Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550

    Description by Brian Robins

    Mozart composed his final three symphonies during the summer of 1788. His entries in the thematic catalog he maintained suggest that all were written during the space of about two months. Much critical discussion has been devoted to the reasons for their composition, for it appeared that Mozart had no specific occasion in mind for their performance. The romantic notion that he composed them without practical purpose is now widely disregarded as being out of character with Mozart's known compositional procedures, and the scholar H. C. Robbins Landon has recently advanced convincing arguments to suggest that they were in fact written for a series of concerts he gave in the fall or Advent season of 1788. Robbins Landon's argument is largely based on an undated letter written by Mozart to his principal benefactor, his fellow Freemason Michael Puchberg. In this letter he refers to his concerts which will begin "next week," concerts which scholars formerly believed never to have taken place. Evidence also supports the idea (advanced by Neal Zaslaw) that Mozart took the three symphonies on the tour he made to Germany the following year, which would further undermine the long-held notion that the composer never heard three of the greatest works in the symphonic literature performed.

    One aspect of the symphonies upon which commentators reach universal agreement is their extraordinary diversity of character; each has unique qualities which together utterly explode the myth that the extreme agitation and pathos of the G minor Symphony reflected the abject circumstances in which Mozart found himself at this period. The begging letters addressed to Puchberg during these months are indeed pitiful documents that might be cited as evidence of Mozart's state of mind at the time he was composing the G minor symphony. But they will hardly do for the mellow warmth, strength and humor of E flat symphony or the elevated grandeur of the "Jupiter" Symphony. Neither should it be forgotten that the tragic qualities so often associated with the symphony today have not always been apparent to all. To Robert Schumann the symphony was a work of "Grecian lightness and grace," while for a later writer, Alfred Einstein, there are passages that "plunge to the abyss of the soul."

    Such ambiguity is perhaps apt for one of the greatest works of a composer whose music so frequently defies adequate description. The symphony is cast in the usual four movements; the opening Molto allegro immediately announces something unusual by starting not with characteristic loud "call to attention," but with quietly spoken agitation. The uneasy passion of the main theme leads to conclusions that seem to protest rather than find any consolation. The movement's dominant feeling is urgency: upbeat after upbeat after upbeat occurs. Amid great instability and a questioning aura, we experience a peek into Don Giovanni's abyss. In the finale, the horns intrude with wild swatches of color. There is even an eerie twelve-note insertion after the double bar in the Allegro assai section.

    There are two versions of the G minor symphony. The first is modestly scored for flute and pairs of oboes, horns, and strings, but at some point shortly after composition Mozart added parts for two clarinets, slightly altering the oboe parts to accommodate them. Such second thoughts surely also add credibility to the idea that Mozart led performances of the work -- he would hardly have bothered with such refinements if the symphony was not being used for practical purposes.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Molto allegro
    2. Andante
    3. Menuetto & Trio. Allegretto
    4. Allegro assai

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186757
    2019 Genuin GEN 19636
    2018 Deutsche Grammophon
    2018 Warner Classics
    2018 Sony Classical 19075850472
    2018 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon 4798418
    2018 Alpha 352
    2018 Naïve V 5457
    2018 Haenssler / Haenssler Classic HC 18086
    2018 BR Klassik 900164
    2018 Münchner Philharmoniker 793052112721
    2017 NEOS NEOS 21602
    2017 ICA Classics ICAC 5145
    2017 ECM New Series
    2017 Berlin Classics 0300881BC
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795805
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796314
    2016 Praga / Praga Digitals DSD 350126
    2016 Sony Classical / Sony Music Distribution 88875173752
    2016 Decca
    2016 ABC Classics ABC 4812880
    2016 Edition Taschenphilharmonie / Sony Music ETP 005
    2016 Philips
    2016 Warner Classics 0825646400713
    2016 Decca / Philips 4788977
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795553
    2015 Opus KURA OPK 2112/13
    2015 Testament SBT 1508
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 Glossa GCD 921121
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Opus KURA OPK 2107
    2014 Sony Classical 88843014642
    2014 Berlin Classics 0300587BC
    2014 Belvedere BCD 10147
    2014 Naxos 8572841
    2014 K-Tel 135919
    2014 Testament SBT 21489
    2014 Rewind REW 520
    2014 Glossa GCD 921119
    2014 Estonian Record Productions ERP 7614
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Sony Classical 88843026352
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Decca 4785437
    2013 Sonoma / Sonoma Entertainment STC 20800
    2013 Sonoma / Sonoma Entertainment CDG 20827
    2013 Profil / Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 13030
    2013 Tahra TAH 763
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099972328
    2013 BIS BIS 9043
    2013 Dacapo 8201201
    2013 Sony Classical 5478092
    2013 Classical Gallery / Platinum Entertainment 7048
    2013 Dacapo 6220639
    2013 Broken Audio BRAU 1011
    2013 Decca
    2013 Decca 4785601
    2013 Naxos 8501109
    2013 Regis 3015
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4791046
    2013 Supraphon SU 41402
    2012 Krescendo Records / Zebralution
    2012 Naxos 8501060
    2012 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2012 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 4783621
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099995593
    2012 Concerto / Zebralution
    2011 RCO Live RCO 11004
    2011 Concerto 2063
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94295
    2011 ABC Classics ABC 4764561
    2011 Denon Records
    2011 Sony Classical 8869768972
    2011 Archiv Produktion 4779792
    2011 Archiv Produktion / Universal
    2011 Decca UCGD 9020
    2011 Red Bus Classical RCLAS 022
    2011 Nimbus / Nimbus Records NI 7093
    2011 Sony Music Distribution
    2011 K-Tel 51120
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 Guild GHCD 2369
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099990811920
    2011 EMI Classics
    2010 Classics & Jazz / Universal Classics & Jazz
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    2010 BD Jazz / Zebralution
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    2010 Cascavelle 3119
    2010 Sonoma 177
    2010 Sonoma 124
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Cascavelle 3147
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    2010 Denon Records
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    2010 AAO Music
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    2009 Berlin Classics 0149572
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    2009 Denon Records 00795041940926
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    2009 Document / Documents 224042
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    2008 Allegro Corporation 28040
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    2008 EMI Classics 3458102
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    2008 IDIS 6537
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    2008 Teldec 256469718
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    2008 Arch Media 5186322
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    2008 Orfeo 774083
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    2008 Philips 4646602
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    2006 K&K Verlagsanstalt 70
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    2006 Philips 707602
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    2006 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) 41423
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    2005 Universal Classics & Jazz / Universal Distribution 449 670-2
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    2005 Rca Red Seal 65842
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    2005 Budapest Music Center 107
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    2004 Arts Music 47700
    2004 NM Classics 97018
    2004 Artone 222330-354
    2004 Chandos Collect / Chandos 6679
    2004 Tahra 534
    2004 Document 221543
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    2004 Laserlight 27776
    2004 Oehms 343
    2004 Sony Classical 92770
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 4775008
    2004 High Definition Classics 006
    2004 Resonance 501
    2004 Arts Music 47650
    2004 Brilliant 92388
    2004 Laserlight / Delta Distribution 36212
    2004 United Audio Entertai 6295
    2004 Onyx Classix 6600
    2004 Naxos 8501107
    2003 St. Clair 9651
    2003 Erato
    2003 NM Classics 97017
    2003 Decca 000017702
    2003 Decca
    2003 Delta Distribution 40039
    2003 Living Stage 35160
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 85589
    2003 Zig Zag Territoires 30501
    2003 Haenssler 98442
    2003 Mellon 85757
    2003 Testament 1304
    2003 Naxos 8557233
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 Aura Classics 0247
    2003 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 000020002
    2003 Telarc Distribution 80139
    2003 Warner Classics
    2003 Archiv Produktion 000041302
    2003 Virgin Classics
    2003 Universal Classics 000105802
    2003 Sony Music Distribution 87989
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 000048602
    2003 Eroica Distribution 202
    2003 BBC Music 4120
    2003 Sony Music Distribution 89809
    2003 History 45515
    2003 Artemis Classics 1183
    2003 IDIS 6388
    2002 St. Clair 30942
    2002 Relief CR 991057
    2002 Delta Distribution 14569
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 75115
    2002 Music & Arts MACD1097
    2002 Rca Red Seal 90114
    2002 Haenssler 93014
    2002 Creative Kids Product / Creative Kids Productions 35
    2002 Andante AND1982
    2002 Philips 470540
    2002 Sony Classical 89834
    2002 Virgin 562010
    2002 Classica d'Oro 1067
    2002 Living Stage 35159
    2002 Archiv Produktion 471666
    2002 Classica d'Oro 9007
    2002 History 205186
    2001 Music & Arts 1090
    2001 Legacy Entertainment CBX001
    2001 History 203090
    2001 Music & Arts CD1088
    2001 Orchard 800689
    2001 Music Digital 40502
    2001 Forlane 12
    2001 Classica d'Oro 1017
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 74185
    2001 Philips 464721
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 469620
    2001 Orfeo 553011
    2001 St. Clair 7343
    2001 Eclipse Records 64453
    2001 Music & Arts CD1080/6
    2001 History 205223
    2000 Virgin Classics / Virgin CDC-59617
    2000 Iron Needle 1317
    2000 Delta Distribution 49385
    2000 ECM 449670
    2000 Urania 156
    2000 Orfeo 498991
    2000 T-Rax 25
    2000 Tuxedo Music 1069
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 67332
    2000 Sony Music Distribution 89340
    2000 Arkadia 78523
    2000 Nouveau 4438
    2000 Intersound 2538
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 469 160-2GP2
    2000 Laserlight 15866
    2000 Q Disc 97015
    1999 RCA 59481
    1999 Music & Arts 897
    1999 Sony Music Distribution 6494
    1999 IDIS 299/300
    1999 Philips 422500
    1999 Lifestyles 1750
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 447398
    1999 Helicon Records 1042
    1999 Past Perfect / Trumpets of Jericho 203300
    1999 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) 503
    1999 Platinum Entertainment 3857
    1999 Arkadia 78541
    1999 Philips 434107
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon / Eloquence 4632322
    1999 Seraphim Classics
    1999 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243573290
    1999 Angel Records 73631
    1999 Platinum Entertainment 3855
    1999 IDIS 297/8
    1998 Intersound 1737
    1998 Erato / Virgin VBD 5614722
    1998 Intersound 3844
    1998 Linn Records 003
    1998 Nimbus NI1756
    1998 Denon Records 17003
    1998 Digital Sound 1025
    1998 Novalis 150148
    1998 Masterpiece 90016
    1998 6w 11522
    1998 Intersound 2804
    1998 Teldec 4509974902
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 4579242
    1997 Sony Classical / Sony Music Distribution 62344
    1997 Grammofono 2000 78026
    1997 Biddulph Recordings WHL029/30
    1997 Everest 9045/46
    1997 Philips 454085
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 63272
    1997 Eclipse Records 64349
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453046
    1997 Teldec 18957
    1997 Essential Archive 5012
    1997 Point Classics 265091
    1997 Madacy 8827
    1997 Carlton Classics 02372
    1997 London 452 889-2DCS
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 66100
    1997 Arts Music 47363
    1997 Decca 4489242
    1997 452496
    1996 Koch Discover International 920280
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 4532312
    1996 Intersound 2506
    1996 ECM / ECM New Series 21565
    1996 ASV 6184
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 447416
    1996 Erato 12724
    1996 EMI Music Distribution 65938
    1996 Elysium GRK710
    1996 PopeMusic 1008
    1996 Philips 426204
    1995 Infinity Digital 61994
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 66248
    1995 Seraphim UK 69027
    1995 Art of Classics 885907
    1995 Orfeo 45901
    1995 Philips 446224
    1995 Lydian 18082
    1995 RCA Gold Seal 62585
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 64477
    1995 Deutsche Grammophon 445548
    1995 Archiphon 210
    1995 Decca / Universal Music / Universal Music Classics and Jazz
    1995 London 444323
    1995 Sony Music Entertainment 23063
    1995 Philips 446 222-2PB25
    1995 Intersound 3804
    1995 Myto Records 89009
    1995 White Label 151
    1994 Classical Heritage 1202
    1994 Infinity Digital 57231
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 4373862
    1994 Virgin 561133-2
    1994 Teldec 93667
    1994 Naxos 550164
    1994 MusicMasters 67141
    1994 BIS 418
    1994 Russian Disc 10901
    1994 Naxos 8003
    1993 Naxos 505004
    1993 Philips 426315
    1993 Sony Music Distribution 46333
    1993 Rose Records 450 034-2
    1993 RCA 61552
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    1993 Philips 438333
    1993 Philips / Universal Music Classics and Jazz
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 47264
    1992 Deutsche Grammophon 435 592-2GGA
    1992 Teldec 9031-75861-2
    1992 Naxos 550299
    1991 RCA 60271
    1991 ASV 761
    1991 EMI Music Distribution 63897
    1991 Telarc Distribution 80300
    1991 Koch 7076
    1991 Deutsche Grammophon 429731
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 429668
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon
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    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 431040
    1990 Laserlight 15511
    1990 Philips 422 502-2PME6
    1990 CBS Records 44649
    1990 Laserlight 35830
    1990 Laserlight 55004
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 413547
    1989 Laserlight 15829
    1989 Philips 422476
    1989 Laserlight 15820
    1987 Deutsche Grammophon
    1987 Deutsche Grammophon 415841
    1985 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal
    1984 Deutsche Grammophon 419427
    1984 Delos 3012
    1980 Tahra 154
    1980 Supraphon 283286
    1980 Tahra 1014
    History 204570
    Delta Distribution 15866
    History 205224
    Originals 823
    The Radio Years 13
    Chandos 8746
    Decca 000298102
    History 20391
    Fonit-Cetra Italia 505
    Decca 001078802
    Musical Heritage Society 5189620
    Foyer Records 2037
    Decca 97015
    Document 221906
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    Gemini Collection 602
    Vivace 314
    Capriccio Records 10900
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    CBS Records 37220
    Trumpets of Jericho 203310
    Sony Music Distribution 46511
    Pro-Arte Records 3000
    Apollo Music 302
    Forlane 52
    Virgin 59692
    Sony Music Distribution 47593
    Slovart Records 010
    EMI Music Distribution 769772
    Radio Classics 9112
    Manchester 109
    RCA 60032
    Dallas Symphony Orchestra
    Philharmonia of the Nations 04
    Eufoda 1263
    Vox 8206
    Disques Montaigne 8821
    EMI Music Distribution 67301
    Deutsche Grammophon 431874
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    Pellarin Multimedia 37064
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    PopeMusic 2008
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    London 430437
    London 417695
    RCA 77533
    L'Oiseau-Lyre 417557
    Vienna Classics 1011
    EMI Music Distribution 69820
    Teldec
    Denon Records 8082
    EMI / EMI Music Distribution 83322
    Agora Musica 003
    Magic Master 37064
    Brilliant 92625
    Brilliant Classics 8635/9
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    IMP Classics 820
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    Intersound 2059
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    Pickwick 11028
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    Preiser Records 90951
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