I have just been reading about Harnoncourt's latest recording of Mozart's final three symphonies. He has recorded them before, but this time he has recorded them as a single, unified work, rather than as three distinct symphonies. He calls this epic, twelve movement work, "The Instrumental Oratorium."
I am now fully convinced (writes Harnoncourt) of this unity. Why are the themes and motifs so closely related as to be almost identical? Why is the language of those rhetorical figures that had long been used in music explored in such exhaustive detail here? It was usual to write and publish groups of works – as a rule in sets of three or six. But in this case Mozart wrote all three within a matter of weeks, without any obvious reason for doing so, whether in the form of a commission or with a concert in mind.
For decades I have felt that every performance of these three symphonies amounts to a voyage of discovery. From the E flat major introduction [Symphony No. 39] we find ourselves setting out on a rocky road that recalls nothing so much as a psychological drama and that leads ultimately to the mighty coda at the end of the final movement of the “Jupiter” Symphony. In short, this is a goal, a final destination. There is no going on after this.
Mozart must have had a plan: the instrumental Oratorium did not exist as a form. That was his idea. A genius like Mozart does not stumble upon a large-scale work while writing symphonies.
It sounds like bananas to me - or a shameless marketing strategy to shift more units - but it is an interesting idea, nevertheless. For one thing, his latest interpretation (which I haven't heard - though I have just found it on spotify) differs from all others in that it is shaped and weighted as a total work throughout. The G minor symphony is no longer Mozart's stand-alone 40th, but the grim, agitated centre of a much larger canvas, which starts the moment the 39th (which is no longer just the 39th) comes to a close. The finale of the 41st is now the finale to the entire work, so it carries the burden of everything that has gone before it - not just the preceeding three movements. Considered like this, the interpretative possibilities - even if they are based on a false premise - are genuinely intriguing. I gather, too, that Harnoncourt is not the only distinguished expert to come to this conclusion. Does anyone know anything about this or have any views on the subject?