What Makes a String Quartet, a Sonata, and Mozart Work?

Today, I will be providing a guide to Mozart’s 

String quartet no. 14 in G major ("Spring"; Haydn Quartet no. 1) - Allegro vivace assai

Instrumentation: 2 Violins, Viola, and Cello

Listen/follow along to a recording of the quartet here:



-This piece is from the Classical era, which spans from 1750-1805.

-This time period generally valued upbeat music that facilitated socializing and string quartets where usually played in homes for gatherings of friends (not concert halls like today).

-Mozart was excellent at composing good melodies while also incorporating melodies underneath that melody using a style of writing called counterpoint.

-String Quartets usually perform works with four movements (called a Sonata), the first being written in a form called Sonata Form.

-Sonata form consists of a beginning section that is repeated (Exposition, 0:00-4:01), a second section that uses material from the first section and varies it in some way to create a new content (Development, 4:01-5:46), and then a return of the beginning section and ending of the piece (Recapitulation 5:46-End)


I recommend splitting your screen so that you can read my explanation on one half while keeping track of the music on the other.

Mozart is a composer from an era of the Classical genre called The classical era, which roughly corresponds to the time period between 1750 and the writing of Beethoven’s 3rd symphony in 1805.

Values of the era:

This time period valued happy music that facilitated social interaction. Most of the pieces from this time period where written in major keys to provide an upbeat sound to the music. Music from this era was featured in a wide variety of social contexts including restaurants, parties, and public events. Quartets in particular where often played by friends who gathered together to socialize and enjoy music and would often be performed in the home during gatherings of friends and family. Quartets where not commonly featured in the concert halls like they are today. While Modern performers present this music as works of art to be put on display in a concert hall, during the time in which this music was originally written it was expected that works like a string quartet or piano sonata would be performed and listened to in contexts that where much more casual and social. 

Melody was highly valued during Mozart’s time period. In this era of music you thus tend to hear a melody that is relatively easy to sing with some kind of accompaniment that stays out of the way of a melody, like you hear in the first 20 seconds of the piece and at 0:51-1:21 

However, what makes Mozart a master of that time period in my opinion is that he fits within that style but also composes with greater complexity. While emphasis is placed on the melody, you can often hear other smaller melodies underneath, particularly in the bass, throughout the. This technique is called counterpoint, and Mozart's ability to maintain a tuneful melody while also creating multiple melodies underneath is one of the primary reasons his music is complex and still compelling to listeners. Try to listen throughout the work to hear how there are multiple voices that move independently but also sound as one whole unit together.

Musical Form and Design

The most important thing to keep in mind about this piece from a compositional stand point is that this era placed a high value on form and structure of the music. Like a modern student learns the 5 paragraph essay format in english class, this era’s composers and listeners would have been well acquainted with the structure of the music they where hearing. This Quartet by Mozart is in sonata form, one of the most popular forms from that era.This quartet movement is a good representation of the form and if you can get used to hearing it in this work, you will start to hear it in other pieces from that era.

Sonata’s where usually the first movement of a multi movement work like a string quartet, piano sonata, or symphony. The form helps give the listener a structure to wrap their mind around. Sonata form usually gives a sense of having a musical “story” with a beginning, middle, and end. This allows the listener to be taken on a sort of musical journey for the duration of the piece 

Sonata form essentially looks like this:

Introduction (No introduction in this work)

Exposition 0:00-2:00, and 2:01-4:00

Development 4:01-5:46

Recapitulation 5:47-end

Coda (no coda in this work)


The Exposition: 

The exposition is a 3 part section where the main ideas of the music (called the subjects) are presented (like the introduction of an essay). It is much like the introduction of a 5 paragraph essay. This exposition starts with the first subject in the violins at 0:00 and ending at 0:21 and followed by a transitional section to the second subject presented at 0:51 (also by the violins). The two subjects are intentionally contrasting to create diversity within the piece, the first is usually slower or less melodic and the second more upbeat, melodic, and rhythmic, as is the case in this work. The second subject ends at 1:31 and the cello is given a melody that leads us to the end of this section. The exposition ends at 2:00. It is very common for the introduction and exposition to be repeated so that your mind can really remember the subjects before we enter the development, and that is what occurs at 2:01-4:00

The Development:

The Development begins at 4:01 and is the center 3 paragraphs of this 5 part musical essay. It dissects and expands on the subjects presented in the Exposition. The development will often feature variations on the two subjects and the overall mood presented in the exposition. You will often hear different moods (sad, dramatic), different keys (minor, other major keys), and variations on the subjects. 4:01-4:30 you can hear a variation of the first subject in a minor key. at 5:10 you hear a variation of the second subject.


The recapitulation begins at 5:47 and is the last paragraph of the musical essay. Essentially, you end up hearing the exposition over again, which creates an effect similar to the end of an essay where the writer recaps the points that have been made and the arguments or evidence presented in the main body of the essay. there is not really a full coda, once the second subject is finished the piece simply provides some music that gives a sense of finality and then it ends.

Thanks for reading/listening! I hope this post helps you further appreciate music and get more enjoyment out of this great work by Mozart, and other works you listen to from the era. Try listening to this sonata I am performing and see if you can hear the same structure (I promise it is there, although I do not repeat the exposition!).