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1750 - 1791

Adagio in B minor, KV 540

arranged by Mark Starr for orchestra
from Mozart's original work for piano (1788)

link to biography of Mozart

A demo recording of this arrangement -- realized with digital musical sounds -- will begin to play automatically upon opening this page.  If you do not wish listen to it, please click on the STOP button (or the PAUSE button) on the media player, below. You may wish to adjust the volume on your computer to a more comfortable level.


The Adagio in B minor, KV 540, is one of Mozart's most mysterious and soul-searching works. Originally composed for piano, it is an orphan movement. It is not part of a piano sonata or a suite of movements. Nor is it an unfinished piece. Mozart entered the composition into his personal catalog of finished works, dated Vienna, March 19, 1788. He also noted the key, B Minor, in his personal catalog.

This the only complete work in B Minor that Mozart ever composed - although there is one movement, the slow movement of Mozart's early D major Flute Quartet, KV 282, that is also in B minor. There are no piano sonatas in B minor - or symphonies, string quartets or violin sonatas, for that matter. Many writers have conjectured that each key held a specific emotional significance and color for Mozart. If that was so, then from this one towering example dating from Mozart's mature years we may infer that, to the composer, B Minor meant desolation.

But this piece has a surprise ending. It is the musical equivalent of an O. Henry twist at the end. The philosophical and emotional implications of this ending are highly significant.

The orchestral nature of the piece is highly evident. Everything is sustained and polyphonic. Within the soft sostenuto texture, Mozart has added heavy sf accents on the attacks, the sort of weight that typically he gave to the strings in his symphonies with doublings in the woodwinds and horns on selected notes.

The many repeated 16th-notes, when played forte, become tiresome on the percussive piano (and even more so on the fortepiano) - but they sound deeply moving when played by a expressive string section.

In this orchestration by Mark Starr, the movement is scored for a typical Mozart orchestra of the makeup he frequently employed in his last years. With repeats, it lasts about 11 minutes. Eleven minutes makes for a long adagio -- but these are eleven minutes of pure inspiration.

The full score is available for perusal, audition and purchase, downloading and printing on www.sibeliusmusic.com.  Here is the link to the score.


The orchestral parts are available on rental only from Noteworthy Musical Editions; 132 Loucks Avenue, Los Altos, CA 94022-1045 USA. Tel. 650-948-2060.


2 oboes
2 clarinets
2 bassoons
2 horns