The London Philharmonic came to Eastbourne today to play a Rossini overture, Beethoven’s first symphony, a Haydn piano concerto from about 1780 and Mozart’s last symphony, the Jupiter in C-major K551. The Rossini was fun as always – all those perpetually, postponed climaxes. The piano concerto was very dainty, but hardly the best work from a man of forty-eight who had had the opportunity to hear such as Mozart’s astonishingly original E-flat piano concerto K271. But the Jupiter – that was in a different category entirely.
It is one of three symphonies by Mozart composed in the summer of 1788 – the other two being the E-flat K543 and the G-minor K550 – and he died without hearing any of them performed. So the Jupiter was composed twelve years before Beethoven’s first. It is hardly imaginable: the Mozart is so far advanced of the Beethoven. I cannot believe he managed to stuff so much music into so little space. The constant invention of melodies is miraculous and the whole work keeps slipping from ternary form into fugue and back again, until the entire wonder of it constantly falls over itself, scrambling towards ever greater excitement and vivacity unto the consummation.
It is in C-major and there are military echoes of Non piu andrai – Mozart’s own favourite tune – from Figaro. But also some interludes which presage the Requiem. I find this symphony quite beyond all comprehension. It is gloriously tuneful and transcendentally inventive throughout. But the last movement is scarcely believable: a sonata movement which turns into a five part fugue – to which Mozart then adds a coda. The harmonies – firmly diatonic but then also daringly chromatic – are so complicated that it is as if the score were being read and played right way up and upside down at the same time. Yet it doesn’t sound confused. Quite the opposite. It contrives at once to be both intricate and straightforward, immediate, effervescent, affectionate, tender and mystical.
Above all, perhaps, it sounds so modern, as if it had been composed yesterday. What did Tom Eliot say? “All great artists are contemporaries.”