exposition polyphonically and with a series of canons, all of which add a turbulence to the music as it proceeds, but it begins to settle as the recapitulation approaches.

The recapitulation opens with a full statement of the movement's opening subject which "opens out" into a series of chromatic sequences, so that the turbulence becomes even more combative.

However, turbulence or combativeness has to be brought under control, and in the Coda Mozart combines all his themes with deft counterpoint and orchestration, a veritable "tour de force", an epithet not often applied to Mozart's music.

Programme notes for BHSO performance, Nov 2002
Written by Roy Saberton

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