Original serenade written approximately from July 20 to August 7, 1782; symphony constructed February-March 1783
Original serenade first performed in early August 1782 in Salzburg; symphony premiered March 23, 1783 at the National Theatre (Burgtheater) in Vienna, conducted by Mozart
Mozart was pressured into composing what would eventually become his Haffner Symphony during one of the busiest periods of his life: not only was he busy conducting and arranging wind parts from his hit opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, but he was also entrenched in preparations for his contentious wedding to Constanze Weber. So it seemed particularly poor timing when Mozart’s father requested a new serenade for an upcoming festival celebrating the ennoblement of family friend Sigmund Haffner. In a letter dated July 20, Mozart replies:
By Sunday week my opera has to be completely arranged for wind instruments, or someone else will get ahead of me, and reap the profits: and now I am supposed to write a new symphony [i.e., serenade] too! How will it be possible?… Oh well, I will have to give up my nights to it, for it cannot be done any other way; and to you, my dear father, and I will work as fast as possible, short of sacrificing good composition to haste.1
Mozart was known to hastily reuse his own music to fulfill uninteresting or time-sensitive obligations, but in this instance it seems he was left with little choice but to compose an entirely new serenade and send it to his father as it was completed. On the 27th he writes:
You will make a face when you see that you are receiving only the first Allegro but there’s no help for it. I had to compose another serenade [“Nacht-musique”] at top speed, but for wind instruments only, otherwise I could have used the same one for you. On Wednesday the 31st, I will also send the two Minuets, the Andante, and the final piece; and if I can, I’ll also send a march…2
Mozart, however, was not able to meet his self-imposed deadline of the 31st. Instead, he writes back to his father:
You see, my intentions are good, but what one can’t do, simply cannot be done! I just will not smear any old notes down on the paper—so I can’t send you the rest of the score until next post-day.3
One week later—and three days after his wedding—Mozart finally sent the remainder of the six-movement serenade to his father. While Mozart’s letters give us the greatest insight into the pressures he was facing to complete this work, his autograph score shows clear signs as well. In fact, the final movement his father received (a short march) was composed in such haste that Mozart only had time to enter the first eight bars of the timpani part into the score.4
Also telling is that Mozart had no recollection of the score only six months after he had written it. In February 1783, Mozart found himself short of music for an upcoming concert series and requested that his father return the score of his Haffner serenade. Upon its arrival, Mozart was able to transform the serenade into a symphony by simply discarding two of the movements (the march and one of the minuets) and adding flutes and clarinets to the ensemble.5 Mozart was pleasantly surprised by the result, notifying his father, “My new Haffner symphony has positively amazed me, for I had forgotten every single note of it. It must surely produce a good effect…”6
The concert was a success as well, and Mozart reported that the Emperor himself was quite pleased by the “new” symphony:
The theater could not possibly have been more crowded and all the boxes were taken… But what pleased me most was that His Majesty the Emperor was there too, and that he was so pleased, and what loud applause he gave me… It is his custom to send the money to the box office before he comes to the theater, otherwise I might really have expected more from him, for his satisfaction was boundless.7
1 Edward Downes, The New York Philharmonic Guide to the Symphony (New York: Walker and Company, 1976), 680.
2 Downes, 680.
4 Landon, The Mozart Compendium, 276.
5 You can see in the included autograph facsimile that Mozart simply added the flute and clarinet parts to the top and bottom staves, respectively.
6 Alfred Einstein, Mozart: His Character, His Work (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945), 214.
7 Downes, 680-81.