Mozart On 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 “mature” violin sonatas, he wrote nothing for the cello as the “solo” instrument ! The closest he came, apart from in his Divertimento for string trio K563, was in his three last string quartets (K575, 589 and 590). These so-called “Prussian” string quartets all have prominent cello parts, in deference to the King of Prussia who was an amateur cellist and to whom they were originally intended.

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. Apart from 17 of his Violin Sonatas, you will also find here transcriptions of some of his piano and vocal music. These are all “transcriptions” rather than “arrangements” in the sense that the music is (almost) 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.



If you like the Mozart Violin Sonatas, you are in good company: Einstein loved them and played them often (apparently with great passion). This is not surprising as they really are extraordinary, beautiful, amazing etc ……. words simply fail us. And what’s more, there are so many of them! If we include his early sonatas, written when he was still a child, then we can count almost 40 of them but the cellofun transcriptions only concern the later “mature” sonatas, of which 17 are presented here. 15 of these are transcribed in their entirety while from each of the K403 and K547 “beginners” sonatas (written for his wife Constanza and possibly never intended for publication), only one movement has been transcribed as stand-alone concert pieces, the others being considered not quite interesting enough.

Playing Mozart’s Violin Sonatas on the cello is like discovering an Aladdin’s cave of musical treasures. What started with the transcription of one sonata became an unstoppable avalanche: the pleasure (and surprise) of actually being able to play this music (and not only listen to it) was irresistible! The subject of transcribing violin music for cello is dealt with on its own dedicated page (click on the highlighted link).

  1.  K296 in C major
  2.      K301 in G major
  3.      K302 in Eb major
  4.       K303 in C major
  5.       K304 in E minor
  6.       K305 in A major
  7.       K306 in D major
  8.       K376 in F major
  9.       K377 in F major
  10.       K378 in Bb major
  11.       K379 in G major
  12.       K380 in Eb major
  13.       K403 in C Major
  14.       K454 in Bb major
  15.       K481 in Eb major
  16.       K526 in A major
  17.       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 also offered with the cello parts. For the other (non-transposed) sonatas, the piano parts are not available here but are available for free download from

Alternatively, the Henle Urtext editions – a model of german craftsmanship, attention to detail, and respect for both composer and performer – are a great addition to our music library. It is this wonderful Henle Urtext edition that has served as the original source for the “Literal Transcriptions” in which all of the notes (transposed down an octave), slurs, articulations, dynamics etc are taken directly  from Mozart’s original manuscripts.

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, very occasionally in complex passage-work, but never in melodic passages.

In his Violin Sonatas, Mozart often changes the violin’s octave (register) with the same ease as if he were writing for piano. On the piano, playing the same music in different octaves doesn’t change the difficulty level at all but on a string instrument, once we get above the Neck Region the difficulty level goes up exponentially. Whereas for the violin this music lies always in the Neck Region, when transcribed for the cello all of 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). Therefore, playing these sonatas in the same key as the violin means that the cello register is often quite high. Surprisingly, however, it is 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 extra octave so that the cellist, just like the violinist, basically never needs to leave the Neck Region. Occasionally a few notes in the Intermediate Region have been allowed to 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 th0se isolated notes.

The “Easier Versions” of these sonatas, with their transpositions down by two octaves of the high passages, are not only infinitely easier to play, but also they can easily sound just as good (if not better) than the “correct” one-octave transposition that is used almost always in the “Concert Versions” (Edited and Clean).

But it is not just the “high passages” that are difficult. In very tricky or fast passages, occasional notes in these “Easier Versions” have also sometimes been changed or removed to make the playing easier. Sometimes, rewriting just a few little passages in this way opens up this wonderful music to be played by any cellist, removing the fear of bombing out in (or stressing out over) a few tricky bits !


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 (or a second cello!), 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.

  1.  First Movement (Theme and Variations) from Sonata K331
  2.       Final Movement (Rondo Alla Turca) from Sonata K331
  3.       Adagio from Sonata K332
  4.       Sonata K545 in C major (complete)
  5.       Adagio from Sonata K576


The subject of transcribing vocal music for cello is dealt with on its own dedicated page (click on the highlighted link).

  1. Queen of the Night” Aria from “The Magic Flute
  2.  “Voi Que Sapete” from “Marriage Of Figaro
  3.  Ave Verum


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

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.

Turns also give us many possibilities for where exactly we might want to place the notes. For slower turns it can help to use a quintuplet to avoid making our ornament sound laboured, pedantic and mathematical. For rapid, sparkling, virtuosic turns the quintuplet is probably not necessary:

Even if we decide to make a quintuplet turn, we can still sometimes have some doubts about where exactly to put the quintuplet notes. The second option is definitely more sparkling and lively but the fact that the last note of each bar is now a 16th note (instead of an 8th note) could be perhaps considered as taking excessive liberty with Mozart’s notation:

Independently of whether we use quintuplets or not, the multiple possibilities for the rhythmical placement of the notes in turns can cause headaches for both interpreters and editors:

The editing (writing out with an exact notation) 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 be better for the “Clean Version” to have always the original notation of ornaments and grace notes, but the “Clean” version is always composed of the identical notes and rhythms as the “Edited” version, with all other editorial suggestions removed. Unfortunately, because grace notes and ornaments are “notes and rhythm”, the decisions made for the “Edited Concert Versions” also apply to the “Clean Versions”. Therefore, only in the “Literal Versions” are the grace notes shown as Mozart notated them.


Mozart was not very trusting of his contemporary cellists’ abilities so he rarely took the cello into its higher register. But it does happen occasionally and here below are links to compilations of passages from his original music for cello, in which the use of Thumbposition and the Intermediate Region of the fingerboard is either essential, advisable or possible:

  1. Mozart’s Thumb: Repertoire Compilation
  2.      Mozart’s Intermediate Region: Repertoire Compilation