How should I play the first trill in Mozart's Piano Sonata No.18 in D major, K.576 ?

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I am currently playing it like this:

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(or I may play it as a a triplet in thirty-second notes followed by the the two thirty-second notes as explicitly given for the termination of the trill. The tempo is quite fast so it is difficult to note a difference between this and the first case of a quintuplet in thirty-second notes)

However, my piano teacher noted that the trill should start on the auxiliary note (the note above the one indicated). I also found a similar statement in Wikipedia:

In the baroque period, [...] trills in this era are executed beginning on the auxiliary note, before the written note [...] Continuing through the time of Mozart, the default expectations for the interpretation of trills continued to be similar to those of the baroque. In music after the time of Mozart, the trill usually begins on the principal note.

2 Answers 2



Your teacher's advice is consistent with the evidence.

The most natural source to use is Leopold Mozart. You will find that his recommendation is that all such short trills should begin with an appoggiatura.

From chapter ten which discusses trills:

Mit einem schnellen Vorschläge und Nachschläge spielt man alle kurze Triller.

That is, in this context, all short trills are played with appoggiatura and turn.

C. P. E. Bach is exhaustive and of great historic importance but should perhaps not take precedence over Mozart's father in this case. At any rate, he disparages beginning on the principal note.

Whether you play the flute or not, it is also very beneficial to read the essay by Quantz.

In your example, choosing the upper note start, you would play six notes or four, depending on the tempo. When the tempo chosen is most rapid, I am sure I have heard celebrated performers use only four. For example, I seem to remember Barenboim did this, simply adding an appoggiatura to the notated figure.

Added 8th May

There has been discussion in comments concerning the historical basis to beginning with the principal note. The question is: what evidence of the practice do we have from Mozart's lifetime applicable to trills like those in the OP?

A colleague has alerted me to the book Perspectives on Mozart Performance (1991) which contains an article by Badura-Skoda on Mozart's trills. This article discusses internal evidence in Mozart's works relating to the choice of trill execution: presence or absence of turn, presence or absence of appoggiatura, and so on.

I will not have an opportunity to consult this work at the library until next week. In the meantime, if any reader has it, please leave a comment.


A comment about Wiener Urtext edition raised the question of how we might decide for ourselves whether to start on the upper or principal note. Frederick Neumann in his Ornamentation and Improvisation in Mozart (1986) proposes this algorithm:

1) a trill starting with the upper note on the beat has the effect of a short appoggiatura; 2) a trill starting with a lengthened upper note has the effect of a long appoggiatura; 3) a trill starting with the upper note before the beat has the effect of a grace note. We find guidance by leaving out the trill and judging whether one of these ornaments would be a desirable addition to the bare melody; if so, the corresponding trill type is likely to be the proper or at least an acceptable choice. Where none of these ornaments seems to fit, the main-note trill is indicated. Where no clear-cut choice between one or more of the alternatives emerges, more than one trill design will be fitting.

This algorithm still leaves room for difference of opinion in whether the substituted ornament is acceptable.

  • Thanks for the historical references! I am still not completely sure that I should start on the upper note. I checked my Wiener Urtext edition, and it says "Generally trills begin with the upper neighboring tone, but sometimes they begin with the principal tone; decisions must be made on the basis of the music itself." . Also the Schirmer edition from 1893 actually writes out the trill as a quintuplet in thirty-second notes starting on the principal note Commented May 5, 2018 at 7:07
  • 1
    Schirmer editions are notorious for outmoded editorial practice and can be discounted. Wiener Urtext is a better name altogether. Their advice is not useful to a student without further guidance, of course. The most common reason for choosing the principal note is when descending by step to a trill, when beginning with an appoggiatura would repeat the preceding note. At any rate, I believe they are discussing trills generally, whereas Leopold Mozart's advice relates specifically to short trills identical to your example, so I believe he still takes precedence here.
    – user48353
    Commented May 5, 2018 at 7:17
  • Albeit I think barenboim is a really great musician, I think he should not be consulted in piano playing questions -- he often plays pieces in an easy way.
    – tommsch
    Commented May 6, 2018 at 6:36

Whatever the rules might be, surely context has to be an important consideration (after all, rules are made to be broken!). In this passage, starting on the upper note (D in the first trill) sounds fussy to me, and also less effective as it ends up resolving on the same D. Playing it as a quintuplet starting on the principle note sounds and feels more natural. That's my suggestion - you must decide for yourself what feels and sounds best. According to the KV number, it is late Mozart, so the tradition of trilling from the upper note would be becoming obsolete somewhere near that time anyway.

  • Can you cite a source for the assertion about the tradition of trilling from the upper note becoming obsolete late in Mozart's life? It is a widely followed practice today to trill from the upper note even in Beethoven. Hummel claimed he was breaking with previous practice in starting with the upper note, and that publication was at least a generation after Mozart's death.
    – user48353
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 4:13
  • You misquote me. I didn't say " becoming obsolete late in Mozart's life". I said " would be becoming obsolete somewhere near that time". Quite different. Beethoven's three Op. 2 sonatas were written in 1795 (just 4 years after Mozart's death). There are examples here where starting on either the upper or the principle are relevant, reinforcing my point above about context.
    – Jomiddnz
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 8:34
  • My copy of the sonatas (Royal Schools of Music with notes by Donald Tovey), while hardly recent, can't be dismissed so easily. Tovey gives both options for the trill in b. 85 (Sonata 1, first movt.) The trill in the Trio of Sonata 2, Scherzo, is clearly started on the principle note in performances by Jeno Jando, Ashkenazy, and most interestingly, Ronald Brautigam of period performance fame, to name just three great pianists.
    – Jomiddnz
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 8:35
  • Finally, I am confused by your statement that "Hummel claimed he was breaking with previous practice in starting with the upper note". That surely means that the previous practice was to start with the lower note and he was breaking it by starting with the upper. Could you clarify your meaning please.
    – Jomiddnz
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 8:35
  • I changed your wording to within Mozart's life because we are commenting on a Mozart sonata. For establishing what he intended, changes of practice after he died are irrelevant, while evidence of the old practice continuing after his death is not. I worded my comment about Hummel's manual of the 1820s quite wrongly: he recommended beginning trills on the principal note, rather than with the upper note which he said was previously fashionable.
    – user48353
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 11:20

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