Mozart’s early career was spent mostly on tour with his father, Leopld, and sister, Nannerl. By the time they reached the Netherlands in late 1765, Wolfgang had already conquered much of western Europe. Things did not get off to a promising start when both children succumbed to typhold fever. The young genius was soon back on his feet again, however, composing among other things a Symphony in B flat, K.22, written especially for a concert at the Hague on 22 January 1766. Scored for strings, two oboes and two horns, it is a remarkable work for a nine-year-old, not merely because of its technical expertise but the fact that such a young mind was capable of encompassing the intensity of minorkey expression unleashed in both the first movement’s development section and the central (G minor) Andante
The A major Symphony, K. 201, composed just eight years later in 1774, is the first of Mozart’s symphonies to have achieved lasting popularity. Its proportions are more expansive than any previous symphony by Mozart, and despite being cast in a major key there is an underlying sense of agitation and unease that occasionally breaks to the surface, as in the central development sections of the first movement and finale. Three out of four movements are cast in sonata form and even the minuet possesses a symphonic gravitas that sweeps it away from the dance floor into the concert hall. The muted strings gently suspend the poetics of the Andante in a magical halo of sound.
Throughout the eighteenth century there was an enormous demand for music especially commissioned for specific social occasions or celebrations, whether inside or outdoors. Much of the music Mozart composed for these functions is to be found in his divertimentos, cassations and serenades, so called to distinguish them from symphonic or chamber works intended for the concert room or more intimate surroundings.
The Serenate notturna was composed for a Salzburg carnival in 1776, and is unusual not only for having just three movements but for featuring a string orchestra without a tutti double-bass section as well as a prominent part for timpani.
The first two movements possess a symphonic nobility that suggests this was a work for a more enlightened audience than was usual on such occasions. However, Mozart lets his hair down for the finale, with a series of colourful episodes that includes a military quickstep and a riotous outburst of pizzicato.
Written in August 1787 while he was hard at work on his searingly dramatic opera, Don Giovanni, and shortly after the iconoclastic Ein musikalischer Spass (‘A Musical Joke’), Mozart appears to have composed his “Little Night Music” as a bubbly restorative to his creative energies. Mystery still surrounds a missing second movement mentioned in Mozart’s own catalogue – a minuet and a trio – and no one is quite certain whether the work was originally intended for solo strings or the full orchestral complement. What is undeniable is the way the general high spirits and exuberance of invention combine in an invigorating tour de force of supreme creative inspiration.