Mozart and Beethoven are amongst the most celebrated composers in the Classical world of music. Not only their phenomenal outpouring of works but their personal lives continue to this day to fascinate and delight us.
Both of these outstanding composers are now felt by many to have been musical geniuses whose contribution to music and its advancement was almost unparalleled during their lifetimes. In this article, I am going to explore the connections between these two composers and perhaps even reveal one or two facts about them you did not know.
Similarities Between Mozart And Beethoven
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria in 1756. Ludwig van Beethoven followed around fourteen years later, in 1770. Unlike Mozart, Beethoven’s birthplace was in Bonn which is closer to the Netherlands than Austria, but still had strong political and cultural connections to Vienna.
Beethoven and Mozart had different upbringings that I would argue played a key role in their development as composers. Mozart’s Farther Leopold was a fine musician and composer with court influence and connection. Under his guidance Mozart (and his sister), had already established themselves as child geniuses from an early age giving Wolfgang in particular, a way into the world that he would inhabit. Beethoven’s early family life was quite brutal and there are accounts of his alcoholic Father being abusive. This coloured the tone of Beethoven’s music and maybe even gave him the drive to create such an array of stunning music.
It seems doubtful that Beethoven exerted much musical influence over Mozart but we can be certain that Mozart’s music formed a central focus in Beethoven’s formative years. Beethoven would have been fed a diet of Mozart from an early age and if accounts are to be credited, Beethoven’s early compositional attempts show this clearly. Here is where the similarities begin between the composers. What Beethoven was inspired to write as a result of his appreciation of Mozart would later allow him to break the conventions of Classical music and forge the pathway into the Romantic era.
One burning question that often lingers in the mind is whether Beethoven met Mozart. We do know that Beethoven was visited Vienna, probably with a letter of recommendation to study with Mozart, in 1787 and again in 1790. Beethoven’s mother died of tuberculosis in July of 1787 cutting Beethoven’s visit to the Austrian capital short. Beethoven’s 1790 visit is likely to have been the time that he met and played for Mozart although accounts differ and scholars have little evidence to support the claim. It seems highly probable that Beethoven did meet Mozart and may have had some tuition from him but the relationship did not last even though the influence of Mozart’s music on Beethoven did.
Beethoven did not settle permanently in Vienna until a year after Mozart had died. From around 1792, Beethoven established a foothold in the Austrian capital, noted for his astonishing virtuosity on the piano and gradually acquiring patronage from the nobility. This was something Mozart had battled with throughout his career with varying degrees of success. Now Beethoven followed the same route with the support and tutorage of Joseph Haydn, a valuable ally and mentor. (Beethoven did not always refer to Haydn kindly in later years claiming he learned nothing from the great master, but this may be an exaggeration of the truth).
Like Mozart Beethoven was a brilliant piano performer with improvisational skills that dazzled his patrons and his audience. As such, Beethoven created a significant body of work for the piano just as Mozart had done before. At the heart of both composers’ catalogue of work for the piano are both Sonatas and Concertos. These have become the backbone of each composer’s oeuvre offering aspiring pianists a window into the worlds of Mozart and Beethoven. If we look into the pure quantity of work that each composer produced Mozart wins on numbers alone but naturally there is far more to these wonderful compositions than sheer quantity. Mozart composed 18 Solo Piano Sonatas (that currently exist), whereas Beethoven boasts an impressive 32. In terms of Piano Concertos, Beethoven completed five; Mozart an astonishing 27.
Both composers were symphonic too. Beethoven completed nine symphonies with Mozart finishing an astonishing forty-one during his short life. Alongside these vital compositions, Mozart and Beethoven composed extensively for string quartets and quintets, concertos for violin and choral works. Where Beethoven and Mozart differ is Opera. Mozart wrote a generous number of operas and was considered to be one of the most important composers of operas in his day. They remain key favourites with audiences today. Beethoven on the other hand did not find the same affinity with the operatic tradition and completed only one: ‘Fidelio’ (1804).
Many would argue that Mozart encapsulated the Classical Era in music. His music was elegantly crafted, meticulously structured, and effortlessly accessible. Mozart transformed as well as defined Classical music, laying the foundations for composers like Beethoven. One of the dominant forms or structures that were unique to the Classical period is called sonata form. As a structure is embodied the classical aesthetic is harmonically measured around tonic and dominant key relationships. It pitted two themes against one another with each bound by character and key to the ensuing creation. What distinguished it from earlier forms was a development section that allowed the composer to explore their material in ways that had previously not been such a focus.
In sonatas, concertos, and symphonies, Mozart showed his gifts through these (and other) forms, but what Beethoven achieved was on a whole other level. For Beethoven, the concept of musical development and the extension of sonata form gave him the golden chance of pushing a Classical form into the Romantic era and in turn setting the standard for the emerging composers of the next generation. Both Mozart and Beethoven were great, influential innovators but it often seems to me that what Beethoven achieved with sonata form was almost beyond what one might consider possible.