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Symphony No. 35 in D major, K. 385 “Haffner” (1782)

Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai

I. Allegro con spirito

II. Andante

III. Menuetto

IV. Presto


Mozart's Symphony No. 35 in D major "Haffner" was composed in 1782 at his father's request. This year was the changing of the guard on the island of Hawaiʻi. In April, the passing of the Aliʻi nui, King Kalaniʻōpuʻu-a-Kaiamamao (c.1729-1782), set into motion a game of thrones. Kalaniʻōpuʻu's son Kīwalaʻō (1760-1782) inherited his father's kingdom, but the late King's nephew Kamehameha the Great (c.1758-1819) had received support from chiefs of Kona. Rising tensions between supporters of Kīwalaʻō and Kamehameha culminated in the Battle of Mokuʻōhai, south of Kealakekua Bay (12 miles south of Kailua-Kona). Kīwalaʻō was killed in the melee giving Kamehameha the Great his first decisive victory in the conquest of the Hawaiian Islands.



Mozart's relationship with his father, Leopold, was fraught with demanding and high expectations. Leopold's managerial approach to raising his son and the composer's wish to please his father frames the creation of the "Haffner" Symphony with the composer's numerous personal letters.


In 1782, Mozart received an urgent request from his father, begging him to compose a new symphony to honor Sigmund Haffner the younger; the Haffners were Salzburg's most prominent family (Sigmund senior was mayor). As childhood friends, the younger Haffner commissioned Mozart to compose a serenade on the occasion of his sister Marie Elisabeth Haffner's wedding in 1776. The eight-movement work is known today as the "Haffner" Serenade for Orchestra in D major K.250. With a packed schedule of commissions, an impending marriage, moving to new quarters, and while conducting and capitalizing on the popularity of his new opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, the 26-year-old correspondence to his father displays his frustration:


July 20, 1782:

"How is such a thing possible?... all I can do is to devote the night to the task, for it cannot be managed otherwise, and to you, dear father, I sacrifice it. You may rely on having something from me by every post. I will write it as quickly as I can and as well as haste will permit." 


July 27, 1782:

"You will be disappointed to see only the first Allegro…On the 31st, I will send you the two minuets, the andante, and the last movement, and, if possible, a march. I wrote in D because you prefer that key. My dear kind father, I do implore you, by all you hold dear in the world, to give me your consent to my marrying my beloved Constanze…my heart is troubled, my head confused, in such a state how is it possible either to think or to work to any good purpose?"


Mozart's perfectionism continued to delay the completion of the entire symphony or was perhaps holding out for his father's approval to marry Constanze. With each letter, Mozart continued to ask for consent until August 7, when he posted the final march:


August 7, 1782

"I send you herewith a short march. I hope that all will arrive in due time, and be to your taste…You see in what haste I write. My dear wife and I kiss your hands a thousand times."


Mozart's legacy as the open faucet from which divine music flowed effortlessly doesn't do justice to the sheer time and labor the composer put in. The new symphony, unfortunately, did not arrive in time for Haffner's ennoblement. When Mozart requested his father to send back the symphony for a premiere in Vienna, Leopold answered in kind, a three-month delay. The symphony finally returned with a month to spare; Mozart writes:


February 15, 1783

"My new Haffner symphony surprised me exceedingly on seeing it again for I had forgotten all about it!" 


Mozart overhauled the work's design for the Vienna premiere on March 23, 1783, trimming out two minuets and the march, eliminating the serenade features for a clear four-movement symphony, and beefing up the orchestration with flutes and clarinets. The score runs for about 21 minutes and calls for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.



D-major triumphant opens the symphony with a primary theme that stretches from the earth to the heavens in its octave leaps. There's anticipation in the dotted rhythms that set the stage for a regal announcement, music to enter a grand hall and be worshipped. This music is much too good for aristocratic ennoblement; it is coronation music fit for an emperor. Mozart's canonical presentation of the theme ignites a jubilant celebration of running scales. There's humor in this music, a composer gallivanting with mischief through noble and royal spectators. Even in the stern D-minor elements of the development, Mozart mimes the seriousness of the whole affair and perhaps offers a musical effigy of a disapproving father figure. In his letter to Leopold on August 7, 1782, Mozart instructed the opening allegro to be "played with much fire." 



High-class reigns supreme in the effervescent G-major Andante. Mozart elevates from the earthly first movement to a realm too good for the hoi polloi. Cast into sonatina form, a petite sonata with the middle development section removed, this music is for the upper 1% of the aristocracy. The opening violin theme, accompanied by fragrant puffs of wind chords, and a tippy-toe accompaniment in the second violins, is complimented with a buffoonish bass and cello line that shadows the sudden dynamic changes in the theme. The second theme in D major offers a curiosity of choices, an inspection perhaps of a buffet rich with sweet musical desserts. If Mozart people-watched, this music teases and describes the antics of the noble houses with balletic finesse.



The echoes of the aristocracy continue with dance. Mozart's return to the key of his father's pleasing, D-major, is proper stiff and imperial in adherence to the form. The minuet unfolds with contrasts of forte and piano dynamics, no buffoonery here yet; this is Mozart in his behaved self, a nod to his father that he can, indeed, play along and deliver. The A-major trio section compliments the step-heavy minuet with a lyrical sway and a rotation of dancing partners. Finally, of course, Mozart throws in a few eyebrow-raising moments, accented sforzandopiano's on the D-sharp's of the second violin accompaniment; a risqué peekaboo.



In his letter to his father on August 7, 1782, Mozart instructed the finale to be performed "as prestissimo as possible." Four years later, in 1786, Mozart composed the opera The Marriage of Figaro, and there are seeds in this finale that forecast the same energy and orchestration of the opera overture. The strings begin with eight-bars marked piano, but it's kinetically virulent. This energy is unleased with power chords, syncopated punctuations, and a cascade of animated string figurations. 


Mozart's Vienna years represented his most fruitful and intensely active period, but with rising personal and financial troubles, a deadly combination that silenced the composer in 1791. Nevertheless, the "Haffner" Symphony calls forth a composer's ferociously eloquent and mischievous energy at the top of his game; it penetrates the symphony from the first D octaves of the Allegro to the final eleven D-major chords of the Presto.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria, on January 27, 1756, and died in Vienna on December 5, 1791. 

© 2020 Michael-Thomas Foumai

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