I am arranging the Moonlight Sonata for woodwind quartet. The adagio and the minuet are simple enough to transcribe note for note. But the presto, that is hard. I mean there are super fast arpeggios and alberti bass in there. I realize I won't get all the notes in just a woodwind quartet. I would need an orchestra to be able to transcribe all the notes. But how can I go from something like this:

a piano solo performance of the 3rd movement, to something for woodwind quartet? What about the notes below the bassoon's range, should I raise the whole bassoon part up an octave? How should I go about the super fast arpeggios? I really need some help transcribing this presto movement. I have been told by 1 person to not do it but I mean if I can do the adagio and the minuet with very few modifications, I should be able to transcribe the Presto as well.


For the first and second movements I have done this while transcribing it:

Bass notes lower than Bb below the staff --- Raise bassoon part by an octave(in fact, in the first movement, all but the last few notes in the bassoon part are up an octave from the corresponding bass note on the piano.

Octaves in the bass clef --- Clarinet takes upper part of the octave, bassoon takes lower part of the octave

Lower treble line or in the case of the first movement, the triplets --- Oboe takes this part

Highest line -- Flute takes this part

Ending measures ---- All instruments play in octaves and chords.

With the Presto, not only is it faster but it tends towards arpeggios and alberti bass instead of clear melodic and bass lines. The reason I have clarinet doubling bassoon is because it can go lower than the oboe can. One thing I have been doing is writing it in concert pitch(If I left it with the clarinet transposed from concert pitch as usual, the clarinet part would have 7 sharps and 7 sharps is rare to find for any instrument, even for piano, but it is especially rare for woodwinds).

  • Food for thought: try singing or humming the 3rd movement of the Moonlight Sonata and hear how distinct you can make each melody note. They weren't that distinct? There's a complication in making a woodwind arrangement convincing.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 16:17
  • could you provide us with an extract of how you have gone about the transcription? I don't understand why a piano piece with two main voice should be difficult to transcribe for four-parts.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 16:38
  • I don't thing transcribing is the word you want. It sounds like you are arranging a piece which is a much bigger topic and depends on many, many factors.
    – Dom
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 18:41
  • 1
    But isn't transcription a form of arranging where you take the notes roughly as in the original and arrange it for a different set of instruments? That is what I have been doing for the first and second movements of the Moonlight Sonata.
    – Caters
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 19:08
  • 2
    So, the oboe plays about 260 adagio triplets without pause? The oboist will hate you! Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 8:10

3 Answers 3


Let me offer one basic principle. Separate the melodies from the textures. The melodies can and probably should be transcribed literally. But don't be frightened to substitute pianistic textures with ones appropriate to wind instruments. For example, arpeggio patterns are effective as harmonic 'filler' on piano. Repeated notes or even sustained notes may be more appropriate in your transcription. A piano can't make a long note interesting. Wind instruments can.


forget the arpeggios and the 16th!

Depending of their skills the bass instrument may play any longer notes or just the left hand of the piano (root and fifth in 8th notes) the upper voices playing triads and their inversions in quarters (the last two 8th of the motive can be played as they are written.)

  1. soprano, alt and tenor starting from the second beat of bars 1 (first beat a quarter rest) (The melody in the soprano will be heard as: 1 mi la do, mi la do mimi if the instruments don't have the range of G#3 to G#5 they can go down an octave in the 2nd bar.

an other possibility could be:

  1. bass as above, tenor and alt playing thirds in 16th (tremolo) soprano plays the line of thecbroken chord as shown above in quarters (or eights - you can choose your own row of chord tones - just as you like)

a version that would be satisfying to me:

the soprano will play in 8th notes having a rest of one 8th in the first bar:(starting at C#4)

/, la,do,mi,la,do,mi,la do,mi,la,do mi_mi_

each group of 4 eighth notes starts a 6th lower, the last 2 notes are 2 quarters

most audience only knows the 1. section of the moonlight sonata, they won't be irritated by this - if they even realize the differences of the arrangement at all - more than the obvious difference that actual there are fagots and clarinets playing and not a piano.


This depends a lot on the ability of the players. If they're professional-level musicians, then I would think that the arpeggios in the presto would actually be pretty easy for whoever you give the top part to. Arpeggios are something that they've practiced over and over. I would think that the technically difficult part, if transcribed literally, would be at bars 9-13 (top part) and 57-64 (bass part), where you have 16th notes alternating between the melody and a sustained tone above. This is not particularly idiomatic for winds, and if this is for amateur musicians then I would just eliminate the sustained tone. The note is there anyway in a different part in another octave. The difficulty of the alternating 16th notes may depend a lot on exactly what notes they are, in the key in which you choose to do the transcription. I would check with someone who actually plays the instrument and see if there is a particular key that makes this part relatively easy to play. E.g., dropping down an octave across the break at this tempo may just not work -- they may let out the register key but the note may not drop.

I would be more concerned about the opening adagio. The very long strings of triplets without an opportunity to breathe are going to be horrific for winds. The people playing the bass can cheat by breathing at the end of some measures, but their parts are going to be extremely boring. The breathing problems are somewhat mitigated because it's pianissimo, but still, this is just idiomatic piano music.

This piece actually seems to me like it would be much better suited for transcription to a string quartet rather than a wind quartet.

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