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A Brief Analysis of Mozart Sonata K.331

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (W. A. Mozart, 1756 – 1791) is probably the most important composer in the history of music. Composing over 600 works during a period of evolution of consolidation, extension and deepening CITATION Sta65 \l 2052 (Sadie, 1965), Mozart is not merely a prolific composer, but an influential and even epoch-making artist as well. “Mozart learned voraciously from others, and developed a brilliance and maturity of style that encompassed the light and graceful along with the dark and passionate” CITATION Wik10 \l 2052 (Wikipedia, 2010) . He is also a broad composer, whose works have an extensive coverage from such solo music and ensembles as piano, chamber music, and choral music to such relatively complex music as concerto, symphony, and opera. From his earliest childhood, Mozart showed such a prodigious talent for music that his father decided to drop all other ambitions in order to educate young Mozart with all his might. They traveled to many cities and countries, performed various pieces of music to different aristocrat and duke, and gained highly positive reputations.

Though recognized as a gifted musician and great composer, Mozart did not live a better life during most time of his life; his music however, was able to survive and become well-regarded all around the world. Sonata K.331 is a rather interesting piece among Mozart’s piano sonatas. Composed in 1781, which is the date that most scholars suggested, it is the second piece in a set of sonatas K.330-333 with its graceful variations and minuet and its Turkish Rondo finale CITATION Sta65 \l 2052 (Sadie, 1965). The first movement of sonata K.331, which is our mainly analytic target, contains a theme and six variations, and it is among the few works that Mozart used the variation form to open the work. The second movement is as usual as other typical sonatas that are in a slow tempo, gentle in dynamic, and relatively short in length. One thing worth discussing about the second movement is the key signature.

Usually, composers would like to change the key in the second movement of a sonata, providing a necessary tonal contrast. Here in Sonata K.331, Mozart kept the same tune as the first movement, about which one can presume that he considered the diversity is dispensable. One of important characters of Mozart’s works is bringing brilliant sound with less complexity in both melody and technique. The third movement, titled “alla Turca”, is a word-popular classical music. During the second half of the eighteenth century there was a vogue across Europe for the incorporation of Turkish elements into music; those elements are primarily percussions, creating a strong sense of rhythm. In the third movement, the use of loudly-spread chords in left hand clearly produced a percussive effect. The right hand part is a rondo, an Italian word means refrain recurring patterns in music. The third movement is so well-known and attracting that most people are aware of “Turkish March” instead of “Sonata K.331”. It was also widely performed by various pianists; some of them even adapted the piece to create a more dramatic and gorgeous sound, of which I consider Arcadi Volodos to be the best one.

What I want to concentrate here is the first movement of Sonata K.331. The picture above is the theme part, which can be divided in to two periods separated by the double vertical lines at the end of measure 8, the second measure in the second line. Period 1 contains two parallel phrases (measures 1 – 4 and 5 – 8). Measure 1 consists with a Ⅰ chord and a double neighboring tone. Measure 2 has the same rhythmic pattern of measure one and replaces the Ⅰ chord with a Ⅴ7 chord. Measure 3 contains a Ⅵ7 chord and a Ⅴ chord, following by measure 4 with a Ⅰ chord and a Ⅴ chord as an imperfect authentic cadence. Phrase 2 is almost the same as phrase 1 except ending in a perfect authentic cadence, concluding the first period.

Period 2 begins with a four-measure phrase that is contrasting to all other phrases both melodically and rhythmically, continues with another four-measure phrase that is parallel to period 1 and an imperfect authentic cadence, and finally ends with a phrase extension in measures 17 and 18. The reason I analyze in detail for the theme part is that most following variations consist with exactly the same structure, only diverse in notes organizing and music characteristics. One perceptible advantage of the use of variations is easily changing music style frequently, producing a dramatic effect. For instance, the theme part sounds dignified, and the first and second variations sound light and happy due to the use of sixteenth notes and tritons. In the third variation, there is a big change happening.

First, Mozart changed the key signature from A major to a minor, providing an effective change of atmosphere and mood. Second, the second phrase in period 1 and extension part consist with octave moving, the first time exploring the piece in an octave other than original. Third, the variation is full of sixteenth notes with a “legato” marking at the beginning, creating a sense of dragging and enhancing the sullen feeling. I remembered when I performed this variation, my teacher asked me to move my right hand steadily and play every note deeply and clearly, even slow down a little at the beginning of each beat.

The forth variation goes back to A major, reflecting the theme part, and the fifth variation changed the mood again (see the picture above). This variation is quite a long part – not because of the increase in measures, but the tempo setting instead. Although it is full of sixteenth and thirty-second notes, the speed of the fifth variation is much slower than the theme part. Unlike previous variations of which the character can be easily distinguished, this variation is hard to precisely portray a particular mood for this variation. The beginning seems gentle and delightful, and the contrasting part is rather dramatic, followed by a parallel phrase, an impressive extension and a fabulous ending. Finally, the first movement is concluded by the joyful and brilliant sixth variation. Mozart’s sonata K.331 is no doubt one of his most famous works. It not only adopts traditional elements of typical sonatas and characters of typical Mozart pieces, but explores more fascinating and sensible features. It is the music that everyone can enjoy in various situations, and the piece that endures countless praise forever.


Sadie, Stanley. Mozart. London, 1965.Wikipedia. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfgang_Amadeus_Mozart

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