Mozart Symphony no. 38, in D Major, K. 504 ‘Prague Symphony’

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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, a few weeks after Le nozze di Figaro opened there. It is popularly known as the Prague Symphony. Mozart’s autograph thematic catalogue bears December 6, 1786, as the date of composition. Other works written by Mozart about contemporary with this symphony include the twenty-fifth piano concerto and the piano trio in B-flat (K. 503 and K. 502, respectively) the former also written in December 1786, the latter written in November. The aria scena and rondo Ch’io mi scordi di te? K.505 for soprano and orchestra with piano obligato, regarded by Girdlestone in his book on Mozart and his Piano Concertos as a work on the same level, also dates from the same period. This work would be called No. 37 if the K. 444 work (mostly by Michael Haydn, except for the slow introduction, which is by Mozart) was removed from the numbering. The early classical symphony of the 18th century would either have three movements or four (or one movement in three recognizable sections, like the 26th or the 32nd), the four-movement symphonies having a minuet in addition.

By the time Mozart wrote his Prague symphony, however, the symphony was no longer a step away from the opera overture, no longer bound to this tradition, so that the symphony without a minuet could be, and was, similar in weight to his other symphonies, different mostly in the lack of that minuet and not in overall specific gravity. The Prague Symphony was scored for two flutes, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings. The work has the following three movements:

  • 1. Adagio—Allegro, 4/4 (Sonata form)
  • 2. Andante in G major, 6/8 (Sonata form)
  • 3. Finale (Presto), 2/4.

Although Mozart’s popularity among the Viennese waxed and waned, he was consistently popular among the Bohemians and had a devoted following in Prague. A piece appearing in the Prager Neue Zeitung shortly after Mozart’s death expresses this sentiment:

“Mozart seems to have written for the people of Bohemia, his music is understood nowhere better than in Prague, and even in the countryside it is widely loved.”
The Prague Symphony was written in   gratitude for their high esteem.

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