Mozart For The Cello

 “his music is so perfect, so effortless, that it seems to have been plucked ready-made from the universe”
(Albert Einstein)

Mozart must have been very unimpressed with the cello and cellists of his epoch. How else could we explain that despite his 23 piano concertos, 5 violin concertos (more or less), a double concerto for violin and viola, concertos for flute (2), oboe, bassoon, clarinet and horn (4), and about 20 violin sonatas, he wrote nothing for the cello ! To remedy this situation, here is a selection of some of Mozart’s cosmic gems, stolen and transcribed for the cello as the principal melodic instrument. These are simple transcriptions rather than “arrangements”: the music is never “rewritten” in any way other than some key transpositions (applied always to entire works), octave changes of entire passages, or the revoicing of chords and double stops.

Before we look at the different transcriptions, here below is a link to a compilation of passages from Mozart’s original music for cello, for which the use of thumbposition is either essential, advisable or possible:

Mozart’s Thumb: Repertoire Compilations


The subject of transcribing piano music for cello is dealt with on its own dedicated page (click on the highlighted link). When we take the melodic line out of a Mozart piano sonata and give it to the cello, then the accompaniment that is left is very sparse and simple. Probably too simple for an accomplished pianist, who might not only be bored at having to take such a minor role but also offended at having to accompany the thief who stole their beautiful piece from them. For this reason, the accompaniments to these sonata movements would probably be best suited to guitar or harp except for the fact that there are normally – in the faster first and third movements – some quite fast articulated passages which may be impossible or very difficult on those plucked instruments. Perhaps then the ideal accompaniment instrument for the faster movements is after all the piano, while we will prefer the guitar (or harp) for the divine slow movements. The accompaniments offered here are simple skeletons that we can adapt to whichever instrument that might be playing them. We can even play these movements as cello duos!

Sonata K545 in C major (complete)         Rondo Alla Turca (from Piano Sonata K331)

Adagio from Sonata K332    Adagio from Sonata K576


Queen of the Night” Aria from “The Magic Flute”     “Voi Que Sapete” from “Marriage Of Figaro


If you like the Mozart Violin Sonatas, you are in good company: Einstein loved them and played them often (and apparently with great passion). This is not surprising as they really are quite extraordinary, beautiful, amazing etc ……. words simply fail us. And what’s more, there are so many of them! This is a real Aladdin’s cave of musical treasures waiting to be discovered. I started with the transcription of one sonata …… and then couldn’t stop: the pleasure (and surprise) of actually being able to play this music (and not only listen to it) was irresistible!

K296 in C major        K301 in G major         K302 in Eb major         K303 in C major

K304 in e minor        K305 in A major          K306 in D major         K376 in F major

K377 in F major         K378 in Bb major         K379 in G major         K380 in Eb major

K454 in Bb major         K481 in Eb major         K526 in A major         K547 in F major

Most of the sonatas presented here are in their original key, with the violin part simply transposed down an octave. Only in sonatas K378 and K454 have the keys been changed – in each case lowered by a minor third – to make them more playable. For those two sonatas, the transposed piano parts are available here with the cello parts. For the other (non-transposed) sonatas, the piano parts are not available here. The Henle Urtext edition is a beautiful edition: a model of german craftsmanship, attention to detail, and respect for both composer and performer. Alternatively, the piano parts are downloadable in other editions from

Very occasionally some notes are changed in these cello transcriptions to adapt them to the cello but this occurs almost exclusively for the revoicing of chords and double-stops, occasionally in complex passage-work, but never in melodic passages.

Playing them in the same key as the violin means that the register is often quite high. For the violin, this music lies always in the Neck Region. But when transcribed for the cello, all the music that lies on the E string of the violin, lies for us in the Intermediate and Thumb Regions on the A string (see Transcribing Violin Music for Cello). Surprisingly however, this is in fact no higher than the register of the Beethoven Cello Sonatas and Variations. In the “Easier Versions” of these sonatas, the passages involving higher register playing have normally been transposed down an octave so that the cellist, just like for the violinist, basically never needs to leave the Neck Region. These versions are a delight to play for any cellist as the music is normally not altered or disfigured in any other way other than by these occasional octave transpositions. Occasionally a few occasional notes in the Intermediate Region remain in the “Easier Versions”, but only when these notes are in a relatively easy context, with plenty of time to find them. It would be a shame to have to transpose an entire passage down an octave just to avoid these isolated notes.

Mozart’s music, in true Rococo style, is full of ornamentation and grace notes. In the “Literal Versions,” these grace notes and ornaments are notated exactly as Mozart wrote them. However, in the “playing” versions (Edited, Easier and Clean), they are often written as played by the editor. There are several reasons for this:


Trills on short notes have often been substituted for mordents or turns, to compensate for the difference in size and reaction time between violin and cello: the cello is just not as quick and agile as the violin …….. we wouldn’t expect a french horn to play like a saxophone, or a double bass like a cello!


The original notation of many grace notes is often quite ambiguous with respect to how exactly we might want to play these notes (their exact position rhythmically). This ambiguity can be a delight, but it can also be a source of confusion. Therefore, for the sake of simplicity and clarity, in the playing versions of these Sonatas, those grace notes that are not played before the beat have been notated as “real” notes.

This editing of the ornaments and grace notes is not perhaps the ideal solution as it imposes definitively the editor’s decisions on the player. Probably it would have been better for the “Clean Version” to have only the original notation of ornaments and grace notes, but this “Clean” version is always composed of the identical notes and rhythms as the “Edited” version, with all other editorial suggestions removed. Unfortunately, grace notes and ornaments are “notes and rhythm”, so the decisions made for the “Edited Concert Version” also apply to the “Clean Version”. Only in the “Literal Versions” are the grace notes shown as Mozart notated them.

The original source for the “Literal Transcriptions” (all notes, articulations, dynamics etc from Mozart’s original manuscripts) is the wonderful Henle Urtext edition.