Virtual Music Hour

  Mozart 40 Archive

  Introducing Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550

  Listen to the Music

Movement 1

Movement 2

Movement 3

Movement 4

  This week's Virtual Music Hour is dedicated to essential workers. Thank you to those who are on the front lines providing critical services to our communities.


Welcome to Virtual Music Hour. In preparation for your listening experience, Assistant Principal Violist Catherine Beeson has made guides with activities that can be enjoyed alone, with your quarantine buddies at home and online, or with your students. These activities can be mixed, matched, and altered to create an experience that’s right for you, or as inspiration to create your own. Get as creative as you’d like. Share it with us on social media! If you like seeing and hearing the Colorado Symphony musicians online, imagine how uplifting it would be for us to see and hear you too!

Mozart wrote his 40th symphony nearly at the same time he was writing the 39th and 41st. This collection, his final three symphonies, show him at the pinnacle of his abilities. Even though it is nearly 232 years old, the 40th still sounds fresh, and has remained both popular and influential. Enjoy exploring this work for the first time, or with a fresh perspective!

  Mozart composed his first symphony at the ripe old age of eight. He composed his Symphony No. 40 during the summer of 1788 at the age of 32, just three years before his death. It is unclear whether he lived long enough to hear an official premiere, but he did hear enough to know he wanted to add a second clarinet, adapt the other wind parts, and make a few other edits.

  Symphony No. 40 in G minor lasts for 25-28 minutes and is in four sections called movements, like chapters of a book. Mozart routinely incorporated a sense of drama into his work. This symphony is no different! In each movement, or musical chapter, you can hear what seem to be characters, settings, dialogue, and action – even though there is no overt story being told.

  All but two of Mozart’s symphonies are in major keys. Sometimes Symphony No. 40 is referred to as “the Great” G minor to set it apart from the other minor key symphony, No. 25, which – you guessed it – is also in G minor and is called “the Little.”

  Themes from this symphony have been used in numerous other contexts, but none so ubiquitous and possibly so annoying as the cell phone ringtone from the 1990s. Who remembers the math skills video game “Super Solvers: Outnumbered!” using that same music? Beethoven may be the OG sampler though, as he quotes the first notes of the Finale in the very opening of the third movement of his Fifth Symphony. Any way you slice it, “the Great” G minor has inspired people for hundreds of years!

  Mozart’s score calls for flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and the usual string section of violins, violas, cellos, and basses. It’s interesting to note that he didn’t include timpani, or kettle drums, in this symphony.

Here is a listening map that can guide you through each movement. Read it in advance or while you’re listening!

Movement 1

Molto allegro
In English: Very quick

This movement starts with a quick and restless motor already running. In this case the violas, split into 2 harmony parts, are the first notes we hear rather than big bold statement chords or the introduction of a melody. It’s just a brief moment and you have to really listen for it, almost like we enter the world of the symphony in mid-sentence. The violins bring the melody almost immediately thereafter, so be ready to listen for this odd and slightly unsettling way Mozart chooses to begin this symphony. You’ll have another chance when the opening section, or exposition, repeats at 1:49.

At 3:37 we hear this idea reversed to kick off the middle section, or development. The violins state the melodic material and shortly thereafter the violas join with their motor harmony. This soon gives way to a bit of a musical debate between instrument groups vying for attention. Let your ear follow the bits and pieces of the melody and motor harmony as they’re tossed around the orchestra.

Consider the white-hot awesomeness of the fact that Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven were all living in Vienna performing and composing music during the same general time frame. The junior of the bunch, Beethoven, studied composition with Haydn and was heavily influenced by Mozart. Mozart himself was influenced by Haydn, and Haydn was influenced and inspired by Mozart as well. In fact, Beethoven lifted some of the material from Mozart’s Great G minor Symphony and “sampled” a bit of it in his monumental C minor Fifth Symphony.

  Watch and listen to Colorado Symphony Bass Susan Cahill and Assistant Concertmaster Yi Zhao demonstrating.

  What might it feel like to be an influencer among influencers?

  What other examples of powerhouse influencers can you think of that all existed in the same era? Were they aware of each other’s ideas? Building on them? Breaking them to create new things?

Mozart was known to be an innovator in composition, pushing at Classical ideas of form and harmony for example. Consider, compare, and discuss the very opening of the first movement of his Great G minor Symphony as an influence upon Felix Mendelssohn for the first moments of his Violin Concerto or upon Sergei Rachmaninoff for the beginning of his Third Piano Concerto.   Pro Tip: Familiarizing yourself with the Rachmaninoff now will come in handy for an upcoming Virtual Music Hour!

  How are these similar? What effect does this similar approach have on each of the three pieces?

  Why do you think Mozart might’ve chosen to begin the first movement of the Great G minor Symphony in this way?

Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven are often referred to as The First Viennese School of composers. The Second Viennese School, during the early 20th century, was dominated by Arnold Schoenberg and his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern. One hallmark of The Second Viennese School was an idea around the democratization of notes and the rejection of the idea of music needing to reside in a home key or tonality. In this way, every note of the 12-tone chromatic Western classical system holds its own equal weight and role with the others. This creates a kind of freedom from constraints of harmony which can result in an unsettling sound.

Consider the way Mozart explores this concept (more than 100 years prior!!) in the final movement of the Great G minor symphony. At the beginning of the development section he uses every note except G, the home note of the symphony, to signal an immediate and somewhat shocking departure from that home.

  Watch and listen to Colorado Symphony Principal Viola Basil Vendryes demonstrating.

  Bonus: In the spirit of inspiration, innovation, and just generally breaking stuff to make new stuff, please enjoy this “Best Of” compilation.

Some of what makes this symphony so interesting is its intent to destabilize the listener’s experience by consistently introducing the unexpected. Let’s have some fun with just two examples of this!

The third movement is called Menuetto. This is a type of social dance which preceded the waltz and had steps designed around a consistent “ONE two three ONE two three” pulse pattern. Right away Mozart messes with the listener, who is expecting to hear a “normal” Menuetto pulse, by making the melody sound like it’s in a “ONE two ONE two” pattern while the harmony parts are in “ONE two three ONE two three.” This technique, displacing the expected pulse, is called ‘hemiola.’

  Watch and listen to Colorado Symphony Assistant Concertmaster Yi Zhao and Assistant Principal Viola Catherine Beeson play the normal pulse pattern Mozart could’ve chosen, and the displaced pulse hemiola version he decided to go with.

Experiment with this at home! Establish a steady pulse by tapping your toe, clapping, or speaking “ONE two three ONE two three ONE two three.” Make sure to emphasize “ONE” each time. Now have a quarantine buddy jump in over that pulse with a steady “ONE two ONE two ONE two”, making sure the initial “ONE” lines up together. Easy, right? Has an interesting sort of swing to it? Make it more challenging! This time layer a steady “ONE two three four ONE two three four ONE two three four” over the “ONE two three” pattern. This makes a reeaallyy sllooww heemioolla. Try finding your own ‘in between’ steady pulse patterns to layer for even more idea breaking.   Pro Tip: Breaking stuff with musical ideas doesn’t cause injury or even the actual breaking of anything so go for it!

About halfway through the Finale movement, Mozart decides to shake things up by throwing some really wacky notes at us in a little bit of a weird order and with funky dramatic pauses. It’s like he’s all of a sudden using musical Yoda grammar! As listeners we ‘get’ what he’s saying but it takes some effort to decode. Here is an example of Mozart using normal musical grammar to begin the movement, and then the Yoda grammar he uses in the middle.

  Watch and listen to Colorado Symphony Assistant Concertmaster Yi Zhao and Principal Viola Basil Vendryes demonstrating.

Pretty different kind of musical sentences! One interesting thing to point out here is Mozart complicates his Yoda version by leaving out one ‘word.’ In his out-of-order musical sentence he uses every note except the one that is the name of the symphony – G. Mysterious, this is. Complicating musical grammar, it does. #4everyodaheartemoji

Have some fun with this concept at home. Write down a sentence from a book, or make a sentence of your own. Now pass it to a quarantine buddy and ask them to jumble it up by reordering the words. Next pass this version to another quarantine buddy, asking them to cross out an important word and add a slash (or two or three!) where a dramatic silence should go. Finally, perform the original sentences and then the jumbled ones for each other.

  Did any of them still make sense?

  How were the changed versions different from the originals?

  Were any of them funny? Annoying? Confusing? Beautifully poetic?

  Consider the effect of this activity when you listen to the Finale movement!

Now that you’ve had a chance to consider, discuss, and get active around Mozart’s Great G minor Symphony No. 40, it’s time to listen to the Colorado Symphony performance. There are all sorts of ways to engage as a listener, especially when listening at home instead of the concert hall. Sing/hum/whistle along, move and dance, journal or draw what you hear, or just turn the volume up and listen for sheer pleasure!

Please share your experience with us! We would love to hear about it or see any of your activities, journaling, or creations!



Please share your musical adventure with us through social media! We would love to hear about it or see any of your activities, journaling, or creations!


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