Friday, August 5, 2016

Karl Böhm (1894–1981)

No. 227 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


Mozart composed his final three symphonies (nos. 39, 40 and 41) during the summer of 1788, in the space of about two months. Mozart wasn’t known to compose merely as an outlet for spontaneous inspiration, but rather for financial reasons – scholarly research shows that these symphonies were intended for so-called “Concerts in the Casino" in a new casino in the Spiegelgasse owned by Philipp Otto. Mozart even sent a pair of tickets for this series to his fellow mason Michael Puchberg, which probably never took place. Some suggest Mozart took the three symphonies on the tour he made to Germany the following year, which would further undermine the long-held notion that the composer never heard three of the greatest works in the symphonic literature performed.

One aspect of the symphonies upon which commentators reach universal agreement is their extraordinary diversity of character. Some, including the late Niklaus Harmnoncourt have even suggested the three symphonies are part of a larger triptych, a larger three-part mega-work.
Part of that argument is the specific flow of the G Minor symphony (no. 40), which doesn’t have an introduction to the first movement – in fact, we get right into the familiar 10-note motif which Mozart exploits in an elegant and memorable sonata. Some point to the finale being quite sbdued compared to the finale of the Jupiter symphony, no. 41.

This trio of symphonies – in fact, we could say this of the “last six” (nos. 35, 36, 38 completing the set) – can be viewed less as “classical” and more as “early romantic”, closer to the works of Schubert and Beethoven than those of Haydn and Hummel.

Symphonies 40 and 41 are often paired together on disc – makes sense when thinking of a single vinyl LP. The number of memorable (if notauthoritative) instances of that pairing is staggering, and includes alomost every major conductor and orchestra. Today’s pairing, Karl Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic from April 1976, stands the test of time.

To complete the podcast, rather than add a random recording of the 39th symphony, I chose instead aa third Böhm/Vienna recording, this one of Haydn’s symphony no. 88.

I think you will love this music too.