Mozart was one of the most prolific composers of the Classical period and is today considered one of the significant figures in the history of music. How many symphonies did he write?
Traditionally, Mozart has been attributed with 41 symphonies but three of these are now believed to have not been written by Mozart. There are also about 20 other symphonies that are believed to have been composed by Mozart, as well as many others of questionable or unproven authenticity.
For more on Mozart’s life and his symphonies, read on.
His mother, Anna Maria Pertl, worked in local administration. Leopold and Anna had seven children but only Wolfgang and a sister, Maria Anna, known as Nannerl, survived infancy.
Mozart began playing music at a very early age, picking chords on the harpsichord at just three years old, playing pieces at four, and writing his first compositions at five. At five, Leopold took Wolfgang and Nannerl to play for the Bavarian court in Munich and then to Vienna to play at the imperial court.
Leopold was fully aware of his son’s musical gifts and said it was his “duty to God” to share it with the world, while also profiting from doing so. In 1763, while Wolfgang was still just seven, Leopold took his family on a tour across Europe to play for the continent’s wealthy and influential people.
While in London, Mozart met Johann Christian Bach, the son of Johann Sebastian Bach, and wrote his first symphonies while in the city. After a brief return to Salzburg, the family spent 15 months in Vienna, where Leopold hoped his son would be able to perform at the court theatre, which did not come to fruition.
When they returned to Salzburg again, Mozart was 13 and, thanks to his extensive travels, was well versed in many genres of music, giving him a unique set of musical skills in his time.
Throughout the 1770s, Mozart continued to travel to the courts of Europe while also writing constantly, absorbing from the many composers and performers he encountered.
As with many great historical artists, there has been endless scholarly study and debate that has attempted to give an accurate list of Mozart’s compositions. Some works attributed to him previously have since been reclassified as having been written by somebody else.
Traditionally, Mozart was considered to have written 41 surviving symphonies but it is now believed that he wrote significantly more and that a number of the staple 41 were written by other people.
For example, Symphony No. 2 is now attributed to Mozart’s father, Leopold, and No. 3 is now considered to be the work of Carl Friedrich Abel. What was once known as Mozart’s “37th Symphony” was actually Michael Haydn’s “25th Symphony”, to which Mozart added a 20-bar introduction.
Several other lost symphonies have been reported as Mozart’s work but scholars have not found enough evidence to prove that they belonged to the composer in any case. There have been about 40 other symphonies where the authenticity has either been embellished, proven false or there is no concrete proof that they were written by Mozart.
The currently accepted count of Mozart’s works places the number of symphonies at more than 50. The lack of evidence for many of the other works attributed to him does not mean they should be ignored completely; several have now been correctly identified as belonging to other composers or, in time, some might be proven as Mozart’s work.
What we know about historical figures, even one as well documented as Mozart, is constantly evolving. We might never have an absolutely definitive list of what Mozart composed.