Mozart Hurls Thunderbolts From Jupiter
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Mozart’s last symphony picked up its nickname “Jupiter” in London around 1820. Some think it’s a reference to the loftiness of Mozart’s ideas. Others point to the opening of the symphony and say that they hear the “thunderbolts of Jupiter.”
But as impressive as this opening movement may be, the real news is in the last movement, whose concluding section is a masterpiece of the art of counterpoint, weaving together the musical fabric from individual strands of melody.
Mozart learned that art from Bach, thanks to Baron van Swieten, a diplomat in Vienna. In those days Baroque music was old music, not in wide circulation, but at the baron’s house Bach and Handel were very much in fashion. Soon after Mozart arrived in Vienna, he started going every Sunday at noon to the baron’s home.
Mozart’s study of Bach enabled him to incorporate the legacy of Baroque counterpoint into the structure of the Classical symphony.
The last movement of the Jupiter introduces five simple themes:
These themes mix and mingle until finally they are all combined. A late nineteenth century writer commented: “[The five themes], all in perfect harmony, are enough to give Bach a headache.”