Drama and More in Mozart's Prague Symphony

Aug 17, 2017

Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro wasn't quite the great success he hoped it would be when it premiered in Vienna in May 1786, but when it was performed in Prague in December of that year it was a big hit.

When he was invited to that city the following January, Mozart not only enjoyed experiencing the appreciation of audiences there, he also brought along a new symphony he thought they might enjoy.  It came to be called the Prague Symphony.  And enjoy it, they did. 

Symphony No. 38 in D, The Prague, has only three rather than the more usual four movements, but what an effect that first movement makes with its dramatic opening.  As if to balance the lack of a minuet movement, the opening of the symphony is the grandest Mozart had yet written.  You could say it's almost operatic in its effect.

Needless to say, Mozart's musical gift to the city in the form of this great symphony was very much appreciated, along with the joyous and radiant Marriage of Figaro.

While he was in Prague, Mozart also got a commission for his next opera, Don Giovanni.  That masterpiece had its premier in Prague in October of 1787.  

The more serious nature of its subject matter of the notorious fictional Spanish libertine and seducer Don Gionnani (or Don Juan as we also know him), seemed to require something more dramatic for its overture than his previous comic opera had.

Despite some comic interludes and light moments in the new opera, it begins with the father of the woman Don Giovanni is seducing being killed by him and ends with the title character literally being dragged to Hell. You might say there is some serious stuff going on here.  

Mozart's and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte's second operatic collaboration is an examination of  human nature and love in a darker mood than in Marriage of Figaro.  

It's thought that Mozart composed the overture to Don Giovanni quite quickly, just a day or two before the premiere.  It's also been noted that the mood and dramatic effect of the overture is similar to the introduction of his previous symphony written for the people of Prague.

After you listen to the beginning of the Prague Symphony, it doesn't seem to hard to imagine that Mozart may have been looking back to the spacious opening of that work for inspiration and making a musical connection with the audience, some of whom surely would have remembered his previous visit to their city.

You can be the judge and see what you think. Share your thoughts in the comments below.  

You can also hear the complete Symphony No. 38 in D, The Prague by Mozart this evening on Symphony @ 7 on Classical 101.