Critical commentary on the exposition of Mozart’s 41st Symphony

The 41st symphony by Mozart is aptly named the Jupiter symphony by critics and music connoisseurs. This name quite deliberately sums up the sense of grandeur and majesty that the piece exudes. The symphony is scored for Flute, Oboe, Bassoon, Horns, Trumpets, Timpani (in C), Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Cello and Bass. Whilst the woodwind only play a small part in the piece, their role is key to accentuating the pace and vigour the first movement possess and the exquisite phrasing and melodic stability the third movement has.

The first movement opens with all the instruments playing at once (tutti). Here the woodwinds help to add force and dynamics and change the overall texture that we hear as a listener. In b.3-4 the woodwinds fall silent to allow the strings to take over. This means that the overall brashness that we heard in the first 2 bars is sharply dropped and we are left with a more meagre and frail texture due to the lack of woodwind. As it is only strings playing sound produced has much less variation and is quite simple. B.5 sees the addition of the woodwind instruments again, which is the repetition of the first motif but in the dominant. This again is forte and the addition of the woodwind family incites cohesion and an enrichment of timbre. In b.7 the same thing happens again with the lack of woodwind providing a thinner texture.

The next section is the second part of the first subject, which is forte and again calls for the woodwind family to play. From b.9 all the woodwind instruments play crotchets and dotted quavers in an order. This section itself is fast paced and has a certain sense of vigour. The rhythms that the woodwind play add a sense of pace and drive. From b.15 they play offbeat crotchets that is syncopation. This technique is quite overpowering and brings this phrase to an exciting end in forte. Mozart often used syncopation to add drive and excitement.

From b.24 the transition starts. This is much longer than a standard transition and provides as a pathway for the development. From the beginning of the development, the bassoon is not playing whilst the upper woodwinds are playing a melody above the strings (playing the same rhythmic pattern as was seen at the beginning). It is worth noting that up till this point, the woodwinds have all rhythmically been playing the same thing as each other. As there is no bassoon now it introduces a new type of texture that we have not heard before. In b.30, the rhythmic mimicry between the woodwind instruments starts again and leads into b.31 that sees the woodwinds play as an accompaniment for the melody playing in the strings. The woodwinds are playing seventh chords where the bassoon is not playing the root (as it possibly should be) and the root of the chord is actually omitted, leaving the resulting as a diminished fifth. This provides a certain instability to the section whilst the lower strings are playing are playing a circle of fifths chord progressions using notes not normally found in this key (C major).

IN b.35-36 there is a silence in the woodwind instruments, which is a prelude to an outburst in b.37. This lack of woodwind here provides an impact in the next bar when it is reintroduced. In this bar and the next, the oboe and flute play the same thing they were playing before whilst the bassoon plays a crotchet accompaniment outlining a major triad. At the end of b.38 however, the bassoon joins in playing the dotted crotchet melody the violins are playing adding imitation. The timbre of the bassoons is also interesting to make a note of, as they are playing quite high. This produces a reedy sound and induces a new type of texture we have not heard before. Whilst the bassoons are playing this melody, the flutes and oboes are both playing an inverted pedal and octave apart. This is held for 8 bars and is kept on the tonic note (G as we have modulated). In b.49 the same rhythmic feature is reinstated using the crotchets and dotted quavers to again add a certain momentum and drive. This again is the same as the beginning where this pattern leads into off beat crotchets which brings us to a raucous end of the first subject.

The end of the first subject is much more brash compared to the beginning of the second subject. This is lightly scored from the beginning and sees no woodwind until b.62. Here the bassoons are doubling the violin I’s part but an octave higher. This causes a 3-part harmony with the violins II and I. In b.67 the bassoon plays the 3 staccato crotchets that have already been observed in b.31 and this brings us to a repetition of the beginning of the first subject however this time with a more prominent scoring and a thicker texture as the flutes are added (along with a part for the lower strings). These stop at the beginning of b.71 where the strings are the only instruments playing.

In b.81, all the woodwinds are brought back in and we are shown left with a very prominent forte section were all the instruments are playing. From here the woodwinds are generally playing notes held for longer than the rest of the instruments providing as more of an accompaniment (in b.87, they play crotchets outlining a major triad). In b.89 (after playing an f sharp – G major still) the upper woodwinds play another G pedal note that is the tonic, whilst the bassoons mimic the violins again. This leads us to b.92 where it gets suddenly loud and the woodwinds play minims that contribute as reinforcement. In b.94, all the woodwind come in playing the same pattern as the lower strings and violins II. However, whilst this is going on there is an oboe still playing a tonic pedal note over the top of the melody. In b.100 there is a general pause that leads us swiftly into the next section.

In b.101 there is no scoring for woodwind, however in b.103 the oboes rejoin again with a dominant inverted pedal. Up until b.111 the oboes are acting as an accompaniment to the other woodwinds that are playing the melody previously seen in the violins at the beginning of this section. Up until b.116 the woodwinds are generally only used as reinforcement for the melodies the strings are playing. In b.117 the offbeat crotchets the bassoon is playing tell us that we are coming to the end of this section as the syncopation has been used before to indicate the end of a phrase. The next section has modulated to a different key, which is Eb Major.