Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the greatest composers and pianists that had a significant influence on Classical music (Wooley 34). His music career started at a tender age, and his parents did everything to ensure that he achieved the level of success he desired. Scholars have argued that Beethoven’s music was greatly influenced by another great composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was about 15 years his senior (Paxman 27).
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By the time Ludwig van Beethoven gained serious interest in music, Wolfgang was already a successful composer and pianist that had very powerful patrons in Vienna. He had already made successful tours to Munich, Paris, London, and The Hague, where his work received massive acceptance (Burnham 62). Accounts of the meeting between Beethoven and Mozart are scanty, and some are based purely on speculation. In fact, a section of scholars argues that the two never met at all and that Beethoven might have just seen Mozart perform without having the opportunity to engage him in a meaningful discussion.
However, these scholars have no doubt about the influence that Mozart had on Beethoven’s career and personal life. The historians had also confirmed that there was a period when the two great composers and pianists were both in Vienna for reasons related to their music careers. In this paper, the researcher seeks to investigate the impact that Mozart had on Beethoven, especially after their meeting in Vienna.
According to Swafford, several German composers played a significant role in the transition of music from the Classical era to the Romantic era (40). Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are some of the two greatest composers who played important roles during this era. Although many scholars argue that the meeting between the two had a profound impact on the approach that Beethoven took after the death of Mozart, Wooley explains that the two were independent artists with unique skills in music (73). It is important to analyze the life and career of the two artists before looking at how their meeting in Vienna influenced Beethoven to understand its relevance.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart was born on January 27, 1756, to Anna Maria and Leopold Mozart, who at that time was living in Salzburg (Benedict 45). Mozart and his elder sister received a lot of love and attention from their parents, especially because his other siblings had died in infancy due to various illnesses (30). His father, Leopold Mozart, was a composer and a teacher of music. He was also the fourth violinist at the Count Leopold Anton von Firman and an author.
Paxman believes that growing up in a middle-class family with caring parents who were keen on ensuring that he achieved success in the field of music played a critical role in defining the future of Mozart (44). His father was his first music teacher. At the age of eight years, Mozart was already playing the piano and violin quite well. His family started making tours across Europe when he was about ten years. In such tours, he was the leading pianist while the father was playing the violin. His elder sister also had a role in the family band. One of his first compositions was inspired by Gregorio Allegri, a Roman Catholic priest, and composer (Swafford 34).
He listened to the performance of the priest and then wrote the same piece out of memory. It was the beginning of his career as a great composer of music. He transformed from composing other pieces to developing his own at the age of 21 years.
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One of his first pieces that received massive success was the opera Mitridat re di Ponto composed in 1770 when he was in Milan (Paxman 62). The skills and dedication of Mozart attracted the attention of Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo, the ruler of Salzburg, who hired him as a court musician (Swafford 51). He was offered a perfect environment to explore the field of music and be rewarded handsomely in the process. One of his greatest compositions, the six quartets (K. 387, K. 421, K. 428, K. 458, K. 464, and K. 465) that he dedicated to Haydn became successful in that period (Wooley 38).
He played a major role as a composer, a teacher, and a mentor to many musicians who were younger than him. His music style is largely classified as part of Classical Music. He is also credited with the creation and promotion of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, an Opera Singspiel that defined Classical music in that era (Benedict 103). Mozart had a family and children. The historical records show that Mozart started experiencing serious financial problems when he started his tours in Europe. The lifestyle that he embraced could not be supported by his earnings. The financial challenges had a profound impact on his career in his later years. He soon developed health problems that had a further negative impact on his career. He died on December 5, 1791, at the age of 35 years.
Ludwig van Beethoven
According to Burnham, Ludwig van Beethoven is considered one of the most influential and highly recognized composers of all time who helped to transition music from the Classical era to the Romantic era (75). The records do not clearly state the exact date when he was born, but his records show that he was baptized on December 17, 1770 (Swafford 73). His father was a pianist and a local music teacher.
Most of the family friends were musicians or lovers of music and member of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1779, he started studying music under the guidance of Christian Gottlob Neefe, a close associate of his father. Given that Neefe was also a Court Organist, Beethoven had the opportunity to access different musical instruments at a tender age. He helped Beethoven to compose his piece (WoO 63), a set of keyboard variations that was published in 1783 (Paxman 83). His artistic skills convinced Neefe to hire him as his assistant after a short period of being a student. He was convinced that the little boy had a potential that needed to be horned.
It is believed that the young Beethoven started embracing philosophies and ideas popular in freemasonry because his teacher, Neefe, and some of the prominent figures that he interacted with were members of the Order of the Illuminati, the local chapter. Some of his ideas were a radical departure from the teachings of the Roman Catholic. Although he did not express such radical ideas in his compositions, it was clear to the close associates that he had embraced Freemasonry, although he was never open about the issue.
He traveled to Vienna in December 1786, a trip that was fully funded by his teacher, who had also become his employer. Neefe wanted Beethoven to tour Europe, especially the city of Vienna, to interact with some of the prominent composers who could help him achieve greater success in his music career.
The Vienna Meeting
The meeting between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven is believed to have taken place in early 1787. The primary goal of Beethoven visiting Vienna was to interact with some of his seniors in the music industry, and one of them was Mozart. Beethoven’s most influential teacher, Neefe, personally sponsored the tour as a way of making it possible for his student and assistant to meet with the renowned composer and pianist at that time.
Beethoven had studied the composition of Mozart and admired his artistry. In the month of December, Beethoven was unable to meet with Mozart. The existing historical records are in conflict about when and how the meeting took place. Wooley explains that it was impossible for Beethoven to meet Mozart (42). After several weeks of deliberate attempt to book for a meeting, it became apparent that it would not be possible.
As such, Beethoven decided to travel back home to attend to family issues and continue with his career in a place where he could get the support he needed. Other accounts hold that although Beethoven was unable to meet with Mozart at a personal level, he attended various functions where his role model performed. He was attentive to listen to his compositions and compared them with that of his teacher, Christian Neefe (Paxman 90). After a few weeks in Vienna and with clear indications that he would not get the attention of Mozart, he decided to end his visit.
Otto John, a 19th-century biographer, gives an account of a meeting between these two great composers when Beethoven traveled from Bonn to Vienna in early 1787 (Burnham 74). In this account, Beethoven visited Vienna when he was a promising young musician who was keen on meeting one of his most admired composers, Wolfgang Mozart. He was introduced to Mozart by a family friend.
In that meeting, Mozart requested Beethoven to play for him one of his pieces (Benedict 78). Keen on pleasing the music icon, Beethoven took time to present one of his masterpieces. Mozart was pleased with his skills as a composer and his capacity to play piano, violin, and other musical instruments. However, he was not keen on having him as one of his students or assistants. At that time, he already had a student who he believed in more than Beethoven. Mozart was also facing serious financial constraints and was keen on making money other than being a mentor to the upcoming musician. As such, although he liked the piece that was presented by Beethoven, he was relatively cold in expressing the admiration.
This account holds that after listening to several pieces that Beethoven presented to him, Mozart commented to his friend that the young musician would have a significant bearing in the music industry in the future. After spending a few weeks in Vienna listening and going through the compositions of Mozart, he received the news about the deteriorating condition of his mother back in Bonn. He wanted to stay longer, but the news forced him to travel home, hoping to come back after some time. Unfortunately, the mother passed on in July of that year. Beethoven’s father was incapacitated by alcoholism, and the responsibility of taking care of the younger sibling fell on Beethoven.
The new responsibility meant that Beethoven was unable to revisit Vienna soon after the first visit, and the two artists never met again. This account has faced a lot of criticism, but as Paxman suggests, it is the only record that shows the possibility that the two ever met when Beethoven made a trip to Vienna (63). Although historical records differ on whether the two met and the nature of their engagement during the meeting, there is a general agreement about the impact that Mozart had on Beethoven.
Impact on Personal Career
The interaction that Beethoven had with the works of Mozart had a profound impact on his career, especially because of the love and admiration that Beethoven had towards the senior musician. According to Burnham, one of the areas of the works of Beethoven that was significantly affected by the meeting was the composition (23). Unlike Christian Neefe, who had taught Beethoven for years, Mozart had a unique approach.
He was able to integrate life experiences and emotions into his work with ease. Beethoven was not keen on having something different in his composition slightly away from Classical opera. He wanted to break some of the conventional rules of music at that time while at the same time be able to develop and present interesting pieces. Mozart, although an ardent follower of classical music, was taking a slightly new approach that gave him some independence in his composition. It was one of the factors that had a significant influence on the career of Beethoven.
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Swafford reports that in October 1790, “Beethoven wrote down a brief C-minor passage in 6/8 meter, in two-staff piano score, and then wrote down these words, between the staves, about the little phrase: this entire passage has been stolen from the Mozart Symphony in C” (96). Although many scholars and historians have not been able to ascertain the fact that the two great composers met at one time, the statement from Beethoven confirms that he was greatly influenced by the work of Mozart.
He was strongly convinced that he was redefining music in that era. Scholars compared the composition that Beethoven claimed he stole from Mozart’s work and determined that it was an original piece that was not plagiarized in any way. Wooley explains that one of the reasons that made Beethoven claim that the work was plagiarized was the fact that it was a major shift from Classical opera (39). To Beethoven, it was only Mozart who had made an attempt to depart from classical music in that era.
Ludwig van Beethoven played a critical role in the shift of music from the Classical era to the Romantic era. This major shift was largely influenced by the works of Mozart. It is important to note that although Mozart was a passionate Classical era musician, he made attempts to shift his music by introducing some new approach to his composition without making the shift. However, Beethoven took a radical approach. He was keen on integrating his emotions into his music in many of his compositions. He is largely considered the founder of Romantic-era music. The impact that he had on music composition has had a major impact on modern-day composers.
Impact on Musical Career
Beethoven had very little time in understanding the private life of his senior, Mozart. The time they had to interact did not make it possible for the young musician to understand the personal challenges and successes of Mozart. However, it is believed that a careful study of his work made it possible for the upcoming composer to have a detailed knowledge of the experiences and challenges of Mozart. In some of these compositions, Mozart expressed the financial challenges that he faced and how they affected his career (Benedict 34).
When Beethoven studied the life of Mozart and his work during that period, he was able to see the actual impact of the financial problems on his senior’s work. As such, one of the resolutions that he made was to manage his finances properly and avoid any financial challenges that might affect his career. The biographical records show that Beethoven, unlike Mozart, did not face financial challenges. He was able to secure his financial future by making the right investment. However, he had his own set of challenges.
One of the biggest challenges that Beethoven faced in his adult life was finding love. Given that most of his time was dedicated to composition or performing to the royalties, most of the women he fell in love with were of royal families. The problem that he faced was that at that time caste system was held in high regard. It was not possible for a person of a lower caste to marry a woman from a higher caste. Beethoven, despite his successful career in music, was considered a commoner. As such, it was not possible for him to marry any of the women he fell in love with from the royal families. It partly explains why most of his compositions were romantic.
He was frustrated with the love-life. Josephine Brunsvik was one of the women that Beethoven fell in love within 1804. His love was reciprocated, and it is recorded that from 1804 to 1810, he composed several pieces that were directly expressing the love he had towards her (Burnham 41). However, his status as a commoner made it impossible for the two to have a fruitful relationship. Beethoven went down in history as one of the most successful composers and pianists of all time, but his romantic life was a failure.
Beethoven and Mozart are some of the greatest composers and pianists of all time. They left a lasting impression in the field of music. Beethoven is directly credited with introducing Romantic era music at a time when most of the composers strictly followed the conventional rules of Classical-era music. In his personal life, he managed to achieve career success. At the height of his career, he was one of the most celebrated composers of his time in Europe.
However, his love life was not taking a similar great path. He was able to express these frustrations in his work, but in a way that attracted music lovers. He was able to identify with many men and women who struggle to find love, but several obstacles make it impossible to realize the dream. The interaction between these two great musicians had a profound impact on the approach that Beethoven took in his career.
Benedict, Top of FormTaylor. The Melody of Time: Music and Temporality in the Romantic Era. Oxford University Press, 2015.
Burnham, Scott. Mozart’s Grace. Princeton University Press, 2013.
Paxman, Jon. A Chronology of Western Classical Music 1600-2000. Omnibus Press, 2014.
Swafford, Jan. Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph. Faber and Faber, 2014.
Wooley, Allan. The Curmudgeon’s Quests. Book Venture Publishing LLC, 2017.