Mozart's ten sets of German Dances are among his many occasional pieces. Nearly all of them were intended for court functions in Vienna, generally for the balls held in the famous Redoutensaal of the Vienna Hofburg. Mozart's first set of German Dances dates from February, 1787. After his appointment to Court Kammermusiker (court Chamber Music Composer) in December 1787, Mozart's output of dance music would increase. There are two sets of German Dances from 1788, two from 1789, and three from the first two months of 1791.
It seems Mozart and his contemporaries used the term, "Deutsche" (German Dance), as a generic expression. Often it meant the same thing as "Allemande," but eventually came to be replaced by the titles of the two genres it usually signified: the Ländler and the waltz. Examples from the 1780s are generally in triple meter with two repeated phrases of eight measures in length, usually with a da capo. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert composed numerous German Dances for various ensembles for use at court balls. Nearly all of them are in major keys.
By February 5, 1791, the date Mozart entered the four German Dances, K. 602, in his "List of All my Works," the composer had fulfilled half of his compositional obligations as Kammermusiker. By early March, he would be finished. Probably intended for the Carnival festivities of early March, the German Dances, K. 602, are scored for two each of flute, oboe, clarinet bassoon, horn trumpet, violin, and timpani, with one each of piccolo, contrabass and hurdy-gurdy. Each dance is coupled with a Trio section in the same key, except for that of No. 4 (in A major), which has a Trio in the tonic minor. After each Trio, the players are directed to return to the dance. The four dances were meant to be linked with the four Minuets, K. 601.
In many ways, the most tightly constructed of the set, No. 1, in B flat major, lacks oboes and trumpets, creating a warm timbre. The first eight-measure phrase amounts to two soundings of a four-measure idea, the second one varied. The contrasting second part begins with four measures of new material before closing with the four-measure idea from the first phrase, minuet-style. The Trio is much lighter, opening piano with the bassoon doubling the first violin on a new melody. The full ensemble enters forte for the Trio's second half, which is unrelated to the first and features a chromatic melody that suggests B flat minor.
For the second dance, in F major, Mozart replaces the clarinets with oboes and abandons the flutes. The first violin takes the leaping, decorated melody, sharing it with the second violin only at the end. As in No. 1, the second half of the dance ends with a return of the closing measures of the first half. The Trio, with a lively melody in the bassoon and first violin, is similarly rounded.
The third dance, in C major, is unusual because it contains a full, eight-measure second phrase followed by a complete return of the first phrase, distorting the traditional proportions of the German Dance. This section is not marked to be repeated. The Trio is more predictable and much lighter in texture, with both melodies in the hurdy-gurdy, giving the number a novel sound. Mozart's writing for the instrument is idiomatic, with droning open fifths accompanying the tune.
Flutes and clarinets return in the last of the dances, set in a bright A major. Mozart adds the piccolo and trumpets for the Trio, which contains probably the most melodically static theme he ever wrote.
- German Dance in B flat major
- German Dance in F major
- German Dance in C major ("The Organ Grinder")
- German Dance in A major