I just played Mozart's Fantasia in D minor and I noticed at the Allegretto section in D major, an unnecessary and confusing bass clef. So I looked on IMSLP to see if any of the editions of Mozart's Fantasia in D minor have this unnecessary bass clef. Turns out that at least 3 of the editions on IMSLP have it, and they are all editions from the 1930s and later. Editions from the 1800s, I see no unnecessary bass clef, but I do see at the Alberti bass section, a large bass clef followed immediately by a small, courtesy, treble clef. Now that isn't as confusing as the unnecessary bass clef I see in editions from the 1930s and later. The editions that I looked at and that have the unnecessary bass clef are:

  • Unknown editor, no date, but looks similar in style to scores by the Mutopia Project
  • Mozart Album: Zongorára, 1951
  • Neue Mozart-Ausgabe, 1930-1995

All of which you can see here:


Here is an example of what I mean by an unnecessary and confusing bass clef taken from the Mozart Album edition:

enter image description here

The bass clef at the very end of the first volta is completely unnecessary, any decent pianist is going to know that the repeat starts in the bass clef and changes to the treble clef later on. But that isn't what makes this bass clef confusing. No, what makes it confusing is that it makes it look as though the Alberti bass starts in the bass clef on an F# minor harmony when in fact it starts in the treble clef on a D major harmony. If the editor just didn't put in this unnecessary bass clef, it would be very clear that the Alberti bass starts in the treble clef on a D major harmony.

So, why am I seeing this unnecessary and confusing bass clef almost universally in editions of Mozart's Fantasia in D minor from the 1930s and later? I have seen a lot of courtesy clefs and clef changes, but until I looked at this piece, I have never seen a case where a clef makes things more confusing.

  • Yeah they should have put those 2 measures into tenor clef (snark). Srsly: notice the inconsistency that the treble indicator in the upper line is after the measure bar but subsequent indicators are before the measure bar. Bad Typesetter! Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 15:22

5 Answers 5


That bass clef is necessary -- to indicate that the clef changes from treble to bass at the start of the second volta. Your argument that "any decent pianist is going to know" isn't valid, I'm afraid -- the change back to bass clef must be indicated.

And that bass clef doesn't affect the Alberti bass because the bass clef was in the first-time section, and the Alberti bass is in the second-time section.

  • But the second volta is right where the Alberti bass starts and if you listen to any recording of this piece, that is pretty clearly in the treble clef on a D major harmony, not in the bass clef on an F# minor harmony. And if you are talking about at the repeat before the second volta is played, the bass clef is unnecessary, because the large bass clef at the start of that repeat and the change to bass clef at the previous repeat both make it clear that at the repeat, it changes back to bass clef. Why else would I not be seeing this bass clef at the first volta in editions from the 1800s?
    – Caters
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 20:28
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    If that bass clef is truly necessary, the editions from the 1800s, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozarts Werke would have it. They don't, so that bass clef at the first volta is unnecessary.
    – Caters
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 20:30
  • @ Rosie F - That small bass clef in the 1st time bar has nothing to do with the 2nd time bar (which is clearly still in the treble clef).
    – Jomiddnz
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 1:47
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    @Jomiddnz I said that in the second para of my answer.
    – Rosie F
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 8:31
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    It is usual when changing clefs to add the new clef sign at the end of the bar before the change where they the two bars are not continuous in the score. This would be the case even where the new clef is on the next line of the score. The example seems typical and standard practice. .
    – PeterJ
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 12:15

The logical way to get rid of the bass clef is to get rid of the treble clef two bars before, but some editors think pianists can't read leger lines.

Then, a treble clef can go after the repeat barline, where it belongs.

That is was done in the first NMA edition (1878). However the editorial policy of the second NMA edition is more strictly "urtext", which means the original notation is reproduced even when by modern conventions it is illogical or even "wrong."

Your statement that the bass clef is not in the second NMA edition (on IMSLP) is incorrect. It is included as an editorial edition in brackets.

Editions with titles like "A Mozart Album" are usually worthless from a musicological point of view. So are anonymous contributions to crowd-sourced editions like Mutopia (which had grandiose ideas of taking over the entire world of music publishing, but never delivered them - it has only published about 2000 scores in its 20 year history).

Note also that computer notation software is often not very good at things like placing cautionary clefs after bar lines instead of before, and many users either don't know there is anything wrong, or don't know how to make the notation right. The logic that "it must be right because the computer did it that way" is nonsense, but depressingly common.

  • I never stated that it isn't in the NMA edition. What I did state is that it isn't in the earlier editions from the 1800s.
    – Caters
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 5:27
  • @Caters is there a manuscript? Has anyone checked it? Guest: 'The logic that "it must be right because the computer did it that way" is...depressingly common': this is even more true in other areas of endeavor, more's the pity. W.r.t. crowdsourcing, I'm singing a piece by Christopher Tye in an edition from the Choral Public Domain Library. It's truly awful: it seems like the editor ran out of steam, or time, in the last few pages. There are some good ones there too, of course, but it definitely requires some searching to find them. The ease of editing computer files has made us careless.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 15:46
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    According to the preface in my Henle edition, the autograph is lost. It was first published posthumously in 1804 as a fragment (the last 10 bars are missing) and in 1806 in a completed form. Henle also has the "spurious" bass clef, by the way.
    – Peter
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 15:57

...unnecessary and confusing bass clef

Maybe it is unnecessary because the bass clef is given at the beginning of the line, but even if it is unnecessary it is simply a courtesy.

It's only confusing if upon repeating and playing the second volta the first volta is read when it shouldn't be.

If you imagine what the score would look like for just the second repeat you get...

enter image description here

...the first volta is not there, there is clearly a clef change and volta 2's bass is treble clef.

Mistakenly reading the clef in volta 1 when playing volta 2 should not be consider a fault in the edition.

  • I replied to your comment on phoog's answer asking where the G clef would go if bars 15 and 16 are in the bass clef, but by the time I finished my reply, I saw that you deleted that comment that I was replying to.
    – Caters
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 17:41
  • Right, I deleted because I answered by own question: it can go after the barline. Which I agree is ideal. But that doesn't really matter about reading the particular edition you selected. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 18:21

It's correct usage of a cautionary clef. And yes, this is a case where breaking the rule and omitting it might well be clearer. (Though it might not be so clear if the repeat back had NOT been to the beginning of a line!)

Or perhaps we'd prefer this?

enter image description here


Why am I seeing this unnecessary and confusing bass clef?

It's obviously because the editor thought it helpful or necessary to remind the reader that the first measure of that repeated section is in bass clef. As a general rule it makes sense; consider the case where the first measure of the repeated section is not at the beginning of the staff. In that case it would be easier to miss the clef change.

It is indeed confusing that the clef change does not apply to the second ending. A solution would be to keep measures 15 and 16 in bass clef, as are 11 and 12, but 11 and 12 are already somewhat crowded, and 15 and 16 would be even more so.

Another solution would be to write the entire passage in tenor clef, or even alto clef, but that would be far more confusing to most modern pianists.

  • @MichaelCurtis It would go on bar 17, where the Alberti bass and thus the second volta starts. I see exactly that in some editions from the 1800s including the oldest edition I can find on IMSLP, the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozarts Werke edition.
    – Caters
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 17:38
  • C clefs are not confusing. For a pianist it just undo many years of sight-reading training.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 19:13
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    @NeilMeyer how is "undoing many years of sight-reading training" not confusing? A lot of pianists approaching this piece for the first time are unlikely even to know what a C clef is, and they will also be confused.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 17:12

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