Serenade in C minor K388

From Wind Repertory Project
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (ed. Leeson and Zaslaw)

This work is also known as the K384a and/or Serenade No. 12 in C minor.

General Info

Year: 1782 / 1979 (approximately)
Duration: c. 23:10
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Bärenreiter
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - €10.25


1. Allegro - 11:25
2. Andante - 4:05
3. Menuetto in Canone - 4:15
4. Allegro - 3:35


Oboe I-II
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II
Horn in E-flat I-II
Bassoon I-II


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

The Serenade, K.388 is one of Mozart's most puzzling and mysterious works. It is orchestrated for an ensemble that is traditionally employed for light entertainment, yet it is defiantly dark in its character. Musicologists are not even truly certain when it was composed, although watermark research and other evidence have placed the composition at circa 1782. It has been assigned the Koechel number 384a in order to approximate composition date.

Another puzzle is its form: In Mozart's day, a serenade would have consisted of a series of loosely-connected movements in dance meters, typically five or more. The c-minor serenade, however, has only four movements, making the work basically a symphony for wind octet. Mozart obviously thought highly of the work: in 1788 he transcribed it for string quintet (K.406). The K.388 is unforgiving in its seriousness, and therefore not suitable for background music at a dinner or a dance; it is not likely to have been played often in Mozart's day. In an ironic twist, despite its somber demeanor throughout, the Serenade ends in a triumphant C Major.

- Program Note by Nikk Pilato

Although the period of Harmoniemusik activity spans from 1760 to 1837, this musical tradition enjoyed its most considerable popularity in Vienna and Prague around 1780-1800. The roots of Viennese Harmoniemusik stem from the French practice of excerpting the best-loved parts of an opera or ballet (or several disparate works), re-arranging them for the available instrumental forces, and performing them as musical entertainments in the French courts. Prior to 1782, these ensembles consisted primarily of three pairs of instruments, usually oboes, bassoons and horns.

In 1782, Emperor Joseph II, who delighted in the timbres of wind instruments, established the Kaiserlich-Königliche Harmonie, setting the standard instrumentation of pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns. This Viennese configuration was quickly emulated by Maximillian Franz, Elector of Bonn (and the Emperor’s brother) and by several other noble families in the region. Although opera and ballet transcriptions were the mainstays of Harmonie repertoire, many original works were composed as well. While the majority of these were loose collections of dance movements with titles such as '"Serenade,” “Cassation” or “Divertimento," works with the title “Parthia” often followed a more symphonic, four-movement form.

Mozart contributed three compositions to the original Harmonie repertoire: Serenade No. 10/n B flat Major, K. 361/370, Serenade No. 11 in F-flat Major, K. 375, and Serenade No. 12 in C minor, K. 388/384a. These pieces remain the archetypal realization of the ensemble’s inherent musical possibilities. Although all were written within a rather short period (1781-1784) coinciding with the formation of the Kaiserlich-Königliche Harmonie, there is still much scholarly debate as to the exact dates (and therefore, order) of their composition.

The Serenade No. 12 in C Minor K. 388/384a is most likely written in late 1782 or 1783. This serenade is the only serenade or divertimento set in a minor key and employs somber conflicts and dramatic juxtapositions of emotion found in his most serious and mature works, while closely following the tight-knit, four-movement symphonic form.

Mozart left no indication of the compositional circumstances surrounding K. 388/384a. As musicologist Alfred Einstein noted, “We know nothing about the occasion, nothing about the person who commissioned it, nothing about whether this client desired so explosive a serenade or whether that is simply what poured from Mozart’s soul.” However, scholar Robert W. Gutman posits that the Serenade in C Minor, in all likelihood too serious for Emperor Joseph’s tastes, might have been intended for Prince Alois Joseph Liechtenstein, a musical connoisseur, who ruled his lands by proxy while living in Vienna.

Without preamble, Mozart launches into the opening movement with dramatic flair. The phrases of the first key area of this sonata form are closely argued, creating an almost neurotic shift in emotional quality, which finds resolution only as the transition to the second key area commences. The second key area, in E-flat major, contains a singular, more restive oboe theme, augmented by the horn. The fiery debate is re-established during the transition to the close, finding conclusive rest in the final cadence of the exposition. The brief development makes use of canon, which traverses the keys of B flat and E flat major as well as G minor before returning to C minor tonic. In the recapitulation, the transition is elongated, allowing for a C minor second theme, transforming the once restive oboe melody into something far more brooding in nature.

The second movement, a sonata form in 3/8, has a gracious and delicate affect. The E flat major theme in the clarinets contains suspensions reminiscent of the more gentle phrases in the first key area of the previous movement. The second theme, especially in its embellished repetition, is the most light-hearted melody of the work, with the possible exception of the last variation of the finale. In the transition to the close of the exposition, the murmuring clarinets herald the return to the nocturne-like atmosphere while the oboe continues the melody. The development unfolds as a series of “unsuccessful” attempts to return to the tonic theme, attaining E flat major only upon the fourth try.

The minuet, labeled “in canone,” masterfully displays Mozart’s contrapuntal skill. The oboes commence, with the bassoons following one measure later. The clarinets take up the chase in the second section of the minuet, initiating a false return after the emphatic conclusion of their melody. Further demonstrating his contrapuntal acumen, Mozart composes the trio in double canon wherein the second voice is an inversion of the first. Mozart employs only four voices in the trio -- the oboes and bassoons.

The finale is a theme and variations form, which recaptures the brooding sensibility of the first movement, maintaining it through the first four variations. The intensity of variations one and four act as bookends for the more subdued oboe variation in triplets and off-beat variation for oboe II and bassoon. In the fifth variation, the horns literally signal a shift to E flat major, recapturing, for a moment, the lighter mood of the second movement. The sixth variation, returning to minor, showcases the bassoon in obbligato support of the melody in oboe l and II. The momentum eases off in the seventh variation, wherein the clarinet’s skeletonized and rhythmically stretched melody allows for a series of “sighs” and harmonic intensification. The movement closes with an ebullient final variation in C major.

- Program Note by Brian K. Doyle for Temple University Wind Symphony: Chamber Winds concert program, 15 July 2015

Serenade No. 12 in C Minor, K 388/384a (1782) was composed during a time where daytime entertainment music was often called a “divertimento,” while nighttime entertainment music bore the label “serenade.” Mozart’s own notes call this work Nacht Musique, an unusual mixture of German and French. Regardless of label, this is hardly light entertainment music. In form, it has been characterized as “a symphony for wind octet.” In substance, it has been called “austere,” “puzzling,” “mysterious,” “problematical,” “defiantly dark” in character and “unforgiving in its seriousness.” Mozart regarded this composition highly, for he used it in two later works. He transcribed it for string quintet in K.406, and he borrowed the principal melody of the second movement for his opera Cosi fan tutte. Whatever dark mystery Mozart may have intended this work to explore seems lifted by the Serenade’s triumphant ending in the key of C Major.

- Program Notes from Illinois State University Wind Symphony concert program, 28 October 2016


Commercial Discography

State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • East Carolina University (Greenville, N.C.) Symphonic Wind Ensemble (William Staub, conductor) - 20 September 2023
  • Indiana University (Bloomington) Chamber Winds (Daniel Johnson, conductor) - 18 March 2021
  • United States Coast Guard Band (New London, Conn.) (Jeffrey Spenner, conductor) - 21 March 2021
  • Butler University (Indianapolis, Ind.) Wind Ensemble (Michael Colburn, conductor) - 11 March 2021
  • Missouri State University (Springfield) Wind Ensemble (John Zastoupil, conductor) - 17 November 2020
  • Ball State University (Muncie, Ind.) Wind Ensemble (Thomas Caneva, conductor) - 20 March 2020
  • Ohio University (Athens) Wind Symphony Chamber Players (William Talley, conductor) – 4 March 2020
  • Ithaca (N.Y.) College Wind Ensemble (Christopher Hughes, conductor) – 3 March 2020
  • Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Mallory Thompson, conductor) – 31 January 2020
  • University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) Wind Ensemble (unconducted) – 6 November 2019
  • University of Cincinnati (Ohio) College-Conservatory of Music Chamber Winds (Kevin Michael Holzman, conductor) – 31 October 2019
  • Illinois State University (Normal) Wind Symphony (Joe Manfredo, conductor) – 16 October 2019
  • Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Mallory Thompson, conductor) – 9 June 2019
  • Southern Oregon University (Ashland) Wind Ensemble (Cynthia Hutton, conductor) – 6 June 2019
  • Randolph-Macon College (Ashland, Va.) Ensemble (Brian Coffill, conductor) – 27 March 2019
  • Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, Minn.) Wind Symphony (James Patrick Miller, conductor) - 16 March 2019
  • California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Wind Ensemble (Christopher J. Woodruff, conductor) – 10 March 2019
  • Gonzaga University (Spokane, Wash.) Wind Ensemble (Robert Spittal, conductor) – 18 November 2018
  • Pacific Lutheran University (Parkland, Wash.) Wind Ensemble (Edwin Powell, conductor) – 18 November 2018
  • Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.) Wind Symphony (James Spinazzola, conductor) – 6 May 2018
  • Baldwin-Wallace College (Berea, Ohio) Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble (Brendan Caldwell, conductor) – 25 April 2018

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