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“Mozart’s Mannheim Sonatas”, a highly interesting & informative article written by John W. Pratt was published by Flute Focus on November 5, 2012.  John has contributed numerous arrangements & transcriptions to NSM’s catalog, including transcriptions for alto flute of all the "Mannheim" sonatas.  We re-publish his article here, with permission. 


Mozart’s Mannheim Sonatas

Written by John W. Pratt


In 1777-78, on the way to Mannheim, where he wrote the first two of his flute quartets, Mozart became acquainted with six violin sonatas by Joseph Schuster. He was sufficiently impressed that he sent them to his sister and planned to write six himself in the same style. In fact he wrote seven, now known as the “Mannheim sonatas”. He started work on them around the time he finished the second of the flute quartets, completing five in Mannheim and two (K.304 and K.306) later in Paris after his mother died. They are the first violin sonatas of his maturity, and are not only as delightful as one would expect, but also significant in his musical development and the development of chamber-music style generally. They elevate the violin to an interesting and essential role and advance the interplay between the instruments. The violin leads as often as the piano and is crucial to the orchestration but is largely spared Mozart's typical keyboard passage work.


Flutists regret that Mozart created so little chamber music featuring the flute. Along with the four flute quartets, there remains only a diminutive Adagio and Rondo for glass-harmonica, flute, oboe, viola, and cello (K.617). Happily the violin parts of the Mannheim sonatas are perfectly suited to transcription for alto flute. They rarely make significant use of double stops and their range and character are in general well served by the alto. In fact, K.301 was begun with flute in mind, and Alfred Einstein [1] points to “the flutelike character of K.303 as well”. Indeed the flute can execute with elegance some accompaniment figures that Einstein considers “not really appropriate” to the violin.


The six sonatas K.301-306 were published as a set in 1778. K.296, among the earliest composed, was not published until 1781. K.296 and K.306 have three movements each. The rest, like most of Schuster's, have only two movements in the style of the older tradition (although Mozart had all along included significant slow middle movements in his solo piano sonatas). The movements display great variety, however. In particular, they almost all differ structurally, whether because Mozart wanted to experiment, gave rein to his fertile imagination, reacted creatively to his musical materials, or all three. Some highlights of the individual sonatas are described below.


K.301 pairs a sunny Allegro con spirito with what amounts to a charming allegrominuet with a trio section in the minor, although it is as near a Beethoven scherzo as a Haydn minuet. The ebullient K.302 has an Allegro with an unusual call to attention in 3/4 time, and a rondo, Andante grazioso, with a forward-moving theme that is variously and charmingly re-orchestrated.


Both movements of K.303 are quite different from others of the set. The first is in sonata form without development, in an older style in some ways but advanced in others. In the exposition, the first theme and transition to the dominant are adagio while the second theme is allegro; in the recapitulation, the violin elaborates the adagio first theme and the piano figures accompanying the allegro second theme are inverted. Sadie [2] says Mozart derived this structure from Schuster, while Einstein harks back to Mozart's “beloved Johann Christian Bach” and says, "it is noticeable at times that he [Mozart] finds himself on new and unexplored paths." The second movement is an old-style minuet (without trio), ending with a pedal point terminating in a tremble.


K.304 initiated my interest in the Mannheim sonatas. Mozart's works in minor keys are rare and special; consider his Symphony No.40 and the G-minor quintet. K.304, his only work in E minor, and the piano sonata in A minor, K.310, were written the summer that his mother died, an association often noted. K.304 epitomizes Mozart’s ability to achieve great power with spare means. Einstein says it "is one of the miracles among Mozart's works; it springs from the most profound depths of emotion and goes beyond the alternating dialogue style to knock at those gates of the great world of drama which Beethoven was to fling wide open. Mozart does not become pathetic, and this reserve, this concealment of an inner fire, together with--in the portion in major of the Tempo di Minuetto--a brief glimpse of bliss, only enhances the mysterious power of this apparently ‘little’ sonata. As always when Mozart is deeply in earnest, he has recourse to ... counterpoint; in this sonata he uses it to accentuate the transitions." The bliss is so sublime that one is tempted to take an extra repeat.


Whereas K.304 is by far the most introspective of the Mannheim sonatas, K.305 is perhaps the most completely extroverted. Like K.302, it opens with four emphatically tonic measures, followed by a gentle, linear four-bar theme, all immediately repeated. Here, however, the repeat is identical and is omitted in the recapitulation, while the first half of the development is based on inverting the opening material. The second movement of K.305 is the only movement of the Mannheim sonatas in theme-and-variations form. It is far from routine. The theme has an unusual variety of rhythms and accompaniment figurations; the 32nd-note variation is the very first; the minor variation is at the prevailing tempo; and a brief piano cadenza interrupts the antepenultimate variation’s peroration. The violin contributes to the inventiveness, variously leading, trading ideas with the piano, playing in thirds with it, adding color in unison or octaves, and even staying silent for a whole variation.


K.306 is the longest and showiest of the Mannheim sonatas, having three large-scale movements with some almost orchestral textures, much doubling, and brilliant passage work. The first movement’s development, after an 8-bar canon to set the stage, expands four transitional bars of the exposition into a far-reaching harmonic excursion in twelve 2-bar steps. The recapitulation begins with the second subject and returns to the first so late it amounts to a coda, the only instance of ‘mirror’ sonata-form in the Mannheim set. In contrast, the second movement, Andante cantabile, has a structurally orthodox sonata form, compressing and ornamenting the themes in the recapitulation, as befits the tempo. The finale is an elaborate rondo alternating between allegretto in 2/4 and allegro in 6/8, with several grand pauses and a huge, 46-bar cadenza initiated by the piano with the violin joining in (compare the piano’s arpeggio terminating in a chromatic scale in a single bar of K.304).


Mozart dedicated K.296 to his pupil Therese-Pierron Serrarius, his Mannheim landlord’s 15-year old daughter. If Mozart responded to her youthfulness, however, it was not with smaller scale or easier writing but with, for example, turns brightening the opening fanfares, quick trills in the first theme, and contrasting textures and sparkling interplay between the instruments. (Sadie calls K.296 “light, almost playful”.) The first movement follows “normal” sonata form although the recapitulation omits the last part of the first subject, this part having been used to open a rather short development which consists otherwise of new material. Einstein says the second movement, Andante sostenuto, “is an instrumental arietta, of which both the theme and the character of the accompaniment are taken almost note for note from an aria by the London master [Johann Christian Bach] (Dolce aurette). But in Johann Christian we find none of the daring modulations of the middle section.” In the concluding Rondo, the instruments swap the theme at the opening and the two returns, as well as much of the episodic material. The first episode modulates to the dominant where there is a “second theme”, and the second episode recapitulates this second theme in the tonic after modulating to the relative minor and the subdominant. The movement is thus a sonata-rondo.


I have transcribed the violin parts of all seven of the Mozart Mannheim sonatas for alto flute, so that my flute duo partner and I, and flute-piano partnerships generally, could enjoy playing and performing these wonderful pieces. We hope others will find them as delightful as we have.


[1] Einstein, Alfred, 1945. Mozart, trans. Mendel and Broder, Oxford U. Press, pp.253-255.

[2] Sadie, Stanley, 1980. “Mozart” in The New Grove, Stanley Sadie ed., Macmillan, vol. 12, p.697.

John W. Pratt, 2012 ©



John W. Pratt is a retired Harvard Business School professor and pianist whose transcriptions and arrangements are published by Noteworthy Sheet Music, LLC (visit to view all his catalog listings).