So, I am trying a second time to arrange K 545 for a string quartet. I think my second draft is better harmonically speaking than my previous attempt to arrange the same sonata. But there is a whole movement that makes it a tad difficult to arrange for string quartet. That would be the second Andante movement. And here is why the Andante is more difficult to arrange than the Allegro and Allegretto movements.

The Allegro and Allegretto both go into a 4 voice texture sometimes. The Andante however is like exclusively in a 3 voice texture, with those voices being:

  • Upper voice - Melody
  • Middle voice - Alberti bass except for the lowest note
  • Lower voice - Bass line formed from lowest notes of the Alberti bass

And these voices fit conveniently into 3 out of 4 instruments in the quartet. The melody, I would be giving to the first violin. The middle and lower voices fit very well into the cello and viola. That leaves the second violin with basically none of Mozart's original notes except in a few chords. But, I can't just leave it out of the movement entirely, otherwise I will get a lot of feedback along these lines:

If your arrangement of the Andante is basically a trio, then why did you arrange for a string quartet in the first place?!

Can't you add a harmony part for the second violin to play? This is obviously one of those cases where you have to add notes to the original score.

So, I have to add a harmony part for the second violin. This is where the difficulty lies. I obviously would want to lean towards either parallel thirds and sixths or contrary motion and minimize parallel fourths, parallel fifths, and octave doublings. Quite a few people have told me that I shouldn't have the second violin go over the melody in the first violin. This limits my contrary motion by quite a bit. In my previous draft, I used contrary motion for measures like this one:

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The problem I came across there though had to do with voice crossing(I was going in mostly parallel thirds before, so maybe that's why) between the 2 violins. The ideal voicing of the second violin in terms of avoiding voice crossing, if I wanted to use contrary motion and keep it consonant with the harmony would be:

G3 B3 D4

However, that makes the violin go into the very bottom of its range and I have heard that it isn't ideal for that to happen. If I go any higher though, I will either get a unison or voice crossing, neither of which is good. Voice crossing is obviously a bad thing to have happen because it makes the melody sound a bit more static instead of the way it is supposed to sound. Having a unison though is also bad if it is just the 2 violins in unison. I have been told something along these lines when it comes to violins in unison:

If you have 3 or more violins, you can have them in unison with no worries. If you have just 2 violins though, a unison is horrible because of slight tuning differences between the 2 violins. If a situation comes across where you can't avoid a unison between the 2 violins, then have the viola and cello be either in unison with the violins or in octaves so that the tuning differences aren't audible.

So, how can I make it easier for me to write the harmony part for the second violin in the second movement?

  • Alberti bass is actually 3 voices, it is an arpeggio figuration of harmonies with 3 voices. Oct 26, 2019 at 20:34
  • @LarsPeterSchultz Well, I separate the Alberti bass into 2 voices, a bass line and then a second voice of alternating notes that plays everything except the bass line, And I personally don't relate Alberti bass to arpeggios in all but one situation. That situation being arpeggios going up or down in an arpeggiated fashion. On the one hand, you can break down that figuration into arpeggios as usual. So something like: C E G, E G C, G C E, C E G On the other hand, you can also break it down into overlapping Alberti bass like this: G E G C, C G C E, E C E G
    – Caters
    Oct 26, 2019 at 20:55
  • I just applied the term "arpeggio" in the sense meaning a broken chord, an arpeggiated accompaniment. An Alberti bass simply means that the chords are played as arpeggios, or broken chords. Bur what you call it doesn't really matter. It is very typically for Alberti bass that it is based on 3 voiced chords. You can of course play it on only two string instruments, well even on one. Oct 26, 2019 at 21:38
  • When I hear the term "arpeggio", to me, it is much more specific than just a broken chord. A broken chord, obviously is any chord that isn't played as a block chord. This could mean anything from alternating pairs of notes to Alberti bass and everything in between. But when I hear the term "arpeggio", I don't just think of a broken chord but a very specific broken chord, where everything ascends or descends in order. Thus, I don't think of Alberti bass as being an "arpeggio" since it is Low, High, Middle, High, and not ascending or descending in order.
    – Caters
    Nov 2, 2019 at 3:35
  • Well, Alberti bass is a special type of an arpeggiated accompaniment. It is arpeggiated exactly the way you described it: Low, High, Middle, High. Nov 2, 2019 at 11:23

3 Answers 3


@Caters Here is an image from Mozart's quartet in D for flute, violin, viola and cello. From the second movement. The strings are playing pizzicato:

Fraction from Mozart quartet for flute, violin, viola and cello You could divide the notes in a similar way with the Alberti bass, the viola and cello on the beat followed by the 2nd violin with 3 sixteenth notes, thus you get all players in the quartet involved.

  • So, instead of having the second violin harmonize the melody, which I did in my first draft and found to be tricky to be consonant with both the melody and the harmony, while also sounding like a countermelody, I could simply have the viola harmonize the bass line and have the sixteenths played by the second violin and have the melody played by the first violin? That sounds way easier than the countermelody option I went with in my first draft(where the sixteenths are played by the viola and the second violin tries to stay consonant with both the main melody and the harmony).
    – Caters
    Oct 26, 2019 at 22:02
  • And I already figured I should have the bass line be played pizzicato, except for where there are long notes or dynamics at mezzo-forte or louder, so as to not overwhelm the sixteenth notes.
    – Caters
    Oct 26, 2019 at 22:04
  • I didn't mean the viola to play the bass line. In the Mozart example the bass line is in the cello. The viola plays another note from the chord. Oct 26, 2019 at 22:04
  • That's why I said that with your suggestion, the viola would be harmonizing the bass line. The original bass line would of course be played by the cello.
    – Caters
    Oct 26, 2019 at 22:06
  • Oh, yes of course. Oct 26, 2019 at 22:08

Far from an experienced composer/arranger, nor am I a string musician, but based on what I've heard in classical repertoire, having the second violin play as low as G below middle C isn't necessarily a bad thing, although it does add some special flavor to the music, in my opinion more espressivo and passionate, in fact, a lot of composers have used it in their pieces. But that depends on how you want your arrangement to sound, and I'm guessing, like me, you can't tell accurately how their arrangement would sound like without actually hearing it. (Otherwise you won't be asking the question, right?)

About your arrangement, though, I have a coupe little ideas: 1. Bar 9, 2nd Violin: 1 16th rest followed by three 16th notes G and then one 8th note G, similar to the famous motif from the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. If the second violin part in the previous bars is mostly 3rd or 6th doubling of the first violin, this could give a nice variation.

  1. When the harmony stays the same, the second violin plays the same note instead of moving in parallel or contrary motion with the first. For instance, bar 5 second violin could just play D repeatedly. The following bar is in the chord of G major, which allows further repetition of the same D, though for the last note of the phrase I would have the first violin play octave double stop and the second play the B above the first violin's lower G.

  2. In Camille's answer, he said you could alternate the melody between two violins. Here I would like to give a concrete example based on how I would achieve that. In bar 7, you may have the first violin play quarter notes A F# D and the 2nd play the rest of melody. And then you could have the 2nd violin continue to play the ending of the phrase (B C B A), while the first respond with the eighth notes D C# C. You may also have the first play an extra D which overlaps with the second violin's last A.


In order of simplicity:

Omit the second violin. (I can't think offhand of a quartet other than my own that omits particular instruments in a movement, but the symphonic repertoire is full of spectacular examples. Use those to answer anyone who complains.)

Alternate the melody between the two violins.

Sometimes double the simplified melody an octave higher, holding notes like pianistic "finger pedaling." Mozart's piano sonatas often have melodic passages in octaves.

Sometimes add finger pedaling to the non-bass notes of the Alberti bass, perhaps an octave higher, pianissimo.

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