Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Eine kleine Nachtmusik („A Little Night Music“)

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: About 17 Minutes
Genre: Serenade
Time of Creation: 1787
World Premiere: Unknown (possibly only posthumously)

Table of Contents

Mozart's Kleine Nachtmusik in 5 Sentences

Eine kleine Nachtmusik (German for „A Little Night Music“), and from this especially the first movement, is one of the most famous works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Formally, it is a serenade, a genre of “light” music (for a more detailed explanation, see “Questions and Answers” below). Mozart himself noted the famous nickname – “Nachtmusik” is a German translation of “serenade” – in his catalog of works. Two aspects of Mozart’s Kleine Nachtmusik are unusual, namely the pure string instrumentation of two violins, viola, cello, and double bass (wind instruments usually played in the serenades of the time) and the ornate treatment of the middle voices (rather unusual for a genre of light music). Both of these may suggest that the Kleine Nachtmusik was already intended as a “concert piece” rather than “background music” (the serenade genre continued to develop in this direction after Mozart’s death).

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Mozart's Little Night Music

Highlight 1: First Movement – Allegro

One of the most famous beginnings of classical music, this is crystal clear and quite regular in structure. Mozart opens his Kleine Nachtmusik with a two-bar upward gesture, followed by a downward gesture of equal length. Mozart even puts rests between them, which makes the structure stand out even more:

Highlight 2: Second movement – Romance

Mozart’s Kleine Nachtmusik originally had five movements – this can be seen from Mozart’s own catalog of works. The original second movement, however, has not survived (securely); the corresponding pages are missing from the autograph. It is unclear whether Mozart deliberately removed the second movement after completing the composition or whether it was simply lost in the course of time.

In any case, today’s performances of Mozart’s Kleine Nachtmusik are therefore usually only in four movements. The second movement is then a “romance” that opens with a lyrical theme:

Highlight 3: Third movement – Minuet

The third movement is a dance, namely a minuet:

Highlight 4: Fourth movement – Rondo

And the last movement picks up the lively tempo from the first movement again:

3 Questions and Answers about Mozart's Little Night Music

Question 1: Why is the little night music so famous?

After Mozart’s Little Night Music was hardly noticed for many decades, it was made famous by a German film called “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” in 1939.

Question 2: What else is the Little Night Music called?

The “formal” name of Mozart’s Little Night Music is Serenade in G Major, K. 525.

Question 3: What is a serenade?

A serenade is music of entertaining character, performed in the evening (and often outdoors). The form is quite free – for example, a serenade can be in one or several movements. The serenade was very popular at the end of the 18th century. Mozart’s famous serenade “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” also dates from this period.

2 Recommended Recordings of Mozart's Little Night Music

Recording 1: Concertgebouw Kamerorkest (live, 2013)

It is worth listening to Mozart’s Kleine Nachtmusik in both chamber and orchestral settings. In this performance with the Comcertgebouw Kamerorkest, the piece is performed by a string orchestra (as is usually the case today):

Recording 2: Gewandhaus Quartet (video production, 2005)

The Gewandhaus Quartet (augmented by Stefan Adelmann on double bass), on the other hand, plays the work in string quintet instrumentation:

1 Quote about Mozart's Little Night Music

We have no indication from the time of composition, August 1787, of a composing occasion. But there must have been a commission or an occasion. Nothing is more wrong than the idea that Mozart wrote works out of a certain urge and with a view to heaven. The Nachtmusik fulfills the function of the serenade, which was played for the evening, a genre of convivial music-making in the late 18th century.

Ulrich Konrad (musicologist) in an interview with the "Zeit" newspaper

Leave a Reply