Mozart's Symphony No 40 a Work of Indestructible Beauty
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 40th Symphony, or the G minor Symphony (which Wagner calls a work of “indestructible beauty”) was a product of Mozart’s personal travail he was experiencing during the time its composition. It does have an air of tragedy reflected even in the choice of the G minor key, which is associated with tragic emotions. The same key was used in The Magic Flute, in Pamina’s aria “Ach ich fuhls” as she wishes for death, and such works as the Symphony No. 25, the String Quartet K.478 share the same emotional climate. F.J. Fétis, a biographer, wrote “Although Mozart has not used formidable orchestral forces in his G minor Symphony, none of the sweeping and massive effects one meets in a symphony of Beethoven, the invention which flames his work, the accents of passion and energy that pervade and the melancholy colour that dominates it result in one of the most beautiful manifestations of the human spirit.” According to musicologist Eric Blom, in this symphony, Mozart blended romanticism with the Classical perfection of formal balances so that they meet in perfect equilibrium: “It is in this respect at least the perfect musical work.”
The opening movement of the Symphony No. 4 in G minor is in molto allegro. The throbbing, impetuous principal theme is being played by the violins over a restless accompaniment by the violas concisely sets the movement in motion. This is repeated after sharp chords by the full orchestra. After a pause, the graceful second theme in the winds and strings conveys serenity and classical beauty as it weaves downwards through the orchestra. The entire movement is built on these two ideas.
The development section begins with a violent wrench into a distant tonality. The first theme is fragmented into smaller pieces, tossed back and forth from one orchestra to another, in a wide range of dynamics. As the excitement dies down, the first theme returns, and then the second theme goes back, but this time in a minor key, lending a certain poignancy to that melody.
Throughout the second movement (Andante) a restless, brooding undertone rises to an agonized climax. The first motive passes from the violas to second violins to first violins. The mood goes from tension and melancholy intensity, ending in pathos.
The Minuet section (Allegretto) is a long way from the courtly grace and polite charm that is usually associated with that dance. Instead, it is aggressive and stark, with its decisive rhythms plunging ahead. The graceful, sunny Trio in the middle provides the contrast, which is the only relaxed idyllic passage in the work.
The Finale (Allegro assai) is tinged with grim, hectic humor, bordering on the tragic. The rhythmic propulsion, which is its main force, conveys a nervous energy. The main theme propels upwards through the orchestra – lightly at first, then wild and rushing, moving from the strings on to the other instruments. A second melodious theme is soon caught up in the dynamic drive of the first, as harmonies clash sharply and the musical texture becomes more and more complicated. There is a quick climax; the themes return in nearly their original form, and the work closes with insistent reiterations of the dark, severe, atmosphere that pervades this symphony.