Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is the difference between Mozart and Beethoven

Learn the main differences between Mozart and Bethoven

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

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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, I'm Robert Estrin with a really rich subject today. When Mozart sounds like Beethoven. Now you might be thinking, "Mozart sound like Beethoven? They're completely different personalities." Even though they lived around the same time, you think of the fire and the passion of Beethoven and the elegance and the sweetness of Mozart. Well, when the heck does Mozart sound like Beethoven?

Well, here's an interesting fact for you. Mozart wrote very, very few pieces in the minor keys. Most of his works are in the major keys, but the few pieces that he wrote in the minor are among his greatest works. Now, certainly he wrote many, many great works in the major keys, but you think about his 40th symphony, the G minor symphony. Or his K 466 D minor concerto, such a great work.

So there are just a handful of works in the minor keys and indeed it sounds a lot more like Beethoven and I have a way of proving it to you today. First, a brief theory lesson, and then you'll understand what I'm about to do for you will blow your mind. Honestly, it's a very cool thing. And the brief theory lesson is, major intervals inverted become minor intervals. Now that's an interesting subject into itself and I'm going to demonstrate this. Major intervals means that the top note is found in the major scale of the bottom note. So for example, in C major, if you played C to D that's a major second. Now, if you invert that, now we have a minor seventh. Because if we play a D major scale, that becomes minor. Now let's do the same thing, go to a third. C major once again, the third note, is an E. Invert that, now we have a minor sixth. How can I tell? Because C is not the sixth note of an E major scale. And this is true, really, of all major intervals inverted become minor.

So here's what I'm going to do for you and thanks to technology, I'm going to be able to show you something really fascinating. What I'm going to do is I'm going to play just the exposition of the famous Mozart C major Sonata, K 445. With the help of my computer, I'm going to invert it. So everything's going to be upside down, whatever notes went up are going to go down. What that's going to effectively do is take this piece in the major and turn into a whole other piece in the minor. Wait til you you hear it, you're going to be really surprised. So here's the original, what Mozart actually wrote.

All right, so that is what Mozart wrote. Now, the magic of the computer, I'm going to invert it so everything from C3 here that goes up will go down and everything from down here, will go up. The whole keyboard will be switched around and listen to what happens to this music. You wouldn't even believe it's the same piece. It's all exactly the same notes and rhythms played, the same thing except reversed. And you hear the minor characteristic and it sounds angry and little bit more like Beethoven than Mozart, doesn't it?

To really exemplify this point, what I'm going to do is I'm going to go downstairs on my beautiful seven foot semi concert grand and I'm going to pay the first movement of two different sonatas, both in C minor, one by Mozart, one by Beethoven. And I'm not going to tell you which one is which, and I want you to listen to these two and I'm very interested in your impressions of this. And if you can guess which one is Mozart and which one's Beethoven. Hope you enjoy this.

So I bet you're all wondering and guessing, which one is which? Now some of you may already know these works and some of you might be able to tell. But if you have in your head, which one is which, the first piece I played was Beethoven Sonata in C minor Opus 10 number one. That's right. The first piece was Beethoven, the second one was Mozart, K 457 Sonata in C minor, one of his later sonatas. Although, Mozart didn't write really late works because he died so young, unlike Beethoven who had tremendous range in his compositions from early to middle to late. But listen how there's fire in that Mozart, that's a vocative of Beethoven, much more so than pieces in the major.

So that is one element that makes Mozart sound more like Beethoven, very interested to see how all you did out there in your guesses. If you didn't know either of these works before, I wonder how many of you got it right. Let me know in the comments below and you can always email me as well. Thanks again for joining me. Robert Estrin here at, your online piano resource. With lots of content here and for the special people who have joined my Patreon, even more premium content. Thanks again for joining me, we'll see you next time.
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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.
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