Score Study: Mozart’s Serenade in c minor, K. 388 (for wind octet), 1782

******NOTE: This post gets quite a bit of traffic.  If you intend to use/paraphrase any of the material, please inform me.  I strongly feel like there aren’t enough score study examples on the net, so I will continue to post my work – but NOT if I find they are being plagiarized.   I can and do check.


My current project is Mozart’s Serenade in c minor. I’m conducting it next Thursday night and have been rehearsing it with a fabulous ensemble on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Here’s a random video I found on youtube of the first movement:

Although the players in this video are lovely, I don’t agree with their tempo in this first movement. It should be played just a bit faster, otherwise the piece tends to drag.

What made Mozart compose wind music? The often-told purpose is to produce music for entertainment, and often at outdoor performances. Wind instrument frequencies can carry respectable distances, and their timbre provided a stark contrast to that of their string counterparts. In addition, they have many qualities that give them speech-like character. In other words, they can display human sentiment (regardless of whether the piece was programmatic or absolute). The octet formation and the music that was written for it became known as Harmoniemusik.

My research on the piece is based on G. Henle Verlag’s Urtext score.

Context of K. 388

“The ‘1782’ that Mozart added to his autograph score of the c-minor Serenade (K. 388/384a) is the only solid fact we have today about the chronology of this chamber music masterpiece for winds. On June 8, 1781, he had been released from his service in Salzburg, after receiving the oft cited “kick in the backside,” and now had to make his own way as a freelance…. In April of that same year, Emperor Joseph II did establish a kaiserliche Harmonie, namely a wind octet consisting of two oboes, two clarinets, two horns, and two bassoons. Among the tasks of this “imperial wind band” was to play at the emperor’s table and at various outdoor occasions…. The present Serenade, originally entitled ‘Parthia’, must surely be suited in this context.” (Weiss preface)

Mozart’s c-minor Serenade is a four-movement work. In its entirety, the piece runs about twenty-four minutes in length. It’s very similar to symphonies and orchestral serenades of the time in that they contain two allegros (the outer movements), a slow movement, and a minuet (Smith p. 12). This is the only true wind symphony he composed (Alber p. 29). It is exceptional to Mozart’s three wind serenades for this reason and as a result of being score in a minor key (c).

The first movement, Allegro, establishes dauntless character from the very first c minor chord. It then engages in a game of push-and-pull with alternate legato and staccato phrases inflected with contrasting dynamics.

The second movement, Andante, stands in relative Eb Major and changes the character of the piece to a much slower waltz-like 3/8, accentuating cadenza passages and programmatic solos in the upper voices.

The third movement, a minuet & trio, returns to c minor and quickens the pace as a canon unravels between the oboes and bassoons, and later the melody is inverted in the trio (C Major).

Finally, the fourth and last movement (Allegro), with a series of repeats and changes in both rhythm and texture, is a theme & variations. This last movement is the biggest challenge for performers as it includes long breathless passages for the bassoons, a variety of syncopated sections, and many changes of texture and character.

At the time of composition, Mozart had recently returned to Salzburg and secured a job as Konzertmeister with the court orchestra. It didn’t last long as he didn’t have the freedom he’d been promised with the position. Infamously, the archbishop literally kicked him out the door. He turned to the Weber family of Vienna looking for financial help and rumors flew of he and Constanze Weber (his ex-lover’s sister), whom he married in August of 1782 (Alber pp. 29-30).

None of his extant letters mention this particular Serenade, and not much is known about its motivation, exact dates, first performances, nor whether it was legitimately commissioned by anybody (Weiss preface). However, according to Conrad Wilson (a Mozart scholar), the piece was commissioned in 1782 by Prince Liechtenstein (Vienna) who wanted music for entertainment, and it had to be composed in two days (Wilson p. 32). This is in contrast to Weiss’ notes in the score. Regardless, Mozart’s Serenade in c minor for winds was a distinct work of its time. While string instruments had already evolved, many wind instruments were in their infancy and solid repertoire for wind ensembles of any size was just beginning to emerge.

The use of c minor tonality suggests Mozart did write it as serious music rather than lighter music for entertainment – a serenades’ typical function. Beginning in the renaissance era, a serenade was a musical gesture performed for a friend/lover, etc. to be honored. They were typically serene and performed outdoors. Moving toward the baroque era, serenatas were then a type of vocal cantata with guitar or lute accompaniment – also performed outdoors (Lynan). To expand again on the concept during the classical period, the serenade became related to the divertimentos. They were a lighter multi-movement work, often written for special occasions, and often performed outdoors at functions (Lynan). K. 388 is an exception to this lighter traditional definition of the serenade based on the weighty compositional style even though the motivation for writing it isn’t mentioned at all in Mozart’s correspondence.

The role of Harmonie [winds] at the time was for employment at outdoor and recreational functions. Mozart scholar Daniel Gleeson suggests that although it had its roots in outdoor function and for military purpose, Harmoniemusik was in fact a strong musical movement throughout Vienna, and in fact Mozart encouraged his own students to arrange and compose works for winds (Leeson pp. 377-378). The instrumentation for Harmonie expanded notably during the mid-eighteenth century as Mozart and Haydn continued to write for it. While six instruments were commonly used, (two oboes, two horns, two bassoons), soon after was the addition of two more (clarinets) such that K. 388 was scored. Mozart had previously written (1781) his Serenade in Bb (K. 361, “Gran partita”) for 13 instruments (two oboes, two clarinets, two basset horns, four horns, two bassoons, and a string bass), and so instrumentation for Harmonie was not particularly standardized. Often there were several more or less depending on local available instrumentation and the composer’s inclination.

As evidenced by the number of Haydn symphonies (over 100) and varied instrumentation of both he and Mozart, classical era composers were experimenting with the tone color of their ensembles. Wind instruments were included in an orchestra to provide contrast to the strings’ timbre, and they were used in pairs. This allowed for both thickness of texture and expanded color.

With decided instrumentation, Mozart set out to compose this wind symphony in c minor for octet. The first movement stands in sonata form. The second is a sonatina, wherein there is no link between theme groups, and no development (only a transition between exposition and recapitulation). The third is a minuet and trio, and the fourth is a theme and variations.

The four movements are as follows:

I. Allegro, c minor, cut time
II. Andante, Eb Major, 3/8
III. Menuetto in canone, c minor & C Major, 3/4
IV. Allegro (Theme & Variations), c minor, 2/4

The harmonic function within each movement effortlessly transitions to the next: minor to relative major, relative major to relative minor, relative minor to parallel major within the same movement, and parallel major to relative minor, respectively. The most demanding parts for players are oboe 1 and bassoon 1, and the least demanding are horn 2 and clarinet 2.

Instrument Roles


Throughout this piece, the oboe is a solo voice. Mozart first hints at their role in m. 17 of the first movement (Allegro) as they effectively hold back time with their soft quarter notes played as if a bow is lifted off a violin string that leads into a short cadenza phrase. Coming into B (m. 28) the clarinets descend and fade away as the oboe theme begins and continues until m. 66. Other instruments support the oboes melodically at times, however their higher frequency allows them to soar over the rest. The oboe almost never supports another solo part unless it is playing the same rhythm and filling in harmony.

In the second movement, the first oboe answers the solo clarinet voice at the beginning and then takes it over for several measures with a long cadenza-like passage. At m. 32, the oboes pair a third apart and thicken the texture to provide melody for the closing theme (A). The first oboe finishes it with another ornamental cadenza passage.

The third movement is a minuet in canon, and thus Mozart treats every instrument equally. The pair of oboes begins the movement in canon with the bassoons, and they end the minuet in canon with them also. The trio is scored for only oboes and bassoons, however rather than being scored in pairs, all four are treated as separate voices. The second oboe begins both sections of the trio.

The last Allegro movement is very soloistic for the oboes as well. The primary themes (A & B) feature the first oboe player. Two variations then have a thicker texture as the full ensemble comes in, and then the oboes have several more variations as a solo voice with little support from the other instruments. This alternation occurs again and the first oboe takes precedent once more at m. 89 for the 5th variation. Though he began this movement with the oboe, Mozart (or his copyist) ends the piece with the ensemble’s full texture, treating every instrument equally.


The first Allegro movement is very bold and the clarinets provide softer ornamental soloistic phrases throughout which gives contrast to the driving oboe solos and motor underneath the melody. The first and second clarinet parts trade several measures of 8th notes (m. 42) as they support the oboe. In the development, clarinets take over as a melodic instrument supported by the bassoons and answered by the first oboe.

The Andante begins with a dolce primary theme in the clarinet voices supported by the bassoons once more, perhaps a link from the similar texture provided in the development of the first movement. At m. 24, the first clarinet has a beautiful solo part that is complemented by the first oboe. Although the melody is taken over by the oboes, a clarinet melody return again in the recapitulation at m. 47 and pass it off to the horns at m. 61.

In the Minuet, Mozart treats every instrument equally throughout the canon. At m. 17, they are in canon with each other as the rest of the ensemble supports them. They are tacit during the trio.

The fourth movement allows the clarinets to rest as they fill out texture and provide rhythmic stability. At m. 101 the first clarinet takes the melody from the horns and the second clarinet provides a triplet ostinato figure underneath it. This occurs again in m. 125. When the closing (or 8th variation) occurs at m. 176, the clarinets once again return to their role in the first movement as they provide a soft contrasting melody to the quick pace of this movement before the coda occurs.


In the first movement of the Serenade, bassoons act almost solely as the motor of the piece, and maintain its rhythmic integrity while accentuating downbeats (ex. mm. 42-59). They trade the motor often with the horns, clarinets, and second oboe. As the development begins, the first bassoon supports the clarinet melody. In m. 116, they answer the melody in the first oboe line as the rest of the ensemble moves the piece forward with consistent eighth notes.

In the Adagio, both bassoons fill out the melodic harmony at the beginning and from that point on they support the melody by providing the motor once again. As at the beginning of the Adagio, at m. 61 both bassoons support the melody now played by the horns.

In the third movement, Mozart treats every instrument equally throughout the minuet in canon. They begin the first canonic motif by answering the oboes. The trio is scored for only oboes and bassoons and is also in canon throughout.
The fourth movement is very difficult for the bassoons. At the beginning they support the first oboe solo and add ornaments, and from that point on they are charged with supporting the melodic lines by playing a consistent almost- breathless motor for several measures at a time. At m. 114, they provide a soft countermelody, and then they return to being the underlying rhythmic motor.


Throughout the piece, the pair of horns (originally scored in Eb) was used mainly to support the melodic line, fill out harmony, and add to the motor when present. In the first movement as support to the oboe line, m. 48 includes a beautiful first horn/oboe duet wherein the second melodic theme soars above a clarinet ostinato. The same happens again in m. 189 during the recapitulation.

In the beginning of the second movement, they support the clarinets in the second theme (A) at m. 16, and act as a consequent to them in mm. 20-22. However, they change the timbre of the piece in m. 61 as they take over the first phrase of the primary theme (B) that was previously held by the clarinets.

In the third movement, Mozart treats every instrument equally throughout the minuet in canon, and the horns are tacit during the trio.

In the last Allegro movement, the horn parts are riddled with dotted rhythms that support the melody from A-B, mm. 17-32. In the full-texture variations, they play melodic parts synchronous with the oboes and clarinets (ex. M. 65). Beginning in m. 97 (again in m. 121 and m. 137), the horns change the character of the piece once again with a four-measure solo that sounds almost heroic – the pair is scored a 5th apart, and are answered by the first clarinet. From m. 216 to the end, the horns pair with the bassoons to provide an ostinato over the oboe melody.

Movement Sketches

The Urtext score is based on Mozart’s manuscript. There have been several sets of parts for the piece published, and editors have added quite a bit of their own interpretation to them based on what they know of the time. Differences have come up in rehearsals that include numerous articulation markings (generally involving staccatos and slurs), and several grand pauses that are present in the parts, but not in the score (ex. Mvmt. I, m. 107 & 129). In the original, Mozart treats them as empty measures and a short pause can occur, or they can be conducted through. There are several staccato markings that look like bow lifts, and so it is an appropriate response to play these parts as such, detachè.

A. Exposition (cut time)
• m. 1-9 Primary Theme (A) (c)
• m. 10-21 Primary Theme (B) (c)
• m. 22-27 Primary Theme (A) (c)
• m. 28-41 Transition
• m. 42-53 2nd theme (a twice) (Eb)
• m. 54-65 2nd theme (b twice) (Eb)
• m. 66-81 Closing theme A (Eb)
• m. 82-94 Closing theme B (Eb)

B. Development
• m. 95-107 Primary Theme A (m. 5)
• m. 108-121 Primary Theme B
• m. 122-129 Primary Theme B (m. 22-25)

A. Recapitulation
• m. 130-138 Primary Theme (A) (C)
• m. 139-150 Primary Theme (B) (C)
• m. 151-158 Primary Theme (A) (C)
• m. 159-176 Transition (extended)
• m. 177-189 2nd theme (a twice) (C)
• m. 190-200 2nd theme (b twice) (C)
• m. 201-216 Closing theme A (C)
• m. 217-end Closing theme B (c)

The purpose of this movement is to establish a bold introduction. It features a continuo [motor] throughout, although the voicing is traded often. An outline of this trade during the first section of the movement is as follows:

5-9 – clarinets
10-12 – bassoons
13-19 – none
20 – oboe
21-25 – everyone except bassoons (horns only in 22)
26-27 – clarinets
28-33 – bassoon 1
34-38 – all
39-40 – none
41 – oboe 1
42-59 – clarinets

60-65 – bassoons (passing off)
66 – horns
67-69 varies oboe 2/ clarinet 2 → horn → oboe 2 → clarinet 2
70-72 – horns
73 – 75 – bassoons
76-80 –switching off
81-end of section – bassoons and oboe 1

This first movement has a second subject played by the oboe with a clarinet accompaniment (m. 41-58), while at m. 59 both clarinets and oboes join the theme. He utilizes the clarinets again to open the development. In the recapitulation, the second subject returns in minor form, wherein it was previously scored as major.

The conducting treatment of this first Allegro movement focuses on dynamic shaping with the left hand, cueing necessary entrances, and gestures of syncopation (i.e. m. 34, 165). Throughout the piece, the conducting style changes from legato to marcato several times. Of particular importance is the ability to bring forth dynamic contrast in the last five measures and to bring out many suspensions.

One conducting challenge is whether to treat the recapitulation the same as the introduction. Measures 1-25 mirror 130-155 exactly. Likewise, there’s a lengthy transition after each. Therefore, conducting treatment should be similar and predictable in order to reaffirm performer trust and confidence.

A. Exposition (3/8)
• m. 1-8 Primary Theme (A) (Eb M)
• m. 9-15 Primary Theme (B)
• m. 16-24 2nd Theme (A)
• m. 24-31 2nd Theme (B)
• m. 32-38 Closing theme (A)
• m. 39-46 Closing theme (B)

A. Recapitulation
• m. 47-60 Primary Theme (A)
• m. 61-69 Primary Theme (B)
• m. 69-76 Primary Theme (B) + transition
• m. 77-84 2nd theme (A)
• m. 85-92 2nd theme (B) – tonality shifts up a 4th
• m. 93-99 Closing theme A
• m. 100-110 Closing Theme B (EbM)

The clarinets open the Andante with a pleasant melody mostly in thirds that aids to release the tension created from the first movement. Their function is full of rhythmic and technical difficulties, including several bars of quiet ostinato, which are complimentary to the cadenza moments in the first part.

Dynamics in this movement are soft in comparison to the boisterous first Allegro, although they are accentuated with several sforzando-pianos throughout. Additionally, Mozart takes advantage of the concept of a rest as organized silence. Examples include m. 43-46, 52, 60, and 69. Specifically for the last three named measures, these brief silent moments feel as if time is suspended in air.

III. Menuetto en Canone
A. Minuet (c m) (3/4)
• m. 1-16 Primary Theme
• m. 17-48 2nd Theme
A. Trio (C M)
• m. 1.14
• m. 15-32

Of particular interest in the ‘menuetto en canone’ is the accent, which occurs on the third beat of each measure. Mozart utilizes the canon, inverted canon, and mirror canon in this movement, first with the oboes and bassoons an octave apart (m. 1), followed by the clarinets (m. 17), and again between the clarinets, oboes, and bassoons (m. 28). During the trio (C Major), clarinets and horns drop out and the clarinets and oboes continue in a mirror canon. During the entirety of this movement, dissonance occurs in the form of 2nds all over the score.

IV. Allegro
m. 1-8 Primary Theme A (c m) (2/4)
m. 9-16 Primary Theme B
m. 17-24 1st Variation A
m. 25-32 1st Variation B
m. 33-40 2nd Variation A
m. 41-48 2nd Variation B
m. 49-56 3rd Variation A
m. 57-64 3rd Variation B
m. 65-72 4th Variation A
m. 73-80 4th Variation B
m. 80-88 5th Variation A
m. 89-96 5th Variation B
m. 97-112 6th Variation
m. 113-136 7th Variation
m. 137-144 Transition
m. 145-175 Primary Theme A
m. 176-215 Closing/8th Variation
m. 216-end Coda (Transition to C Major)

This last movement is a theme with eight variations. The very last section in C Major acts almost as a tribute to the supposedly light entertainment character that a serenade is supposed to have (Smith 49).

Primary themes A and B are thinly scored with a dominating oboe voice supported by the bassoons. Contrarily, the first variation A and B are thickly scored. This contrast happens similarly with the 2nd and 3rd variation.

According to the Urtext notes on this piece, the last several measures (m. 230-end) in the original score disappeared. A copyist finished the rest, perhaps from a set of parts, and in the bottom right hand corner of the original manuscript, it says [in German], “in his own hand except for the very last page” (Weiss Comments p. 53). In Mozart’s own string quartet arrangement of this piece (K. 406), the last chord contains the 1st, 3rd, and 5th whereas in the octet score, the 3rd is missing. However, open chords do occur in other works, including K. 375 (Serenade in Eb).

Surely Mozart was proud of this piece as he later arranged it for string quintet (K. 406) (Alber, p. 31).

If you’re curious, there’s a fantastic recording on iTunes of this piece performed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (led by David Shifrin).

Works Cited:

Alber, Brian. The Evolution of Sonata Form in the Wind Music of W.A. Mozart. Lincoln: U. of Nebraska, 2006. information/20

Leeson, Daniel. Whitwell, David. Mozart’s ‘Spurious’ Wind Octets. Oxford University Press. Music & Letters, Vol. 53, No. 4, 1972.

Lynan, Peter. “Serenade.” The Oxford Companion to Music. Ed. Alison Latham. Oxford Music Online. 2009.

Smith, Erik. Mozart Serenades, Divertimenti & Dances. London: BBC, 1982.

Weise, Henrik. Mozart Serenade KV388 (384a) urtext score. Verlag.

Wilson, Conrad. Notes on Mozart: 20 crucial works. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005.



  1. Good Morning and Happy Labor Day Weekend!

    We are performing this as a segment with the Florida Atlantic University Wind Ensemble at several concerts this fall. I am playing the 1st oboe part and have been struggling a bit to completely embrace my role. Your blog has been very helpful and I have forwarded it on to my graduate colleague who will be conducting!

    Thank you for your time and energy on this project and I look forward to reading more!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Summer! We are Florida neighbors at the moment. Congrats on the first oboe part. It’s so intense, but so unbelievably satisfying to perform!

      The only advice I can give for that part is this key word: rubato. Embrace that, and nudge your conductor to give you some freedom with it, and it will be fantastic – specifically in the cadenza areas.

      I have a comprehensive annotated bibliography I did on the piece when I was preparing my graduate conducting recital, so if your colleague is in need of anything like that, let me know. I’d be happy to share it.

      Thanks for the comment & good luck with the performance – take care!


  2. Good stuff here. I particularly like the notion of “organized silence” – I may have to quote you on that. And of course you’re right, this is for all intents and purposes a wind symphony.

    Might I suggest making special note of two things:
    1. The key relations. In the 1st movt, the turn of the 2nd theme from a warm-then-march-like Eb to the bitter cold of C minor; in the trio of the 3rd movt, the turn from C minor to Major… will the piece end in a sober c minor, fitting the weight of the rest of the work, or perhaps turn to Eb, then? no, a sprightly C Major that strikes me as almost certainly ironic.
    2. That damned diminished-seventh lurking in three of the movements… it cries out in the opening melody most audibly, but it’s there throughout, waiting to be brought out as a haunting, unifying thread.

    1. While I don’t have time to take a look at my score this week, thanks so much for your comments. I’ll come back to this as soon as I can and put your comments into context. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. First Movement: not sure about faster. This is a tragic piece – quite a lot of notable music from the classic period is, but this particularly so. I would say that the repeated horn quavers concluding the first subject, which take over and then drop a fifth, need to be much louder than I am accustomed to hearing them. Now 74, I first heard this when I was five (I would lie in bed at night and try to reproduce it!) and with the Coda of Beethoven’s Appassionata and that of Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue is possibly the most thrilling thing in all music.

  4. Howdy! Quick question that’s totally off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My blog looks weird when viewing from my iphone 4. I’m trying to find a template or plugin that might be able
    to resolve this problem. If you have any suggestions, please share.

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  5. yes, this piece demands from the very beginning to be actively listened to. now i know why.

    regarding recordings, i love the orpheus recording, even if it somewhat bathes in reverb. your recommend recording is a bit dryer, but just as energetic and musical.

  6. Hello, Sociosound. I’d love to have your permission to post your amazing analysis on my FB Mozart page, Mostly Mozart Mysterium. May I count on your permission?
    Alfredo Tamez, lead admin

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