The Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504, was composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in late 1786. It was premiered in Prague on January 19, 1787, a few weeks after Le nozze di Figaro opened there. It is popularly known as the Prague Symphony. Mozart's autograph thematic catalogue bears December 6, 1786, as the date of composition.
Other works written by Mozart about contemporary with this symphony include the twenty-fifth piano concerto and the piano trio in B-flat (K. 503 and K. 502, respectively) the former also written in December 1786, the latter written in November. The aria scena and rondo Ch'io mi scordi di te? K.505 for soprano and orchestra with piano obligato, regarded by Girdlestone in his book on Mozart and his Piano Concertos as a work on the same level, also dates from the same period. This work would be called No. 37 if the K. 444 work was removed from the numbering.
- See also: Mozart and Prague
Although Mozart's popularity among the Viennese waxed and waned, he was consistently popular among the Bohemians and had a devoted following in Prague. A piece appearing in the Prager Neue Zeitung shortly after Mozart's death expresses this sentiment: "Mozart seems to have written for the people of Bohemia, his music is understood nowhere better than in Prague, and even in the countryside it is widely loved." The Prague Symphony was written in gratitude for their high esteem.
The early classical symphony of the 18th century would either have three movements or four (or one movement in three recognizable sections, like the 26th or the 32nd), the four-movement symphonies having a minuet in addition. By the time Mozart wrote his Prague symphony, however, the symphony was no longer a step away from the opera overture, no longer bound to this tradition, so that the symphony without a minuet could be, and was, similar in weight to his other symphonies, different mostly in the lack of that minuet and not in overall specific gravity.
The Prague Symphony was scored for two flutes, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.
The work has the following three movements:
Adagio—Allegro, 4/4 (Sonata form)
Andante in G major, 6/8 (Sonata form)
Finale (Presto), 2/4
The first movement begins with a slow introduction, which is atypical for Mozart—he only does this in two of his other symphonies, No. 36 ("Linz") and No. 39. The introduction gives way to the main portion of the movement, in which six melodies are developed and recapitulated in a very contrapuntal example of sonata-allegro form. Certain phrases in the first movement bear a resemblance to the Overture of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. Moreover, the first movement is composed in a similar form to that of the Overture: Adagio–Allegro. The allegro proper is written in the style of a fugue with the musical material of the climax being similar to that of the climax of the fugue in the overture to Die Zauberflöte. Furthermore, certain musical material from the beginning of the first movement has been quoted by Rossini in his overture to The Barber of Seville. This overture, too, is similar in form to that of the first movement of this symphony, a slow introduction with a loud pronouncement of the tonic followed by a quiet or piano section in which tension is built then resolved in forte. Musical material found throughout the first minor section of the first movement is similar to that of the overture to Mozart's Don Giovanni. Furthermore, the orchestral effects during this section are similar: winds and timpani announcing the chord with strings playing a even rhythmed harmony with the chord.
The second movement's structure is not far removed from one found in a typical Mozart symphony dating to around this period although the music shifts into the minor-key in a movement of contrasting moods. Though it is structurally similar, harmonically it is unstable (as another G major slow movement, that of the 16th piano concerto, had been earlier, as Girdlestone points out, and for somewhat similar reasons), and there are several polyphonic surprises.
The third movement is a lively Presto in which the flute plays a prominent role, especially in counterpointing the main melody in the development section. This movement "shows Mozart in an unusual mood, nearer to Beethoven's boisterousness than his fastidious taste normally allowed him to go."
^ Deutsch 1965, 285
^ a b Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus; Giglberger, Veronika (preface), Robinson, J. Branford (transl.) (2005). Die Sinfonien IV.. Kassel: Bärenreiter-Verlag. p. XVIII. ISMN M-006-20466-3
^ These points are explained in more detail in Einstein (1945).
^ Sinfonie in D KV 504 (Score)
^ A. Hopkins, Talking About Symphonies Chapter III p. 45
Deutsch, Otto Erich (1965) Mozart: A Documentary Biography. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
Einstein, Alfred. Mozart, his Character, his Work. London: Oxford University Press. 1945. Translated from the German by Arthur Mendel and Nathan Broder. LCCN 45001487.
Girdlestone, Cuthbert. Mozart and his Piano Concertos. New York: Dover Publications. 1964 republication. "An unabridged and corrected republication of the second (1958) edition of the work first published in 1948 by Cassell & Company, Ltd., London, under the title Mozart's Piano Concertos." Translation of Mozart et ses concertos pour piano. ISBN 0-486-21271-8 (pbk.)