Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was known for having periods or even years in which he composed a certain genre of music. The years 1842-1843 have become known as the chamber music years in which he composed three string quartets, the piano quintet and the piano quartet opus 47 which is the subject of the present analysis. 

I have tried to make the text also understandable for music amateurs who want to get a better understanding of the music they play, or for that matter listen to. Therefore I sometimes include the approach I used to examen and analyse certain sections. 


I want to thank Menno Dekker –  my former professor at the conservatory of Amsterdam – for the very useful discussions I have had with him about this analysis. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to drink in upon his incredible knowledge of music theory.


Practical information


In this text a lot of references are made to the score of the piano quartet. This is done by means of an identification of the movement and the measure number within that movement. Ideally you have a score with measure numbers at your disposal. A score can easily be downloaded from IMSLP. 

In general notes on analysis you can find some remarks on abbreviations, notation and concepts. Some books that I have been consulting can be found in consulted literature. At least all references made to literature in the notes should relate to entries in the consulted literature. The musical examples are made in Musescore 3.

I’m still trying to find a proper way to show figures as pop-up when hovering over the text “fig.x”, but haven’t found it yet. For now whenever a reference is made to a figure I linked the picture and it opens in a new tab. Not ideal but it is the best I can think of for now.



Table of contents

The table of contents gives an overview of this analysis and allows you to access the mentioned subjects with just one mouse click.


First movement: Sostenuto assai – Allegro ma non troppo

Getting a feeling off the global structure

When trying to discover a (not to mention the) structure of this first movement we might just listen to it and perhaps have the score at hand while listening. To be honest, when listening to a piece of this era I always have the sonata form structure at the back of my head. 

At first site and listening there are probably already a few major landmarks that draw our attention. Remember that this is a piece in E-flat major the home key of the quartet and thus of this movement.

The movement begins with a slow introduction Sostenuto assai, mm.1-12 (fig.1) and then an exuberant Allegro ma non troppo bursts out (m.13). A lot of different things happen and then the slow introduction recurs (Sostenuto, m.125). Here you might wonder: is this the repetition of the exposition? However, the end of the sostenuto (m.135) with the A natural and the key change at the beginning of the Allegro make clear that this is not the case. The ‘sonata form-mind’ suggests that this is the beginning of the development section. 

The climax in mm.208-212 and again a key change back to three flats (E-flat major, m.213) suggest another major turning point in this movement, and indeed the ‘sonata form-mind’ might suspect the recapitulation. Again a lot of things happen and we might recognize motives and themes from the exposition. Then one last surprise catches our attention: the più agitato at the end of m.320. A clear feeling that the end of the movement is nearby emerges and indeed after a final reminiscence of the main motive (mm.338-346) the movement comes to an end. I think this più agitato is a coda.

So far so good! The main elements of the three part model of the sonata form have been indicated (exposition – development – recapitulation) but there are other elements of the sonata form that have not been mentioned yet. So what about the transition and second theme group or second tonal area (STA)?[1]First tonal area (FTA) and Second tonal area (STA) are terms introduced in Steven G. Laitz, The Complete Musician: An Integrated Approach to Theory, Analysis and Listening (4th Ed (New York [etc.]: Oxford University Press, 2016), 632.

To find those an investigation in the exposition is needed as this is the part in which they would typically appear first (the other part being the recapitulation).

Looking for rest points or changes of texture the first spot to consider is the ritardando and Tempo I in mm.25-26 (fig.3). From the third beat of m.25 onwards a transition is being made to f minor (the super tonic (ii) of E-flat major) and then in m.26 the opening motive is repeated in f minor. So this might be the start of a transition but when looking ahead at mm.34-35 (fig. 5) we find ourselves wrong-footed. In these measures we find a perfect authentic cadence (PAC) in E-flat major, so back we are in the home key of the movement. 

Could m.35 be the start of something new? There certainly is a change of texture with the running quavers and then the lyric theme in the cello. However, the key is still E-flat major, and the motive (as we will see later) is the main motive in a legato form. 

So on we move to a half cadence (HC) again in E-flat major in mm.51-52 (fig.6). This is followed by a repetition of the opening statement of the Allegro ma non troppo (m.13) which ends in another PAC in E-flat major in mm.63-64 (fig.8).

Thus so far there have been some variations of the main motive and some excursions to different keys but in the end we return safe and sound to the opening theme in the home key of E-flat major.

But then from m.64 second beat onwards there appears to be something really different from the preceding material. The start is in D major which turns out to be the dominant of g minor (m.65). g minor can both be seen as the mediant of E-flat and as the relative minor of B-flat. Why B-flat? B-flat is the dominant of E-flat and the ‘sonata form-mind’ at least wonders if we will encounter something of a second theme group in B-flat. Looking at the ascending scale motive (mm.64-65): this is also completely different from the motives we have seen thus far.   

So where are we? Is m.64 the start of the transition? Could be. But then of course the question is: a transition to what? The answer to that question is not obvious. If we stick to the assumption that the development starts in m.125 then somewhere in the passage between m.64 and m.125 must be the point where the transition leads to. This is hard to find. The ascending scale motive pervades the whole passage. Harmonically the passage goes off in g minor and after quite some wandering it stabilizes on B-flat major. The first imperfect authentic cadence (IAC) in B-flat can be found in mm.104-105 and a firm PAC in B-flat major we find in mm.118-119. But the function of the B-flat major chord changes immediately in the dominant of E-flat in m.121 and the introduction of the development has started. 

So if we want to see m.64 as the start of the transition, then it is a transition that leads to … the development. So no second tonal area (STA) in this movement. Remarkable!

Table 1 gives the overview of the first movement as far as we know it now.

What follows is a more detailed analysis that will start with the slow introduction and the first tonal area.

A more detailed analysis

The slow introduction

Figure 1 shows a reduction of the slow introduction (mm.1-12). The form is clearly a 3+3+6 sentence. [2]The concept of sentence as theme type can originally be found in Arnold Schönberg, Gerald Strang, and Leonard Stein. Fundamentals of Musical Composition (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), 21 and is further explored in William E. Caplin, Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven (New York [ect.]: Oxford University Press, 1998), 37-39.

Although deviating from the standard 2+2+4 sentence structure the ratios are the same: 1:1:2. The basic idea is stated in mm.1-3 in the tonic and the repetition in mm.4-6 is in the dominant. This is called a statement-response type sentence. The continuation and cadential (mm.7-12) consists harmonically of a predominant (PD) – dominant (D) progression and ends in a HC: a question mark and invitation for the main theme in the Allegro ma non troppo. Roman numerals between brackets indicate a chord with a function related to the chord to come. So in m.8 the (V65) is a dominant seventh chord for the IV to come.

In mm.9-12 Schumann uses liquidation (i.e. eliminating characteristic features of the motives until there is only a dominant chord progression left [mm.11-12]). 

In mm.8-10 the E-flat is a common tone (made green in fig.1), used in the progression from the predominant IV to the ivMD chord (a chord with modal mixture, see concepts) and firmly establishing the home key. The soprano and bass make a stepwise contrary motion which leads the IV to ivMD.

Some other characteristic features can be pointed out. First of all the minor six leap in m.1 in the bass. It feels like the piece starts of the ground (I6), more or less floating in stead of beginning with a firmly grounded I. This leap becomes an octave leap, but the gesture is the same. We will encounter this gesture later on in the movement as well.

And then there is the motivic material to look at. Figure 2 shows two motives a1 and a2 in the presentation of the sentence. The motive a1 might be called the neighbor note motive. The two motives are each others mirror images except for the last note (B-flat) in motive a2: it has a much more open character which leads to the continuation of the sentence.

The Main Theme or First Tonal Area (FTA)

FTA: First phrase (sentence with internal extension)

So we are at the start of the exposition and find there the first tonal area (FTA) or first theme group. The theme type of the first phrase (mm.13-26) can easily be determined as again a sentence like structure, this time as 4+4+5. So here the default sentence ratios are changed to 1:1:1,2. The key is the home key, E-flat major, and again we find a statement-response type of presentation (mm.13-20). Figure 3 shows a reduction of the sentence like structure.

The ornamental cadence in the piano is left out (mm.15-16 and mm.19-20), as the harmony stays the same. The continuation and cadential (mm.21-26) starts in E-flat major and modulates to f minor (as mentioned earlier the super tonic (ii) of E-flat). Notice that in mm.24-25 a series of dominant chords in different positions occur, the last one of which (the V43) is used as pivot for the modulation to f minor.

The GER65 chord belongs to the family of augmented sixth chords.[3]See for instance: Laitz, The Complete Musician, 571-572. The IT6 and the FR43 also belong to this family. They are characterized by a double leading tone to the 5th scale degree which is the dominant. In this case these leading tones are the D-flat and the B natural, both leading to C, the dominant of f minor. Therefore the chords of this family usually have a predominant function, as is the case here: a predominant to f minor. The GER65 can also be written as a double diminished seventh chord on the augmented fourth scale degree: #iv65DD. Some prefer this notation. The raised fourth scale degree is in this case the B natural (the fourth scale degree of f: B-flat, raised to B natural).


Looking at the motivic material in this sentence we find in mm.13-14 (the basic idea) simultaneously two motives: one in the soprano and a contrapuntal one in the bass. Taking a closer look at the soprano motive it seems to be very similar to the neighbor note motive a1. The rhythm is slightly different (the first note has an equal length as the next two) and the articulation is different of course. Nevertheless the kinship is evident. The motive in the bass starts with an ascending interval of a fourth and then a stepwise descent. When comparing this to the a2 motive we find that in fact this is a twice mirrored version of the a2 motive. 

In mm.17-18 (the response to the statement in m.13-14) we find again two contrapuntal motives. The one in the soprano is very similar to the a2 motive mutatis mutandis the changes in mm.13-14 with respect to the a1 motive. The motive in the bass in mm.17-18 is the same as in mm.13-14, but shifted up one tone as to fit in the dominant key.

In the continuation and cadential (mm.21-26) a number of variants of the a4 motive is found, in which the characteristic interval of a fourth is each time further reduced until it has vanished (m.23), a form of liquidation. Figure 4 shows the variants of motive a that we have encountered so far.


We have reached mm.26-35 starting with the Tempo I (fig. 5). We can divide these measures in a 4+5 structure. The first four measures resemble very much the response of mm.17-20 with the motive a5 and in the key of f minor (ii). But then a hybrid construction follows (mm.30-35). A combination of the ornamental piano phrase with a free interpretation of motive a in the strings. Both ornament and strings phrase show signs of fragmentation and it ends in a perfect authentic cadence in E-flat major, the home key. So we might call this second half a continuation and cadential. I would say that the whole phrase (mm.26-35) is a combination of a basic idea without repetition and then a continuation and cadential and is fact an internal extension of the previous sentence (mm.13-26). Internal because there is no cadence at the end of the original sentence. Figure 5 shows the reduction of this phrase.

The start of the phrase in f minor has been notated as a tonicization in ii, because it clearly is in f minor but it is really an interruption in an otherwise completely Eflat major context. The second beat of m.31 is again in E-flat major. The first beat of m.31 is the pivot for the ‘modulation’ back to Eflat major. It is a i6 in f minor and a ii6 in Eflat major.The first beat of m.33 is an accented passing note to the vii043 which is part of dominant progression to the I6 in m.34. Is it the same IVaug as we saw in m.30 third beat. In fact mm.33-34 are a copy of mm.31-32 but one octave lower. 

In m.35 all of the quavers have been shown which might seem a bit strange in a reduction. It is done to show the change of texture that introduces the new sentence in the first theme group. 

So we found a first phrase in the first tonal area (FTA) consisting of 22 measures: a sentence like structure of 13 measures with an internal extension of 9 measures. Figure 5a shows a diagram of this first phrase.

FTA: Second phrase (sentence)

M.35 is a bridging measure or an extension of the tonic chord that ends the previous phrase. The next phrase starts in m.36 and runs until the half cadence (HC) in mm.51-52. It is a 4+4+8 sentence, again one that respects the default ratios 1:1:2 of a sentence. Figure 6 shows a reduction of this sentence.

The basic idea (mm.36-40) starts with the main motive (variant of a1 and a3 [fig. 4]) in a lyric legato form in the cello. The key is again E-flat major.The accompaniment is in running quavers as shown in m.35 in figure 5. The reduction in figure 6 does not show these quavers but they are present in both hands of the piano part in mm.35-43 and then continue in the left hand of the piano until m.46. From m.47 until the end of the phrase they are again present in both hands. This is a major change in the texture and gives a feeling of anxiety to an otherwise lyric presentation of the main motive. 

The repetition of the basic idea (mm.40-44) is played by the violin and one note higher. The key is f minor again and this type of repetition is called a sequential repetition. ‘The entire melodic and harmonic content is transposed to a different scale degree.’[4]Caplin, Classical Form, 39.

The continuation and cadential (mm.44-52) starts in c minor (vi of E-flat major) in m.44 preceded by its applied dominant. Then the applied dominant of g minor follows in m.46 but this is resolved deceptively to E-flat (=I). Schumann then makes a chromatic alteration by changing the E-flat to an E natural and adding a C#. Notice that the G and the B-flat stay; they are the common tones in this progression. The added C# is an interesting note. It resolves to the D in the next bar (m.49) as does the E to the F. But what is this chord in the first half of m.49? It is a B-flat 64 chord which is in its turn is a D64-suspension resolving to F7 in the second half of m.49. So indeed the C# leads to D but one step further is resolves to C in the F7 chord. Therefore the C# could (or perhaps should) be read as a D-flat which resolves by way to the D to C. Nice!

So we are in a cadential progression to B-flat and after repeating this in m.50 the half cadence (HC) is reached. 

Notice the stepwise ascending bass from m.45 to m.49. Schumann moves from the predominant c minor (vi in E-flat major) by way of the tonic (m.47, supporting the diminution of the main motive a9 [fig. 7]) to the dominant of B-flat major in mm.49-50.


In the continuation and cadential (mm.44-52) there is a motive in the right hand of the piano which resembles very much the motive a6 which is the motive of the continuation and cadential of the previous sentence (mm.21-26, fig.3). The rhythm is slightly changed possible to continue the expression of the feeling of anxiety. This is much enforced by the diminution of the main motive in m.47 and m.51 which expresses it in semi quavers. Figure 7 shows the variants of motive a up to measure 47.

Figure 7a shows a diagram of the second sentence.

FTA: Third and last phrase (sentence)

As mentioned before the second sentence ends with a half cadence (HC) in mm.51-52 and the last phrase of the first tonal area (FTA) is about to begin on the second beat of m.52. As the transition starts on the second beat of m.64 (see table 1) this last phrase is 13 measures long and is in fact very similar to the first sentence of the FTA (mm.13-25, fig.3). Again a 4+4+5 sentence and comparing mm.52-56 with mm.13-17 we see that they are almost the same. The only difference is in the bass (cello): it is one octave lower. Figure 8 shows a reduction of the third sentence.

So the basic idea is the same and the first measure of the repetition of the basic idea also (m.56). But whereas in m.18 there is a I6 (E-flat) we find in the corresponding m.57 a e07 chord. This e07 chord is the viiº of f minor and indeed, in m.61 on the first beat we find this f minor (ii in E-flat major) chord. Looking at the continuation and cadential (mm.60-64) of this sentence we find the same motive repeated thrice. It is a variant of motive a5, this time in a legato style and will be called motive a10. Harmonically the repetition of this motive is a sequential one: f minor – E-flat major – f minor or ii – I – ii. As ii is a predominant (PD) of E-flat, the last occurrence of the motive is a perfect upbeat to the perfect authentic cadence (PAC) which ends the FTA.

Motives overview first tonal area

And finaly figure 9a shows the diagram of the third and last sentence which concludes the analysis of the first tonal area. 

Figure 9 shows all variants of motive a in the first tonal area. In fact they can be grouped in three sets of motives. Within each group there are only differences in articulation and minor variants in rhythm. The three sets are:

  1. a1, a3, a7, a9
  2. a2, a5, a10
  3. a4, a6, a8

The three sets relate through mirroring:


  • a2 = a1 mirrored horizontally
  • a4 = a2 mirrowed horizontally and vertically


1 First tonal area (FTA) and Second tonal area (STA) are terms introduced in Steven G. Laitz, The Complete Musician: An Integrated Approach to Theory, Analysis and Listening (4th Ed (New York [etc.]: Oxford University Press, 2016), 632.
2 The concept of sentence as theme type can originally be found in Arnold Schönberg, Gerald Strang, and Leonard Stein. Fundamentals of Musical Composition (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), 21 and is further explored in William E. Caplin, Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven (New York [ect.]: Oxford University Press, 1998), 37-39.
3 See for instance: Laitz, The Complete Musician, 571-572.
4 Caplin, Classical Form, 39.