The Creation of Mozart's Symphony No. 35, K.385

How Mozart's Haffner Symphony Came to Be

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the Haffner Symphony during the summer of 1782. Found in the collection of Moscow's Russian State Library, this picture shows a House Concert at the Mozart family home in Vienna (19th century).
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the Haffner Symphony during the summer of 1782. Found in the collection of Moscow's Russian State Library, this picture shows a House Concert at the Mozart family home in Vienna (19th century). Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

During the summer of 1782, Mozart, who was already preoccupied with establishing his name in Vienna, finishing his opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), mending relations with his fiancé Constanze, and relocating to another residence, received a letter from his father asking him to write a symphony for the ennoblement of Sigmund Haffner, son of the Salzburg burgomaster.

 The composer responded to his father, “I am up to my ears in work. By a week from Sunday, I must arrange my opera for wind instruments, or someone else will do it and secure the profits instead of me. And now you ask for a new symphony, too! How on earth can I do that? ...well, I will have to stay up all night, for that is the only way; for you, dearest father, I will make the sacrifice. You may rely on having something from me in each mail delivery.”

Nevertheless, the first movement of what would come to be known as Symphony No. 35 (one of my top 10 recommended Mozart recordings) was completed within a week and sent back to his father in Salzburg.  Over the course of the next several weeks, the remaining movements were finished and mailed, too.  Based on historical evidence, it is highly probable Mozart did not meet his father’s deadline.  Thankfully, the delay resulted in one of the finest works of the young composer’s career.

(It must be noted that some believe Mozart’s father purposely timed the request for the symphony because he disapproved of Mozart’s plans to marry Constanze; this theory holds particular credence when one considers the fact that many historians are unsure whether or not the ennoblement of Sigmund Haffner ever occurred.)

Months later, in March of 1783, Mozart was involved in creating an academy of music at the Burgtheater in Vienna.  Wanting to perform the symphony he had so quickly rushed to his father, he wrote to Leopold Mozart requesting the score.  Several weeks later, and after exchanging a handful of letters, Leopold finally sent the symphony's score back to Mozart.  Impressed by the work he had long forgotten, Mozart wrote to his father, “Most heartfelt thanks for the music you have sent me...my new Haffner symphony has positively amazed me, for I had forgotten every single note of it. It must surely produce a good effect.” Mozart was correct - the performance at the academy was an absolute success.

Recommended Haffner Symphony Recordings

Mozart's Symphony No. 35 has been recorded many times; browsing YouTube alone will result in page after page of entries.  To make things easier for those of you who have never heard Mozart's Haffner symphony, here are a few of my favorite recordings found on YouTube.  Apart from the various recording qualities, listen for the differences in tempos, voicing, and phrasing.  Though each performance sounds the same at first hearing, upon further and deeper inspection, you'll find each recording unique in its own way.

 I know which of the following performances I prefer, but I'll let you decide for yourself.

  • Karl Böhm (conductor) & Wiener Philarmoniker (listen on YouTube)
  • Nathalie Stutzmann (conductor) & the Swedish Chamber Orchestra (listen on YouTube)
  • Carlo Maria Giulini (conductor) & l'Orchestre de Chambre de Hollande (listen on YouTube)
  • Sir John Barbirolli (conductor) & Hallé Orchestra (listen on YouTube)