Symphony 40 (1st Mvt)
Bridget Mermikides arranges and transcribes one of Mozart’s most best-known pieces for classical acoustic guitar.
In this issue we return once again to a work of the musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791). By the time he wrote his Symphony No. 40, completed in 1788, Mozart was in his early 30s and had produced an enormous body of stunning works - including 40 symphonies (He completed the 41st before his 40th), a similar number of concerti for one, two and three pianos, bassoon, violin, flute, harp and horn, 20 operas and hundreds of other works – so his technical ability and creative force were at a peak. Symphony no.40 is an epic work in four movements whose popularity has endured over centuries, and has had an influence on many composers, including Beethoven. Here I’ve arranged the first (and most famous) of the four movements with its powerful and much admired tragic theme. A core work of the Classical repertoire, Symphony No. 40 (and often the first movement on its own) has been recorded and performed countless times over the last two centuries, and is embedded in popular culture appearing in many films and TV shows wherever that dark classical vibe is required.
I’ve changed the original key of G minor to D minor with drop D tuning to help this piece to work effectively on the guitar, and the low D nicely reinforces its sombre character. I’ve also abbreviated the structure of the first movement’s extended sonata form to make it more appropriate for a solo guitar performance, but there’s plenty to get your
Symphony no.40 is an epic work in four movements and has influenced many subsequent composers including Beethoven.
teeth into here. Incidentally, if you caught the Classical Harmony article in GT226 this provides an excellent case study to see all those concepts in action. As always, be patient learning this arrangement, so you can get the technical control required. There are also some awkward moments, so consult the tab captions to help you best approach them.
In the first few bars fingering is indicated for both hands to get you started. On the last half beat of bar 9 I use a ‘hinge’ barre – the F pulls off onto the E note using the first finger as a full barre but the tip of the finger stays off the sixth string so as not to mute the low D. The finger is then in place to press down a full 5th fret barre at bar 10. Same thing happens on the last beat of bar 11 into bar 12. The same kind of hinge barre is also used in bar 15 but the other way round; the barre lifts off on beat 3 for the open E note but the tip of the finger remains in place on the bass note Bb to keep it sustained to the end of the bar. This is typical technique on the classical guitar when we are dealing with polyphonic writing, and simultaneous voices have different note lengths. It’s a struggle sometimes but we should always try to give notes their correct values in order for the music to sound good and make sense! This is why finding the most effective fingering is so important.
I hope you enjoy learning this wonderful piece of music, and I’ll see you next time with another classical masterpiece arranged for solo guitar.
Mozart: one of music’s finest ever composers