Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is the difference between Mozart and Beethoven

Learn more about two of the most well-known classical music composers

In this video, Robert talks about the most important differences found in the music compositions by Mozart and Beethoven, with practical, performance examples taken from their respective piano repertoire.

Released on May 20, 2015

Post a Comment   |   Video problems? Contact Us!
DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin with a really interesting show. What is the difference between Mozart and Beethoven? This is a broad subject. We could devote an entire semester, at least, to this subject. But I'm going to touch on two facets that make them different.

Well, first of all, Beethoven came after Mozart so the development of his music was built upon the foundations laid by Mozart and composers before Mozart. Of course, the sonata-allegro form was an important part of the whole classical period, which is an ABA or ABC form, where you have two themes in the exposition, and a development section, and a recapitulation of the first two themes. There's a video I have on "What is a Sonata" form that you can reference for this.

For this little demonstration, I'm going to pick two different sonatas. I'm going to pick the Mozart sonata K.330 in C Major and the Beethoven sonata, Op. 14, No. 2 in G Major, a rather relatively early work of Beethoven. The things I'm going to talk about in the early works of Beethoven are even more extreme in later works. But I picked an early sonata of Beethoven to show you that their personalities are inherently different. It wasn't just the expansiveness of the forms and the development of the piano, which really entered into later sonatas of Beethoven. It really is the whole crux of his personality, the fiery personality, compared to the beautiful, sweet personality of Mozart. So first, I'm going to play a little bit of the exposition. And notice the roundness of the phrasing in this Mozart sonata in C K.330.

There's a kind of perfection, a jewel-like perfection of the music of Mozart. Everything goes just where you want it to. Every note is placed so perfectly that if you change any one note, it would sound off. That's the perfection of Mozart. Now, Beethoven is a little bit different. Beethoven's personality is one of surprises. So for example, one of the techniques he utilizes in his music is to set yourself up where something is building and suddenly it get's soft, the subito piano technique. And you'll hear it at the beginning of the Op. 14, No. 2 G Major sonata. Listen how he builds up and then suddenly down to nothing. Pretty shocking.

It's something you wouldn't expect. So as Mozart, there's that jewel-like perfection where every note is placed so perfectly, it makes you go, "Ah!" Beethoven makes you think he's going to do that and just when you're lulled into a sense of complacency, he shocks you and keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what's going to happen next.

Another facet, a fundamental difference between Mozart and Beethoven is how Beethoven developed a form. Now, in his later sonatas, his development sections are massive, yet even in the earlier sonatas, they go much further than they do in a Mozart development section. Once again, the development section comes after the exposition, which introduces the first two themes and the whole exposition repeats. Then comes the development section. So let's do a beautiful development section in the same Mozart C Major sonata.

[music 00:04:54 - 00:06:06]

It's delightful when that recapitulation comes, isn't it? It feels like you're coming home after a long trip. Very beautiful writing, how he takes those first two themes from the exposition and develops them. But listen how Beethoven takes the themes and goes further with his development section. It's not necessarily longer in this case, which his later sonatas really did. But listen how he really tears it up in the development of the Op. 14, No. 2 G Major sonata.

[music 00:06:38 - 00:08:42]

It's quite a bit of difference there. Yes, there is more development in the Beethoven development section than the Mozart development section, but it's more than that. How he goes further out from the mood of the original character of the exposition section. And as texturally, rhythmically, there's faster notes, a whole lot of differences.

So we can sum up today's lesson about Beethoven versus Mozart, both jewel composers. But Mozart, the beautiful thing about his music is the perfect balance, going exactly where you want it to, exactly where you expect it to, where any one note went out of place, it would ruin the whole thing. It's just such a perfect architecture. Beethoven takes it one step further, setting you up for the expectation of a Mozart-type of sonata, but surprising you with subito pianos, and taking development sections to places you'd never expect them to go.

I hope you've enjoyed this program. We will have more future programs exploring more about Beethoven and Mozart and other composers. Thank you so much for joining me here on and I am Robert Estrin.
Post a comment, question or special request:
You may: Login as a Member  or  

Otherwise, fill the form below to post your comment:
Add your name below:

Add your email below: (to receive replies, will not be displayed or shared)

For verification purposes, please enter the word MUSIC in the field below

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Graeme Costin * VSM MEMBER * on March 15, 2018 @5:27 pm PST
Thank you for a very informative explanation of Mozart and Beethoven differences. The "subito piano" style is something I have also heard from concert organists on theatre organ: the melodic phrase crescendoes but the final, high note of the melodic phrase is soft and on a different registration from the buildup. I have not mastered this - it requires extremely precise timing of the soft piston combination in order to work properly!
Robert Estrin - host, on March 17, 2018 @1:28 pm PST
This is such an effective technique in music because it draws in the listener. Achieving a subito piano you must sometimes allow a little extra time particularly when you are in a reverberant room. Otherwise the first piano notes will be lost.
Eva Durance * VSM MEMBER * on March 14, 2018 @9:06 am PST
The illustrated explanation of one aspec of Mozart vs Beethoven in the sonata form was most informative.
Robert Estrin - host, on March 14, 2018 @12:02 pm PST
It's so interesting looking back upon the lineage of development of musical forms in a historical context. It is a fascinating development of a form that is still relevant in music being written today!
G.MAGESH on June 13, 2015 @6:53 am PST
Sir, It is really amazing to hear from you such an beautiful explanation. Your explanation is more beautiful than the original composition itself. I have a question for you. Please explain me counterpoint in detail. I would like to hear from you. Please allocate sufficient time for explanation because music lovers like me like to hear from you. Thank u.
Robert Estrin on June 14, 2015 @12:40 pm PST
I am humbled by your comments. Here is a description and video on the subject of counterpoint:
LUIZ SETTE * VSM MEMBER * on May 28, 2015 @4:12 pm PST
Wonderful video! I would add some differences in technical aspects. Mozart requires the so called perlè articulation, the notes must sound like pearls falling on the floor. This requires a particular type of strong and yet smooth finger technique whereas Beethoven demands a more wrist- shoulder work in order to get some expressive effects. Interesting notice that pianists with huge hands may experiment dificulties in playing Mozart. Sviatoslav Richter with his giant hands had this problem. Lili Kraus, one the most prominent Mozart's interpreter had medium to small size hands. What do you think , Bob ?
Robert - host, on May 30, 2015 @12:05 pm PST
There is no doubt that some hands are better suited to different period styles of music which match the technical demands of the instruments of different eras. However, it is possible to adjust your playing to achieve the sound you are after. For example, my father Morton Estrin has huge hands! His recordings of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin are a testament to how he leveraged his biology in service of the music. Growing up with that sound, I worked very hard to get a big sound playing Liszt, Scriabin and others with my extremely small hands.

My father's big hands don't allow for playing between black keys, so it is harder for him to play fast and light. But, he achieves that quality by playing detached articulation of the notes in a Schubert Impromptu or Mozart Sonata to great effect.
Mark Kugman on May 21, 2015 @3:07 pm PST
Was Beethoven the first composer to use Subito piano? It's surprising that he must have loved it because it appears do often in his music. He also reveloutionized the use of the trill particularly in his later piano works.
Robert - host, on May 21, 2015 @4:26 pm PST
I'm sure composers prior to Beethoven utilized subito piano occasionally. Baroque composers such as Gabrielli used echo effect in his writing. But Beethoven exploited the element of surprise with the building up of volume just before coming down to surprise and delight the listener as a trademark in his compositions.
Fulvia Boerman * VSM MEMBER * on May 20, 2015 @1:54 pm PST
Thank you for a great video and lesson!
Jan McDonald * VSM MEMBER * on May 20, 2015 @10:43 am PST
Excellent. Thank you.
Questions? Problems? Contact Us.
Norton Shopping Guarantee Seal