Mozart Symphony No. 38, "Prague"
Very few cities have had a relationship with a single person, especially a foreigner, like the city of Prague and its love affair with Mozart. Here’s what Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s librettist for some of his greatest operas, said about it: "It is not easy to convey an adequate conception of the enthusiasm of the Bohemians for [Mozart's] music. The pieces which were admired least of all in other countries were regarded by those people as things divine; and, more wonderful still, the great beauties which other nations discovered in the music of that rare genius only after many, many performances, were perfectly appreciated by the Bohemians on the very first evening.” Mozart had been losing his popularity rapidly in Vienna, and so his trips to Prague were a boon to his self-esteem. He wrote in a letter, speaking of Prague’s euphoric reaction to his opera the Marriage of Figaro: "here they talk about nothing but Figaro. Nothing is played, sung, or whistled but Figaro. No opera is drawing like Figaro. Nothing, nothing but Figaro. Certainly a great honor for me!"
Now whether or not Mozart actually wrote this 38th symphony FOR the city of Prague or not is disputed. It seems as if he finished the symphony before he was invited to come to Prague for the first time. All we know for sure is that the first performance of the piece was definitely in Prague, and it included a couple of details that point to Mozart writing it specifically with both the audience and the musicians of Prague in mind. But the most important thing about this symphony is that it marks the beginning of a late period in Mozart’s symphonies that sees him pushing at the bounds of symphonic form in a nearly Beethoven-like way. There is no symphony where that is more true than the one we’re going to talk about today, the 38th symphony. The sheer amount of invention alone in the first movement is enough to hold our attention for weeks, but we’ll talk about the whole symphony today, from its formal innovations, to its warmth and joy, and to the little clues that make us think that this symphony was a stunning and perhaps unprecedented gift from Mozart to the city that adored him so much. Join us!
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