Many mysteries still surround Mozart’s biography, including the circumstances in which the great triad of his final symphonies was composed, of which one thing is certain: according to their author’s dating they were written in a matter of a few weeks in the summer of 1788. The Romantics wanted to see in them a symphonic testament, masterpieces addressed to future generations or even a symbol of the transcendent. However, we know that Mozart had a pragmatic approach to his own work and that in his era the symphonic genre was generally viewed as a form of noble entertainment. It is possible that they were intended as part of a series of previously planned subscription concerts in Vienna, which may even have come to fruition, although there is no absolute certainty about this fact or about whether the three symphonies were performed at these events.
The three masterpieces are very different. Symphony in E-flat Major appears to pay tribute to the Haydnian tradition, particularly evident in the Minuet, whose trio is a charming stylisation of the folk Ländler, and in the energetic, perpetual motion of the finale with its humorous dialogue between the wind instruments. The second work of this great symphonic triad stands out not only against other classical symphonies but also in comparison with Mozart’s own works – it is one of the few symphonies of its era so consistently m i n o r in its mood. We are of course familiar with other symphonies in minor keys; however, there is only a hint of sadness in these works, and, ultimately, the optimism of the Enlightenment always prevails. Symphony in G Minor is different – a mood of gloom, resignation, tragedy even, permeates the entire work, and it must have made a much greater impression on Mozart’s contemporaries than we can imagine today. Finally, there is the dazzling Symphony in C Major, now commonly known as “Jupiter”. The fact that it turned out to be the last in Mozart’s oeuvre caused Romantic critics to speak of it in emphatic tones. Particularly memorable is its extended Finale: the general plan of a sonata is combined with a polyphonic – to be more specific, imitative – development, albeit without employing the strict form of a fugue.