What distinctive stylistic elements from Mozart's works should I include in a horn solo cadenza (in Horn Concerto III, Movement I) to make it fit well with the rest of the piece? (Oppositely, is there anything [certain rhythms, interval sequences, etc.] that I should avoid?)

(I am aware that cadenzas are often supposed to be ad-lib; in this case, however, I am going to take the time to write one out.)

  • Why don't you listen to his works and study his scores to seek your answer? They are all in the public domain and are easily accessible. Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 3:20
  • @jjmusicnotes Perhaps I am not quite sure exactly what it is that defines his style and thought someone here would know off the top of their head?
    – Stan
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 3:27
  • which was my point exactly. If you don't know, do the work / research yourself and come to your own conclusions rather than just asking someone to give you the answer. There is no worth in being fed. Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 14:05
  • @jjmusicnotes Just saw your comment today and I'd like to explain that I'm entirely self-taught in the field of composition. (I play French horn in my high school's band [hence the Solo&Ensemble contest I was playing the horn concerto for]) There's a lot of music theory terminology I dont know,& because I lack formal training,I'm equipped solely with my ears & knowledge of chord construction(not chord sequences).Did tons (read:hours) of Googling but couldnt find anything explaining which chord patterns, etc are Mozart-y. I'm not lazy,just without cash for textbooks that'd spell that stuff out.
    – Stan
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 4:00

2 Answers 2


The quickest solution would be to find as many different recordings of this piece that you can find, to listen to the cadenzas that different performers play, and to construct a written cadenza that feels similar in style. That is always what I have done as a solo singer.

Try to find recordings that say that they were made "on period instruments" or "in historically-informed performance". Those have been made by musical groups that take care to play in the style that Mozart himself employed, and to play replicas of the same design of instruments that Mozart's own orchestras used.

Consider that your modern horn is very different than the horn used in Mozart's day; specifically, the horn in Mozart's time was much more restricted in the notes it could play; it could not play all 12 notes in the octave. I do not understand the mechanics of horns, but the idea is that you might decide that your cadenza should not use any of the pitches that were not available on the horns from Mozart's time. But this is your artistic decision to make.

So do some Google searching and find out about the kind of horn or horns used in Mozart's era in Austria, and how they were constructed, and specifically what pitches and what range they could play in. Then consider applying these parameters to your cadenza.

  • 2
    @WheatWilliams - just to clarify, the horn of Mozart's day was called the natural horn and was actually capable of performing chromatic scales, though it required an incredibly skilled player to do so. The reason for this is the necessary hand placement and embouchure control that would allow for notes to be "bent" in order to achieve scales that would otherwise lie outside of a given overtone series. Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 14:03
  • Thank you, @jjmusicnotes. I know a good deal about historically-informed performance in the Baroque and classical periods, but I am a singer, and I know nothing about how to play brass instruments!
    – user1044
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 21:14

Cadenzas often have a slightly different musical style than the works they are based on -- for example, Joachim's standard cadenzas for the Mozart violin concerti -- but are not usually way off. For example, I wouldn't expect a cadenza in a Mozart horn concerto to include a bunch of pedal notes or lip glissandi or other techniques that were not commonly used in that day; and I would expect it to at least loosely follow Mozart's stylistic language. It shouldn't sound like Webern, for example.

Cadenzas always incorporate themes from the movement that they are in. It is common to have wider leaps, faster and higher notes, and generally show off more than in the rest of the concerto. And finally, it is customary to end a cadenza on a trill. When cadenzas used to be improvised, this was done in order to signal the conductor that you were done with the cadenza and the orchestra needed to come back in again. However, typically (but not always) these days, cadenzas are not in fact improvised, but are slavishly prepared in advance of the performance.

  • In Mozart's time and before, solo classical musicians were expected to be able to improvise, not unlike jazz musicians in the modern era. Improvisation was something that was taught to young musicians in Mozart's time. Over subsequent generations, this fell out of fashion, for performers and for the expectations of the composers themselves. In the present day, it seems that many classical musicians are re-discovering improvisation (in a historically-appropriate, limited sense) through the early music movement, or what we call "historically-informed performance practice".
    – user1044
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 16:48

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