Can You Tell the Difference Between Mozart & Beethoven?

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Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is how Mozart can sound like Beethoven when the music is in a minor key. You might be thinking that Beethoven and Mozart have completely different musical personalities. That’s true. Even though they lived around the same time, you hear the fire and the passion of Beethoven and the elegance and sweetness of Mozart. So, what are the similarities between these two brilliant and unique composers?

Mozart wrote very few pieces in minor keys.

Mozart mostly wrote works in major keys. But the few pieces that he wrote in minor keys are among his greatest works! For example his 40th Symphony, in G Minor Symphony, or his Piano Concerto K 466 in D minor are masterworks. The few works Mozart composed in minor keys sounds a lot more like Beethoven. I have a way of proving it to you today. First, I’m going to share a brief theory lesson with you, so you can understand the significance of what I’m about to show you which is something truly extraordinary!

Major intervals become minor intervals when inverted.

This is an interesting subject and I’m going to demonstrate this. Major intervals include 2nds, 3rds, 6ths, and 7ths. They are major only when the top note is found in the major scale of the bottom note. For example, in C major if you play C and D, that’s a major second because D is the second note of the C major scale. If you invert the 2nd so the D is on the bottom and C is on top, you have a minor 7th because C is not the 7th note of the D major scale. The 7th note of the D major scale is C-sharp. So, the interval has become smaller by a half-step and is now minor. You can do the same thing with a 3rd in C major. Playing C and E, you have a major 3rd because E is the 3rd note of the C major scale. Invert the 3rd and you have E on the bottom and C on the top which is a minor 6th because C is not the 6th note of an E major scale. The 6th note of an E major scale is C-sharp. So, again, the interval has become smaller by a half-step and becomes minor. All major intervals when inverted become minor.

I’m going to play just the exposition of the famous Mozart C major Sonata, K 545. With the help of my computer, I’m going to invert it. So, every note that goes up goes down, and visa versa. What that’s going to effectively do is take this piece in the major and turn it into a whole other piece in the minor! With the keyboard switched around you wouldn’t even believe it’s the same piece! It’s all exactly the same notes and rhythms, except reversed. You can hear the minor characteristic. It sounds angry. And it sounds a little bit more like Beethoven than Mozart. Check out the video to hear this for yourself! You will be amazed. You will also hear the beginning of two sonatas both in C minor, one by Mozart, one by Beethoven. I’m not going to tell you which one is which. I want you to listen to these two sonatas and see if you can guess which one is Mozart and which one is Beethoven.


It’s remarkable how Mozart takes on a very different character when played in a minor key! I’m very interested to see how all you did out there with 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! Thanks again for joining me. I’m Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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