As part of a listening exercise, I'm trying to assign various elements of double exposition form to the first movement of mozart's 5th piano concerto.

  • Is it correct to say that it is missing a solo theme? The second exposition (starting at 1:13) seems to showcase the first & second themes but I can't place the solo theme.

For reference:

1 Answer 1


It's fair to say there's no obvious solo theme, ...

TL;DR: scroll to the bottom of the post.

The expectations of Double Exposition Form

"Double exposition form" is rather loosely defined — by necessity, since composers at the time were not adhering to any specific rules. The definitions were developed by later theorists trying to find some overarching sense of form in Classical concertos.

For example, Brittanica states:

But, of course, these masterworks are no stereotypes. They find their variety and distinctions in the details and working out of the forms. At most, “sonata form” in the Classical era was not yet the conscious concept or crystallized design that later textbooks have made it out to be. Its thematic organization in particular was still fluid and certainly not bound to any fixed number of themes or any fixed dualism of “masculine” and “feminine” themes. Textbook discussions of the solo concerto say that the tutti plays the exposition first, all in the tonic key, after which the soloist joins to repeat it, this time more elaborately and with the contrasting theme in a nearly related key. But that concept of the strict “double exposition” is honoured as much in the breach as the observance.

Extrapolating from this, the orchestra would introduce two contrasting themes (at least), and then the soloist would reintroduce the themes, with the contrasting theme(s) in a new key. No theme unique to the soloist is imposed by this definition.

Solo theme candidates

However, if one is going to attempt to impose the "textbook" form onto this concerto, there are two candidates for Solo Theme.

  1. The slowly ascending arpeggio in m. 48 (about 1:43 in the OP recording).
  2. The melodic segment beginning at m. 59 (about 2:05 in the OP recording).

Their candidacies are based on their having a melodic quality and neither appearing in the orchestral exposition.

Solo thematic candidates 1 and 2

piano measures 48 and 59

Case against candidate 1

There are three problems with the first candidate: it modulates near immediately and winds up sounding like transitional material (which it is); it appears in the home key (D major) in both the exposition and recapitulation; and it modulates differently in its two appearances.

Recapitulation of candidate 1 (m. 161; 5:30)

Same key as in exposition
piano m. 161

Modulates immediately, and differently in exposition and recapitulation
mm. 52 & 165

mm. 52 & 165

Case for candidate 2

Likewise, there are three points in favor of the second candidate: it stays in one key; it appears transposed in the exposition (A major) but in the home key in the recapitulation (D major); and the recapitulation occurrence is a strict transposition of the exposition occurrence.

Stays in a single key (mm. 59 – 62): A major, the dominant key

mm. 59 – 62

Appears in different keys (mm. 176 – 179; compare to mm. 59 – 62, above): D major, the home key

mm. 176 – 179

... but if there is one, it's mm. 59 – 62.

  • Thank you for providing the time codes. Listened to it several more times. As I am making my way through his piano sonatas I have noticed that 6& 8 do have solo themes. For me, harder to tell on 7 (since multiple pianos) & Thanks again for the detailed explanation.
    – hba
    Nov 15, 2022 at 16:41
  • @hba Very glad it helped. The most instructive part for me in researching the post was the reminder from Brittanica that sonata form wasn't a fixed idea at the time.
    – Aaron
    Nov 15, 2022 at 17:45
  • Yes - you're absolutely right. That's a great observation. Looking back things always seem different. What I am finding so far (No 6-8) the second movement closely follows what we call double exposition as well. I wonder if mozart was just fascinated with the form...
    – hba
    Nov 18, 2022 at 17:04
  • 1
    I've made it to the 15th - wow the first movement was an adventure. It is very interesting and I was reminded of how you picked up on the point that the sonata form was not a fixed idea. First few listening I was sure it was strictly double exposition. But listening to it closely I realised how different it is. It is still absolutely fantastic: youtube.com/watch?v=lUwRKr07vug
    – hba
    Nov 30, 2022 at 6:06
  • 1
    @hba It's a great adventure you're on! Just wait until you get to Beethoven. As inventive as Mozart is, Beethoven makes him look downright conservative.
    – Aaron
    Nov 30, 2022 at 6:10

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