MOZART’S SYMPHONIES NOS. 39, 40, 41 AT THE FESTIVAL DES LUMIÈRES IN MONTMORILLON
On 25 August the last three symphonies of Mozart will be honoured at the Festival des Lumières* in Montmorillon, concluding a summer season dedicated to Mozart. With these three symphonies, written in under two months and without any specific commission in the summer of 1788, Mozart reached a degree of absolute mastery in musical composition which fascinates and enchants us even today. Throughout the centuries, these symphonies have never ceased to rouse the admiration of the greatest composers, such as Richard Strauss, who said of Symphony no.41: ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony is the most beautiful work I have heard.’ Johannes Brahms, for his part, long owned the manuscript of Symphony no.40. Their pivotal situation, synthesising a musical Classicism that was about to disappear, but also anticipating early Romanticism (the second movement of Symphony no. 40 seems so clearly to have been the model for the great slow movements of Franz Schubert’s symphonies), makes them a cornerstone of what we now call the mainstream repertory. For the conductor and theorist Nikolaus Harnoncourt, this trilogy of symphonies constitutes an ‘instrumental oratorio’, a cycle of twelve movements which takes as its prelude the heroic and majestic first movement of Symphony no.39, and as its conclusion the radiant fugue concluding Symphony no.41. They combine all the influences gleaned by Mozart throughout his life and his many travels, including his sojourns in Paris (where he composed the eponymous Symphony no.31), from the galant or heroic style and the Sturm und Drang to the more recent influence of Bach, masterfully sublimated in the spectacular counterpoint of Symphony no.41’s fugal finale. It is with the musicians of the Cercle de l’Harmonie, armed with their intimate knowledge of Mozart’s operas, his sacred music (masses and Requiem) and all the other orchestral genres he worked in (concertos, serenades), but also of lesser-known composers who contributed to shaping his style (J. C. Bach, Grétry), that I wish to place in a ‘historical’ perspective works which undoubtedly constitute the first peak of the symphonic era. * The festival is a member of the ‘Réseau SPEDIDAM’.