What education did Mozart receive in order to know basic harmony rules, like consecutive fifths are bad? And how did he make sure his compositions do not have errors? Did he have to check every voices one by one, or did he use writing patterns to avoid mistakes?

I know he studied Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum, but this seems to be later in his life, when he had already composed a lot.

  • 5
    The rules of good voice leading was already established when Mozart came around. His father most probably taught him that.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 12:21
  • He had good ears, so even without being told would have known the damaging effect of parallel fifths and most other 'errors'. But his dad would have dealt with most of this. . .
    – PeterJ
    Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 12:17

4 Answers 4


What education did Mozart receive in order to know basic harmony rules, like consecutive fifths are bad?

As pointed out, he was educated by his father. He would have received basic training in Rule of the Octave, counterpoint, etc. Instruction in Mozart's time was essentially in voice leading, not harmony: harmony training didn't really exist until Chopin's time.

And how did he make sure his compositions do not have errors?

Errors are passages that do not make sense, that sound wrong, in the prevailing musical language of a particular historical period. Mozart had a thorough exposure to the music of his time at a very early age, and the kind of apprenticeship he went through with his father meant that he had an experienced Master to point out potential pitfalls.

Note, however, that composers like Mozart frequently "break the rules" when they need something striking, but they generally do so in a way that has a solid grounding in their era's musical language. If I recall correctly, Piston's Counterpoint points out a passage by Haydn where he used parallel fifths (slow movement of the Oxford Symphony?), but the passage maintains contact with the language of the period by presenting the the parallel fifths as the upper voices of a series of parallel first inversion chords, parallel first inversions being common practice at the time.

Did he have to check every voices one by one, or did he use writing patterns to avoid mistakes?

In general, music is patterns. Mozart would have had a fair number of patterns at his fingertips to work with. You might find reading about partimenti and the Rule of the Octave interesting.

  • 1
    Great answer except your comment that there was no training in harmony and that it didn't exist until Chopin's time. Melodic lines are often very much centered around harmonies. The mere fact that a piece of music can have a well-known harmonic series like tonic-subdominant-dominant-tonic demonstrates knowledge of harmony. Sometimes the music is built directly from harmony like Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik". The first two bars are figurations on a G major harmony, the next two bars figurations on a D7 harmony. Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 22:23

I would guess he learned the same way that he (and almost every other child) learns to speak their native language - simply by listening to what was going on around him. His father was a professional musician so he would have heard plenty of music in the house, right from birth. It is recorded that at age three, he spent "much time" listening to his father teaching his elder sister (age 7) to play keyboard instruments.

His earliest known works were written at the age of five, so he clearly didn't have much opportunity for studying written textbooks before composing them.

  • 1
    It is even mentioned by some historians that Mozart's sister could just as easily been the famous composer in the house if not for the fact that she was a woman and was not afforded a career.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 6:51

A Consecutive fifth is something that comes out of the linear thinking of polyphonic music (in contrast to homophonic music - not monophonic). So when leading your voices of a composition - these carry every functionality. Harmony, melody, rhythm, accompaniment but - in a linear way. You are undermining their individuality by squeezing them into kind of a chord structure with 'parallel' 5th and 8th.

In monophonic music you separate this functionality out into different entities. Accompaniment with bass and chords vs. one Melody!

A consecutive fifth is nothing rare for the base-harmony structure of a homophonic composition. It is rather welcome because just by the partial-tone structure of a note [1 8 5 8 3 5 7 8 etc.) you are fattening the sound when having a strong base of perfect intervals (1 4 5 8) and using e.g. consecutive 8th and 5th at the same time and so letting the other instruments or voices partial-tones resonate on 'behalf' of their invoker... ;-)

The first an second violins do actually a lot of 'unison' or '8ve-parallels' for the same reason.

And Mozart had Josef Haydn as his teacher, so you mustn't wonder why he was very 'musically' educated. So traditionally it was good practice to integrate Fugas and General-Bass into your composition - at least to show off ;-)

But the 'new world' in Mozart's days was definitely homophonic music!


As well as the education given to him by his father, Mozart studied counterpoint with Padre Martini in Bologna in 1770.

And of course he learnt that not all consecutive fifths are 'bad'.

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