Mozart - Symphony No. 41 in C (‘Jupiter’)

First of all, the nickname. Unlike the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik epithet, which stems from Mozart’s own description in his personal notebook, the word ‘Jupiter’ probably has nothing to do with Mozart. Unfortunately, it appears to be marketing hype, coined by the same chap who promoted Haydn concerts in England, one Johann Peter Salomon. If true, then the name came from London, first used in a concert programme for the Philharmonic Society of London (now the Royal Philharmonic society) and that was a full twenty-six years after Mozart died.

Staggeringly, this very popular symphony was written within days of both Mozart’s Symphony No.39 and Symphony No.40 in a prolific seven-week spell during the summer of 1788. It could be that Mozart had at least a couple of symphonies buzzing around in his head before committing them almost whole to paper. But to have three fully formed works committed to memory is truly astonishing. More proof, if it were needed, of the correct use of the word ‘genius’ when applied to Mozart. 

No.41 in C is probably his brightest and most complex symphony.

Karl Böhm was the first to record all Mozart’s symphonies. His award-winning 1960s recordings with the Berlin Phil are poetic and perfectly measured. By contrast, Leonard Bernstein’s account with the Vienna Phil is more adventurous and dynamic; take, for example, the final movements of both symphonies where there is greater drive and excitement. There is also plenty of light and shade in the darker moments, making the tense atmosphere created almost unbearable. 

Charles Mackerras and the Prague Chamber Orchestra offer period performances with modern instruments. Mackerras observes all the repeats and at times rattles along at break-neck speed. Although it’s Mozart in the fast lane, it’s a very enjoyable ride nonetheless. 

Recommended Recording

Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Charles Mackerras (conductor). Linn: CKD 308.