The “Prague” Symphony was composed in Vienna in late 1786. Its premiere took place in Prague on January 19, 1787 (the symphony may have been performed in Vienna before the premiere). The work consists of just three movements. It lacks a minuet (and trio), a dance-oriented movement that had been by the third quarter of the eighteenth century fashionable to be included in symphonies written in Austria and the other German speaking regions. The reason why Mozart did not write a minuet for the “Prague” Symphony is unknown. It might be related to the fact that the last movement of the “Prague” was composed first among the three movements of the symphony. Mozart may have intended to replace the finale of one of the symphonies he had composed earlier with the newly written movement—the composer often reused or “recycled” his symphonies for his concerts in Vienna. It is not known, however, whether the refurbished version of the earlier symphony had ever been performed, or even created.
Mozart was invited to Prague because Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), the first of the three very well-known opera buffas that Mozart collaborated with Lorenzo da Ponte, saw a tremendous success there. The impresario of the Prague Opera Theater wanted the public to see the opera being conducted by the composer himself. The “Prague” Symphony was played in a concert that was intended to introduce “the famous Mozart” prior to the opera performance the composer was scheduled to direct.
Most of Mozart’s symphonies are not scored for a full-size orchestra. His well-known last three symphonies, for instance, do not call for all the wind instruments that would have been available to the composer. Only one flute, instead of two, appears in all of these three compositions; the oboes are missing in the E-flat major symphony (No. 39), the trumpets and drums in the G-minor symphony (No. 40), and the clarinets in the C-major “Jupiter” Symphony (No. 41). The “Prague” is no exception. It calls for a pair of flutes, oboes, bassoons, French horns, trumpets, and drums and strings; the clarinets are not included. The symphony, however, is written in a grand manner, utilizing the full sound the late eighteenth-century orchestra could have produced.