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Curious, Playful, Insatiable: Mozart’s First Symphonies

Foppe Schut / Andreas Richter
Foppe Schut / Andreas Richter
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra

The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra’s new album focuses on the very beginning of Mozart’s journey as a symphony composer, with liner notes that help you hear the flashes of his impending genius – and it’s WCRB’s CD of the Week.

The world will forever be baffled by the phenomenon of Mozart. How is it that his music touches us all with so sublime an understanding of human nature, and yet the composer himself seemed to never quite grow up? He had the soul of a wise old man and the spirit of a mischievous child. When he composed, his sheer love of life seemed to fuel his fearlessness in starting new things, and he happily plunged into waters he’d never before navigated.

Writer Henning Bey takes care to remind you in this CD’s liner notes that Mozart’s father, Leopold, was an unsurpassed teacher – and while he was hyper-involved in virtually every musical thought his boy came up with, it didn’t undo the younger Mozart’s playful intellect. When Wolfgang Mozart was eight, his father gave him his first personal music notebook – with a promise of no parental intrusions. This is where Mozart scribbled down his first symphony (while Leopold was sick in bed). Little Mozart was not allowed to touch the piano unsupervised, but this didn’t stop his imagination, either. The opening of the symphony is an amazing reflection of this little genius’s curious humor – it’s a palindrome, which can be read backwards and forwards!

All through the four symphonies on this recording, conductor Gottfried von der Goltz invites you to hear the astonishing details that consumed this young boy with a kind of gleeful delight. Henning Bey says that Mozart at eight had the “sure-footedness of a sleep-walker” as he digested the music of others while somehow still recognizing the uniqueness of his own young spirit. This recording is equally sure-footed, with an intimate sound and a smiling reverence for Mozart’s character.

Between each of the symphonies, the orchestra inserts a Contredanse (country dance) from the five that Mozart wrote on commission for the masked balls during Carnival season. Although these come from the very end of Mozart’s life, the spark is as childlike and effervescent as ever, and you can’t help noticing how much of Mozart’s spirit stayed fresh and intact as he blossomed over his short lifetime.

Here’s a little taste of the F Major symphony to wet your whistle. Listen to WCRB all week for more.

For more information and to purchase this recording, visit ArkivMusic.

Cathy Fuller is a Host and Producer for CRB.