Director’s News

“Doc Talk”/Class Lesson 5/12/2020

“DOC TALK”/CLASS LESSON – Tuesday, May 12, 2020




Monday’s LESSON:  Great Expectations; Big Footsteps; and “Why I LOVE Brahms”

Today’s Lesson: “Perfection Personified;” “Boy Wonder;” “Music’s Top Genius”: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his “Symphony No. 40 in g minor”


The word “genius” has been used so much in our culture that we can lose appreciation for what a true “genius” is.  A true genius is one who can “connect the dots” significantly faster and more accurately than 99.9% of anyone else.  A true genius is one who can create/conceive a concept or a work of art faster and more completely than 99.9% of anyone else.  A true genius is one who just leaves you believing that their brain is just different than everyone else’s.  A true genius leaves you speechless and in awe.

I believe that we have had many musical genius’s in our history, but the one who tops them all is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91).


Here’s the facts:

Mozart lived only 35 years and wrote over 600 works, including 41 symphonies, over 25 operas, over 25 piano concertos, over 20 string quartets, over 30 piano sonatas, dozens of songs, miscellaneous music for piano, voice, orchestra, and much, much more!  When did he sleep???

His manuscripts show little/no corrections.  In other words, the music came out of his mind totally complete—and correct!  Often Mozart would state to his friends that he “composed in his mind” and just “copied it out” on paper when he had to.

His aural memory was “photographic.”  He was known to literally re-write an entire opera from another composer after hearing it just once.

He was a true child prodigy—playing the clavier at the age of 3 and composing at the age of 5.

He was known to write the overture for an opera on the morning of its performance (throwing completed pages of the manuscript score out the window to copyists who would then write out the parts) and perform the piano parts to his own concerti by memory—while also conducting the orchestra.

As an introduction to this incredible composer, we are going to examine one of his most beloved works, his “Symphony No. 40 in g minor” written toward the end of his life, in the summer of 1788.

Mozart wrote his last 3 symphonies (39, 40, and 41) in a 6-week period in the summer of 1788.  Think about that…that is 1 symphony every 2 weeks… As each symphony contains 4 movements, that’s 1 movement every 3-4 days.  I’m not sure you can “copy out the score” that fast…ah, but remember, it was already composed in his mind!

The orchestration for this wonderful piece is actually very small:  1 flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns and strings.  No trumpets, no percussion.  Even in the classical era, this was a bit small.  But great things come in small packages!


First Movement:

Music example #1:  :33-:58 in attached link

No introduction; Theme A – “it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a Mozart!”  One of the most recognized themes in all music!  Like Tchaikovsky, Mozart was a “tunesmith”—he was able to write tunes that people remember!  And note how many times Mozart uses the little 3-note motif in this theme:  da, da, dum…


Music example #2:  4:39-6:00 in attached link

In the development of this movement, Mozart works with Theme A exclusively.  Listen to how he maintains interest, direction, and drama in this theme by changing the keys, the instrumentation, the dynamics (mainly jumping from alternating soft and loud passages), the texture (he uses a great deal of polyphony).  Note use of the pedal tone in the measures leading up to the recapitulation.


Second Movement:

Music example #3:  9:06-10:10 in attached link

This is truly one of the most sublime movements that Mozart ever wrote.  There is so many wonderful moments—all of which are related to each other.  Note the fugue-like beginning of the first theme—the series of repeated notes entering at successively higher pitches and the appoggiaturas that add color.  Note that in the second thematic statement, Mozart introduces a chromatically rising counter melody as well as an answer to the appoggiaturas.


Third Movement

Music example #4: 17:20-19:11 in attached link

Note the hemiola character of the main theme and the wonderful way that Mozart wraps countermelodies around this theme as the movement progresses.


Fourth Movement

Music example #5:  22:20 in attached link

Theme A featuring the “Mannheim Rocket” motif (a quickly ascending arpeggio).


Music example #6:  26:00 in attached link

In the development section of this movement, Mozart uses the rocket theme as a subject of some impressive counterpoint.  Note how easily it is to distinguish this theme among the voices.  Also note the use of silence to set up the recapitulation.


Curious Facts:

1)   Of his 41 symphonies, only 2 are in minor keys:  Symphony No. 25 &  Symphony No. 40.

2)   Although the Symphony No. 40 sounds fairly light and bubbly to our ears, it is actually thought of by Mozart scholars to be one of his “darkest works.”  Many of the motifs are suggestive of “sighing,” “yearning,” or bouts of anger.  Mozart did write this during a particularly difficult summer, when his finances were low and his health poor.

3)   I fell in LOVE with classical music after listening to Mozart when I was a junior in high school.  His music is just perfect:  every single note, chord, harmony, instrument, texture is just ideal.  Nothing is muddled, obscure, redundant—it’s all “just right.”  It also displays the perfect balance between the simple and sublime (note I did not say complex).  There is a lot of complexity in this music, but on the surface, it just sounds so effortless, so clear.  Everything in Mozart’s music serves the musical intention.  He never uses complexity to impress.

4)   Mozart is almost “universally” admired and respected by all composers that lived after him—even composers who wrote incredibly dissonant, complex types of music.  There is something so “right” about his music that you just cannot ignore it.



1 ) Listen to the entire Symphony No. 40 without interruption.  It is only about 25 minutes long (shorter than the symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms and much, much, much shorter than the symphonies of Mahler).

I have provided several other links, including one with a score.

Source of timings in this “Doc Talk/Lesson”

Symphony No. 40 with score:

A really fun explanation of this symphony:

A way to listen to the work and see an analysis:


2) Here’s something really cool!

Mozart spent a lot of his time in the theatre—he LOVED OPERA!   In fact, to really know Mozart, you’ve got to listen to/watch his operas.  Here is a link to an artist who is SINGING the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 as if it was going to performed in an opera.  What is so cool about this is that you can hear the sadness in the music more this way than in the original orchestral version.  Makes you almost wonder why Mozart did not write a vocal work based on this theme…

Look up “Mireille sings Mozart’s Symphony No. 40”


3) Watch the movie “Amadeus.”  The way that Mozart is portrayed in this film may be a bit “over the top” as to his immaturity, but it does give you a strong impression of his genius and how many composers of his time paled in comparison.  The basic premise of the movie—that one of his peers (Salieri) tried to do everything in his power to “belittle” Mozart out of pure jealousy—is false.


Please enjoy this wonderful music!


Dr. Jerry Markoch, Director of Bands

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