Paris Symphony

31st Mozart symphony in D major

Mozart's original manuscript of the Paris Symphony in the Berlin State Library

Source: Wikimedia

In March 1778 Mozart travelled to Paris in the company of his mother. The goal of this journey was to find lucrative employment for Mozart. This dream was not to come true. Mozart did not compose very much while in Paris. His greatest success of this period of time was the Paris Symphony. It was commissioned by Joseph Legros, the head of the Concert Spirituel. Mozart adhered to the prevalent Parisian style, featuring timbals, trumpets and – a first for Mozart – clarinets, but did not include a minuet. Legros was very pleased by this Mozart symphony, however, he asked the composer to change the second movement as he deemed it too complicated for the audience. Mozart fulfilled this wish – something very unusual for the composer, which shows the importance he placed on remaining in Legros’s favour. Both movements – the original and the altered version – have survived to this day; however, scholars are not unanimously clear about the sequence.

The creation of this Mozart symphony clearly shows how hard Wolfgang Amadeus tried to please the Parisian audience – even when he did not hold their musical understanding in high regard. He appropriated much “simple music” to please these “stupid asses” and created effects through fanfares, triad melodies and virtuous runs, as well as repeating various sections multiple times. The performance of the 31st Mozart symphony was a success; however, fate dealt the composer a serious blow before he could return to Salzburg: his mother died on July 3, 1778.