I have heard various people argue that we are taking rules in music theory too seriously these days, often taking them as strict rules (such as the use of V-I cadences to end pieces), while earlier composers are more “free spirited”.

What formal techniques did Mozart use in his days? Or did he rely much on formalized techniques in composition?

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    He doesn't any more - been dead for a long time! Dare say finished decomposing, too...
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 18:34
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    What kind of strange feeling! You’d better inform yourself in wikipedia etc. instead of having feelings. I bet Mozarts’ head was more filled with music theory and musical basics at 4 years than the ordinary average of a 16 years old high school student of today. Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 20:09
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    There's an excellent question embedded in here about the history of theory and what Mozart would or would not have read or studied. However, as written, it lends itself to opinion-based answers. Please consider rewriting.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 20:20
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    @Aaron good point. I just rewrote the question.
    – J Li
    Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 20:53
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    I think you're headed in the right direction. IMO, the part about people taking theory too seriously is what sets up opinion-based answers. If it were me, I'd remove that part entirely and make this a pure history question. But consider opening a second question along the lines of asking for examples where composers specifically used or discarded accepted theory.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 20:57

2 Answers 2


Mozart has been musically educated by his father Leopold and was influenced by Johann Christian Bach and Joseph Haydn.

He was trained in studying counterpoint, harmony, chord theory.

It is likely that Mozart studied Fux's work first under the influence of his father ...


Fux: Gradus ad Parnassum.

Also see: Haydn - Mozart connection and J.Chr. Bach - Mozart Connection.

The two composers knew each other, defended each other, and learned from each other in ways that shaped their musical output for much of their lives — despite a vast difference in age and temperament.

Perhaps it was the very differences between these two men of genius that drew them to each other. Whatever it was, they drew support and inspiration from one another in ways that profoundly affected their work. If they had not met, neither would have been as productive, and their output far different.

In this hour, the story behind the deep friendship between Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the great music it inspired.


Mozart's Counterpoint: Its Growth and Significance



Mozart’s lifelong admiration for Bach began during the family’s first trip to London, 1764-65, when Mozart was only eight years old. This trip marked the beginning of an extraordinary relationship, documented in letters written by Wolfgang, Leopold and Nannerl. Mozart met Bach at the height of the latter’s fame, when he was completely at home in the active musical and social life of the metropolis. While in London, Mozart enjoyed a close relationship with Bach, and apparently composed under his tutelage the Composer.



The basics of modern western music theory probably originated with Pythagoras about 2,500 years ago. By Mozart's time music theory was already very well developed. How do you think he actually wrote down his music? He used the notation of music theory. It would probably be easier (and much quicker) to identify the music theory that Mozart didn't utilize.

The suggestion that composers like Mozart were “free spirited” and had little to do with music theory shows a lack of knowledge and understanding of both music theory and Mozart's music.

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    Ancient Greek music theory had very little to do with Common Practice Tonality. Common Practice theory is generally considered to have begun with Rameau's *Traite de l'Harmony" in 1722.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 20:14
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    @ this would imply that all Baroque-music before Rameaus' traité was not common praxis? Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 20:25
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    @AlbrechtHügli by definition, "common practice" refers to the harmonic system that arose in the 18th century. So yes, Baroque music before Rameau did not employ the "common practice." If you look at early Baroque music, there are certainly elements of it, but yet it is different. Its harmonies often resemble those of the late Renaissance more strongly than those of the late Baroque.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 1:37
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    @Aaron you’re mistaken. Rameau’s influence echoed in Mozart’s time either, but there were other earlier influences. Tonality isn’t a word defined in this era. Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 7:10
  • @RodrigoB.Furman It's true that tonality was in the process of being developed earlier and later, but it was Rameau's treatise that codified, in particular, the idea of chords being stacks of thirds and that inversions could be interpreted as variations on a root chord.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 7:15

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