Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote his Symphony No. 40 in G minor, KV. 550, 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 minor key symphonies Mozart wrote. The 40th Symphony was completed on 25 July 1788. The composition occupied an exceptionally productive period of just a few weeks in 1788, during which time he also completed the 39th and 41st symphonies (26 June and 10 August, respectively). The symphony is scored (in its revised version) for flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and strings. Notably missing are trumpets and timpani.
The work is in four movements, in the usual arrangement (fast movement, slow movement, minuet, fast movement) for a classical-style symphony:
1. Molto allegro, 2/2
2. Andante, 6/8
3. Menuetto. Allegretto — Trio, 3/4
4. Finale. Allegro assai, 2/2.
Every movement but the third is in sonata form; the minuet and trio are in the usual ternary form. This work has elicited varying interpretations from critics. Robert Schumann regarded it as possessing “Grecian lightness and grace”. Donald Francis 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.”
Although interpretations differ, the symphony is unquestionably one of Mozart’s most greatly admired works, and it is frequently performed and recorded. Ludwig van Beethoven knew the symphony well, copying out 29 measures from the score in one of his sketchbooks. It is thought that the opening theme of the last movement may have inspired Beethoven in composing the third movement of his Fifth Symphony.
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