W.A. Mozart, Symphony K. 16

K. 16 in E flat Major is probably Mozart’s very first symphony. The Mozart family’s first grand tour of Europe, begun in June of 1763 (Wolfgang age 6) took them to Munich, Mannheim, Mainz, Koblenz, Brussels, Paris, and eventually London, where they spent some 15 months.  Wolfgang and sister Nannerl were both prodigies, and their father Leopold took every opportunity to have them perform for nobility and royalty.  It was especially the younger Woflgang who amazed all audiences with his ability to improvise.

In London, the family became friends with Johann Christian Bach (1735-82), a son of J.S. Bach and without question one of the finest composers of the day.  Many scholars have found the influence of J.C. Bach (“the London Bach”) in Wolfgang’s earliest works.

Some years after Wolfgang’s death in 1791, his sister Nannerl recalled the following about the origins of what we believe to be his first symphony, K. 16.

“On the fifth of August {we} had to rent a country home in
Chelsea, outside the city of London, so that father could
recover from a dangerous throat ailment, which brought him
almost to death’s door. {…}  Our father lay dangerously ill;
we were forbidden to touch the keyboard.  And so, in order
to occupy himself, Mozart composed his first symphony….”
(Translation from Neal Zaslaw’s exhaustive and marvelous
“Mozart’s Symphonies” of 1989).

Nannerl goes on to say that the work included trumpets and kettledrums, though K. 16, at least in Wolfgang’s surviving manuscript score, does not. It was not unusual, however, for trumpets and timpani to be considered optional, notated separately, and added to the orchestra if one desired.

The inscription on the autograph manuscript score of the complete symphony is as follows: “Sinfonia di Sig: Wolfgang Mozart a London 1764.”  Mozart was 8 years old.  The manuscript is written in his own hand, though it appears that Leopold made a few minor corrections, especially in the first movement. The inscription is probably in Leopold’s hand.

A facsimile of the autograph manuscript is printed in the Neue Mozart Ausgabe’s edition of the work.  Even the manuscript demonstrates the incredibly precocious nature of this child.  I will try to remember to leave that facsimile on my stand at the end of our performance of the piece.

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