If Beethoven had been Mozart

Wolfwig Beethart (1770-1806), famous for his 3rd Symphony

Like many people who love Mozart’s music I have often wondered what he would have given us if he had not died before he was 36. Even if he had lived just one more year, there is no telling what he might have produced, given that his last three symphonies – 39,40 and 41 – were composed in the space of three months.

And, since none of us has Mozart’s genius, it is completely impossible to know what he would have gone on to do ten or twenty years later if his life had been of a normal length.

One way of getting some idea of the scope of what he might have produced, I think, is to look at someone equivalent, Beethoven say, and see what they would not have composed if they had died at 36.

Beethoven would have reached that age in December 1806, a year which saw the performance of his 4th Symphony. So we wouldn’t have the 5th, the 7th or the 9th. 1806 was also the year of composition of the wonderful Razumovsky quartets, which means that eight more (including, of course, the “Late” quartets) would not have come to light.

He wouldn’t have written the Diabelli Variations, the Coriolan overture, the Emperor Concerto or Egmont. We would have missed nine piano sonatas, including Hammerklavier.

He would still have been a great composer – his 3rd Symphony being one of the greatest ever written – but so many of the works which go towards our idea of Beethoven would be missing.

Of course, it is a miracle that we have anything by Mozart at all considering that he was the last of seven children born to his parents and that five of his siblings never made it past infancy. And he might have been born into a non-musical family. Or he might have been born a peasant and have never even learnt to write, let alone compose written music.

There must have been quite a few peasants throughout history who had a potential similar to his but who never got the opportunity to develop it, who at the most were famous in their own village for being good fiddlers or for their constant, and rather irritating, whistling.

Not to speak of all the women in all times and in all places who, at the very best, were allowed to sing inside their own houses. There must have been a few geniuses among them.

Still , it is hard not to wonder what Mozart might have written if he lived till 1810, the year in which Byron swam across the Hellespont, Munich established the Oktoberfest, the first Indian restaurant, the Hindoostanee Coffee House, was opened in London and when he would have been 54, the age at which Beethoven finished writing his 9th Symphony. And, just think, Mozart would also have been inspired by all that wonderful music Beethoven had been writing in the first decade of the 19th Century.

1 Comment

  1. Valerie

    Interesting thoughts. But could he have lived long enough to hear the Late Quartets? What would a very old Mozart have made of them, or of Hammerklavier for that matter? He was definitely of a progressive nature, but still…
    We cannot listen to Mozart without Beethoven (and Mahler, and all that came after, even Boulez, in our ears, whether we like it or not), but he would have heard Beethoven’s striving and premonitions without that background. Would he have embraced it? Withdrawn? Evolved himself? Angrily? Excitedly? Fearfully? With an old man’s resignation? Could Mozart ever have become an old man?

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