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Mozart's Symphony No. 40 is an iconic classical work, endlessly used in film and television, but what's the story behind the composer's most popular symphony?
All but two of Mozart’s 41 symphonies are composed in what we would call ‘happy’ or major keys. The exceptions are known as The Little G Minor Symphony and The Great G Minor Symphony; or Nos. 25 and 40 respectively. No. 25 was effectively used in Milos Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus at the very opening of the movie, to establish that brown, foreboding eighteenth-century atmosphere.
No. 40 is arguably the most popular of all of Mozart’s forty-one symphonies, despite the fact that its first movement became one of the most annoying ringtones of the mobile phones of the 90s. It was probably quite popular in Mozart’s lifetime, too. Although scholars can’t be absolutely certain, it would appear Mozart performed it more than once, going on to rescore it for slightly different musical forces.
It has one of the catchiest opening movements of any symphony, too, which helps - within seconds you're transported to a tense world of opulence and bad wigs. The work was said to have soon come to the attention of Beethoven, of all people. As well as paying homage to its composition by writing out passages in his own hand, it is thought that The Master was inspired by Mozart's last movement when he wrote his own Symphony No.5.
Illustration: Mark Millington