Beethoven and Mozart

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Portrait of Beethoven as a young man by Carl Traugott Riedel (1769–1832)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a powerful influence on the work of Ludwig van Beethoven. They may have met in Vienna in 1787, and Beethoven may even have had a few lessons from Mozart, although this is uncertain; there is only one account of a meeting, and it is not contemporary. Beethoven knew much of Mozart's work. Some of his themes recall Mozart's, and he modeled a number of his compositions on those of the older composer.

Beethoven visited Vienna early in 1787, but accounts differ as to the exact dates. Cooper states that he arrived in early April and left about three weeks later.[1] Haberl says that he arrived in January 1787 and departed in March or April, remaining in the city for up to 10½ weeks.[2] There is evidence for this in the Regensburgische Diarium.[3] Beethoven's return to Bonn was prompted at least in part by his mother's medical condition (she died of tuberculosis in July of that year[4]). His father was nearly incapacitated by alcoholism, and Beethoven had two younger brothers, so he may have needed to go home to help support his family.

Written documentation of Beethoven's visit is thin, but Mozart was in Prague for part of early 1787, and the two composers may have met. Haberl's dates imply a period of about six weeks when this could have occurred.[2] There are various views as to what happened during the visit. The 19th century biographer Otto Jahn gives the following anecdote:

Beethoven made his appearance in Vienna as a youthful musician of promise in the spring of 1787, but was only able to remain there a short time; he was introduced to Mozart, and played to him at his request. Mozart, considering the piece he performed to be a studied show-piece, was somewhat cold in his expressions of admiration. Beethoven, noticing this, begged for a theme for improvisation, and, inspired by the presence of the master he revered so highly, played in such a manner as gradually to engross Mozart's whole attention; turning quietly to the bystanders, he said emphatically, "Mark that young man; he will make himself a name in the world!"[5]

Jahn does not say where he got this from, mentioning only that "it was communicated to me in Vienna on good authority". No contemporary document (such as a letter written by Beethoven or Mozart or a reminiscence of any of Beethoven's contemporaries) corroborates the story, and contemporary scholarship seems reluctant to propagate it. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians does not mention it; its account of the visit is as follows:

In the spring of 1787 Beethoven visited Vienna. In the absence of documents much remains uncertain about the precise aims of the journey and the extent to which they were realized; but there seems little doubt that he met Mozart and perhaps had a few lessons from him.[6]

Maynard Solomon, who has written biographies of both Mozart and Beethoven, does not mention Jahn's tale, and even puts forward the possibility that Mozart might have given Beethoven an audition and then rejected him:

In Bonn Beethoven was being groomed to be Mozart's successor by [a group of influential nobles], who sent him to Vienna ... to advance that purpose. The sixteen-year-old Beethoven, however, was not yet ready to be on his own. At his father's urging, the young virtuoso left Vienna ... and returned home in a state of despondency over his mother's consumptive condition – and perhaps over a rejection by Mozart, who was preoccupied with his own affairs, including his worrisome financial condition, and may not have been able seriously to consider taking on another pupil, even one of great talent and backed by eminent patrons.[7]

Drawing of Mozart in silverpoint, made by Doris Stock in April 1789

Solomon goes on to enumerate other matters that kept Mozart preoccupied at the time: his father's declining health, a visit to Prague, the beginnings of work on Don Giovanni, and the writing of "a vast amount of other music". Moreover, Mozart already had a pupil living in his home, the nine-year-old Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Solomon notes that Beethoven eventually returned to Vienna, but only in 1792 – a year after Mozart's death.

A hypothesis compatible with all the documentary evidence except Jahn's unsourced report is that Mozart and Beethoven simply never met.[8] Regardless of which hypothesis is true, Beethoven's first visit to Vienna seems to have been the start of an unhappy time for him. The Grove Dictionary notes that his "first surviving letter, to a member of a family in Augsburg that had befriended him on his way [to Vienna], describes the melancholy events of that summer and hints at ... ill-health [and] depression.[6]

Influence of Mozart on Beethoven[edit]

Mozart's work continued to influence Beethoven. For example, Beethoven copied a passage from Mozart's 40th Symphony into the sketchbook he was using when he composed his Fifth Symphony, the third movement of which opens with a theme similar to one from the Mozart. Charles Rosen sees Mozart's C minor Piano Concerto, K. 491, as a model for Beethoven's 3rd Piano Concerto in the same key,[9] the Quintet for Piano and Winds, K. 452, for Beethoven's quintet for the same instruments, Op. 16,[10] and the A major String Quartet, K. 464, for Beethoven's A major String Quartet Op. 18 No. 5.[10] Robert Marshall sees Mozart's C minor piano sonata, Piano Sonata No. 14 in C minor, K. 457, as the model for Beethoven's "Pathétique" sonata, Op. 13, in the same key.[11] The first movement of Beethoven's First Piano Concerto in C major (composed 1796–97) references Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony in C major, K. 551. (composed 1788).[12] Also, Beethoven's third piano concerto took a small inspiration from Mozart's sonata No. 14.

Beethoven wrote cadenzas (WoO 58) to the first and third movements of Mozart's D minor piano concerto, K. 466, and four sets of variations on themes by Mozart:

  • on "Se vuol ballare" from The Marriage of Figaro, for piano and violin, WoO 40 (1792–3);
  • on "Là ci darem la mano" from Don Giovanni, for two oboes and cor anglais, WoO 28 (?1795);
  • on "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" from The Magic Flute, for piano and cello, Op. 66 (?1795);
  • on "Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen" from the same opera, for piano and cello, WoO 46 (1801).[13]

Mozart's overture in Bastien und Bastienne, written in 1768, is very similar to Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, though it is unknown if Beethoven knew of this work.[14]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Cooper (2008), p. 23
  2. ^ a b Haberl (2006), pp. 215–55
  3. ^ Hoyer (2007)
  4. ^ Kerman et al., section 2; Deutsch 1965, 288
  5. ^ Jahn (1882), p. 346. Translation by Pauline Townsend, slightly altered.
  6. ^ a b Kerman et al., section 2
  7. ^ Solomon (1995), p. 395
  8. ^ Clive (1993), p. 22.
  9. ^ Rosen (1997), pp. 390, 450
  10. ^ a b Rosen (1997), p. 381
  11. ^ Marshall (2003), pp. 300–301
  12. ^ Amadeus Art Productions
  13. ^ Clive (1993), p. 22
  14. ^ Bastien et Bastienne (Media notes). Paul Derenne, Martha Angelici, André Monde, Gustave Cloëz orchestra. L'Anthologie Sonore. 1940. FA 801-806. 

References[edit]