Mozart Symphony No. 40

(Aug 30, 2019)

Famous for 231 years…

I’m linking to two different recordings.Both start with the 1st movement (there are four), but the second is the complete symphony.

Please be sure listen to at least a little of both, because I am curious to which people like, and why. There is no right answer.

The big problem, of course, is that no one knows what the tempo marks mean. This is marked Allegro Molto, which simply means that it was supposed to go fast (allegro) and apparently “very fast”. But how fast is “fast”? And can we even be sure that so long ago people meant the same thing with an Italian term.

“Allegro” means “cheerful, happy”, and it has exactly the same meaning as “alegre”, pretty obviously the same word in Spanish.

Somehow musicians stole this word and made it mean something fast, and it means anything with energy and a reasonably quick tempo. It is used for very serious music too, even things that are very sad or very angry. So if you ask yourself, “How fast is ‘fast” in music,” you are not asking a dumb question. You’re asking the same thing all thinkers ask, and always we come to the same problem: There are no recordings. We have no time machine. We can’t go back several centuries and find out what Mozart really wanted.



3 thoughts on “Mozart Symphony No. 40

  1. I ‘m on the fence about Gardiner being rushed. I hear a lighter, sprightlier mood, and the faster goes with it.
    Just because Yuchida came before in my watching, I noticed that Bernstein doesn’t just conduct with his hands, but also his face. Since I keep reading about her facial expression, when Yuchida was conducting at the piano, I felt she was conveying with her face what she wanted, and so noticed Bernstein doing the same though less so.

    1. My wife said the same thing. I share your view. For me the Gardiner is too fast and sounds rushed. But there is another great version with Hanoncourt that I like best of all:

      It is a bit faster than Bernstein, but not too much, and it is very clean in parts that are important where there is a lot of counterpoint.


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