MOZART and BEETHOVEN

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. Haberl says that he arrived in January 1787 and departed in March or April, remaining in the city for up to10½ weeks. There is evidence for this in the Regensburgische Diarium. 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). 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. 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!”

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.

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