About this work
Although "notturno" was a term applied to musical works performed in the late evening hours in the eighteenth century, Mozart used it in reference to his larger orchestral compositions. This one, often called Serenata Notturno (or Notturna), is such an effort, though the size of the collective ensembles is not as massive as the headnote suggests: each orchestra consists of strings and two horns. The second, third, and fourth orchestras are placed at a distance from the first and serve merely to echo its sonorities.
Intended for performance at a Salzburg carnival, the work was left incomplete, though its three surviving movements are a substantial, if light work of about 15 minutes in length. The first movement is an elegant Andante, dominated by the strings, the horns relegated mostly to playing sustained chords. The main theme is stately and alternates with a perkier second theme. There is relatively little in this music that would bring to mind a carnival or other festive doings.
But there is much that is appropriate for celebration in the ensuing Allegretto grazioso. The music is playful and lively in this three-minute panel, and once again the horns serve a supporting role, lending occasional muscle to the harmonies in their sustained chords. The closing movement is a lively and graceful Menuetto, with the horns this time taking on a more active role. In the outer sections the music is chipper and jaunty, while the central Trio is by contrast subdued in its elegance, delicate sonorities, and less lively pacing.