Beethoven composing at age 14

TUESDAY, February 18, 2020

What were you doing when you were 14?

Or if you are younger than 14, what do you think you will do by age 14?

This is what Beethoven was doing at age 14…

The three piano quartets he wrote at age 14 are astonishing. Every account I’ve read gives the year as 1785, but Beethoven was not 15 until Dec. 17th, his birthday. Unless he wrote these quartets after that date, in that year, he was still 14 when he did most of the work.

The Piano Quartets, WoO 36…

Beethoven wrote three piano quartet, for piano, violin, viola and cello. It was an unusual combination, because in general composers wrote piano quintets, essentially string quartets with piano added. But Beethoven omitted the second violin that eventually became standard in string quartets.

They were first published in 1828 the year after his death. Supposedly the numbering we now have is out of order, but since they were all written around the same time, it’s not very important. There are two similar works written by Mozart, and it is possible that Beethoven heard one of them, written in 1784.

WoO means Werke ohne Opuszahl (“Works without opus number”)…

This is a German musical catalogue listing all of the compositions of Ludwig van Beethoven that were not originally published with an opus number, or that survived only as fragments.

Do you hear Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven?

If I heard this music without knowing who wrote it, I would immediately know that it is good, but I would only know that it is Beethoven because of themes I know from his piano music, because at least one theme is used in his Piano Sonata No. 1.

Never in a million years would I guess that he was composing this music at age 14 – and that’s only if we know for sure that he did not start some of this before his 14th birthday while still 13.

To me it sounds like a cross between Haydn and Mozart, as if he knew the music of both very well and was putting the styles of both into his composing bag of tricks while adding his own unique ideas.

Quartet No. 1 in Eb, WoO 36, Piano, violin, viola and cello…

Quartet No. 2 in D, WoO 36, Piano, violin, viola and cello…

Quartet No. 3 in C, WoO 36, Piano, violin, viola and cello…

He later used some of these themes in his F Minor Piano Sonata, No. 1, which he wrote about 10 years later in 1795.

I was around 14 when I learned this sonata, and I thought I was pretty good. But he was writing the ideas for his first sonata when he was 14. I was just trying to figure out how to play it.

These ladies, by the way, are very good…

And now Mozart…

Here are the two quartets Mozart wrote about the same time when he was nearly 30/

Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, KV 478 (1784)

Mozart – Piano Quartet in E Flat Major K 493 (1786)…



3 thoughts on “Beethoven composing at age 14

  1. He probably had photographic memory because there is famous story where he and his dad went to a piano concert and when they got home he like managed to recreate the whole concert on the piano from memory.


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