Although Mozart's popularity among the Viennese waxed and waned, he was consistently popular among the Bohemians and had a devoted following in Prague. In spite of the fact that the Symphony No. 38 was first performed in Prague, it is not certain that it was actually written for Prague. Much of the confusion surrounds the chronology of its inception. It is clear that Mozart was invited to Prague on the strength of the reception of his opera Le nozze di Figaro during the 1786–87 winter season of the National Theatre (now called the Estates Theatre) in Prague. It is not known, however, when the run started, possibly in November 1786, possibly in December. No mention of the overwhelming success of Le nozze di Figaro is recorded in the Prague press until December 11, 1786, five days after the symphony was completed. It is certain that the opera's run began before that week, but there is no documentation to confirm when. It is known from a letter of Leopold Mozart written in January 1787 that Mozart was invited to Prague by a group of musicians and patrons. It is possible that this invitation came through long before Le nozze di Figaro was actually performed in Prague, perhaps during the time of rehearsals, when the brilliance of the music would have been recognized already by the musicians playing it. It is also possible that the Prague Symphony was intended to be performed for the Advent instrumental concerts given in Vienna in December 1786 along with the Piano Concerto No. 25, but all that can be established for certain is that it was not performed in Vienna before it was performed in Prague.
The lavish use of wind instruments might offer a clue that the Prague Symphony was fashioned specifically with the Prague public in mind. The wind players of Bohemia were famed throughout Europe, and the Prague press specifically attributed the great success of the operas Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Le nozze di Figaro partially to their skillful deployment of wind instruments. It is also possible that the extensive use of winds in the Prague Symphony was simply the result of experiments with orchestration that Mozart had been cultivating in the orchestral accompaniments for his piano concertos for the previous two years and the new experience he had of writing for winds would have shown up in his symphonies regardless. No matter, the use of wind instruments in the Prague Symphony represents a major advance in Mozart's symphonic technique that was imitated in his last symphonies, and also by Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert. Indeed, it would be difficult to identify any earlier symphony by any composer not of a special type that contains so many passages in which no stringed instruments play at all, only various types of wind ensembles.