K. 201 was a remarkable achievement for the 18-year-old Mozart. From the opening measures of the first movement, with the theme immediately repeated in canon between violins and lower strings (“What a beginning!,” exclaims Alfred Einstein, in his Mozart: His Character, His Work,), through the startling wind interjections of the second and third movements, to the high-spirited finale in which a signpost – a dramatic ascending scale – defines the beginning and ending of each of the sonata form structures, this is a piece far ahead of its and the composer’s time! We do not know what personal event or experience might have inspired such a sudden leap forward. Possibly Mozart wrote it for himself (and perhaps his father) to show what he could really do as a composer if he were given the chance to express himself beyond what was expected in Salzburg at that time.
I know of no more apt description of K. 201, and its originality, than Einstein’s, written some 70 years ago (1945).
“There is here a new feeling for the necessity of intensifying the symphony through imitation, and of rescuing it from the domain of the purely decorative through a refinement of detail such as is characteristic of chamber music. The instruments change character; the strings become wittier, the winds lose everything that is simply noisy, the figuration drops everything merely conventional. The new spirit shows itself in all the movements: in the Andante, which has the delicate formation of a string-quartet movement, enriched by the two pairs of wind instruments; in the Minuet, with its contrasts of grace and almost Beethoven-like violence; in the Finale, an allegro con spirito that is really con spirito, and which contains the richest and most dramatic development section Mozart had written up to this time. . . . What an immense distance he had traveled from the Italian sinfonia!“- James Freeman
Translations from the original German are by Alfred Einstein.