I can't seem to find non-harmonic analyses of Beethoven's sonatas. And I'm not a classical music analyzer. That makes it hard to write a sonata in the style of Beethoven when I don't know what Beethoven's style is. I've been told that I don't have to go extravagant, that I can just write something simple.

Well I tried writing a simple sonata years ago and I managed to write 1 movement, just 1. And I played it and I know what composer it sounds like more than anything else. That would be Mozart(probably due to the Alberti bass and major key in the unfinished sonata). I know that early Beethoven and late Mozart sound similar but as Beethoven wrote more works, they diverged to be more towards Chopin's style than that of Mozart.

Somewhere in between those 2 is what I would consider to be definitely Beethoven's style. Take his 5th symphony for example. It doesn't sound like a late Mozart work nor does it sound like that of Chopin or Brahms or any other Romantic era composer. It sounds like Beethoven. But what is it about Beethoven pieces that makes it Beethoven's style?

Is it the use of sudden changes in dynamics often? Is it the coda being like its own section instead of like a tag at the end? Is it the use of 1 motif throughout a piece(which I particularly notice in his 5th symphony)? Is it the common use of minor keys? Is it all of these?

  • Sounds like our answers need to cater towards the sound of Beethoven's middle and late periods, not his early period. (I've been told that some of my compositions sound like middle-period Beethoven, and I suspect it's partially because of my harmonic language and preference towards terse musical forms.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 6:04
  • Beethoven didn't have "a style". Neither did (or do) any other good composers. "Style" is what you have when the only thing you can do is repeat what you have already done. If you can find a "style" that unites the first piano sonata and the last, good luck to you - and you are probably headed for a brilliant musicological career in academia!
    – user19146
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 8:04
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    @alephzero that's patently false - else how can so many of us identify a piece as Beethoven even it it's a new piece to us. Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 11:06
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    @CarlWitthoft I have personal experience of playing late Beethoven to "well-listened" non-musicians who had never heard it before, and thought it was Stravinsky, Schoenberg, etc. If your experience is different, that's fine of course.
    – user19146
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 22:29
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    @alephzero I could well see people disbelieving that Beethoven's e.g. late quartets could have been written already in 1825, but that's just because he was too far ahead of his time in terms of ideas / techniques. The unique style is still there. Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 10:09

5 Answers 5


I don't think I can improve on Dudley Moore's "answer" one bit:

Although it is obviously a parody, and a very funny one, if you study carefully all of the devices that Moore uses to tinker with the simple melody, you'll get a lot of ideas about how to write in Beethoven's style. Part of the reason that it's so successful as a parody is that all of the things he does to mess with the melody are recognizable as things that Beethoven loved to do with his treatments of his own themes.

  • Rick Wakeman has a stage piece along the same lines, where he plays Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in the styles of Mozart, Liszt, Fats Domino, etc. As BobRhodes says he (and Dud) are pulling out various common recognisable stylistic elements of the particular style he is emulating and applies them to the tune at hand. Wakeman and Moore are doing it for comic effect, but the same effect can be heard in Michael Nyman's score for The Draughtsman's Contract where recognisable baroque tropes are employed to make the score both baroque and modern. The art is to identify the stylistic elements! Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 7:20

Many of Beethoven's works depend strongly on following his dynamics instructions. He not only used a lot of swell and dim, but many sudden 'jumps' in level.
I tend to observe, or recall, his tendancy to allow a change in lead instrument (or section, for orchestra) to happen simultaneously with a change in theme.

For all that, it is the case that more than one musicologist has tried to figure out how our neurons tell us who the composer of a piece is even tho we can't come up with purely objective criteria.

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    I wonder how good machine learning performs these days, at distinguishing composers from recordings of their music. Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 11:31
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    @leftaroundabout Composers are usually approximately humanoid in size and shape. Recordings (if they have any physical form at all these days) are not. Even Google's cat-recognition software should be able to sort out the difference between a composer and a recording ;)
    – user19146
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 22:35
  • @alephzero I wouldn't be sure, maybe we can fool it with some adversarial attack into classifying Beethoven as a hamburger. Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 23:01

If you want to delve deeply into what makes Beethoven sound like "Beethoven," try reading through some of Scott Burnham's book, Beethoven Hero. It does deal with harmony (the author is a music theorist), but it also talks about "the heroic style," which I think is what we imagine when someone says middle-period Beethoven.

If I had to boil it down to one thing, it would be that it is not enough, as in imitating Mozart, to come up with an attractive set of melodies and place them in an elegant (but pre-determined) form. You need to make the listener believe that the musical themes themselves are generating the form, working out their "fate" -- or, less, fancifully, their tonal and rhythmic implications.

[And before you attack, obviously Mozart himself did not compose in the mechanical way I outlined above...]


Beethoven liked to design his themes to be close to "ornamental" or "filler" materials such as scales, arpeggios, trills, etc. Charles Rosen has some discussion of these procedures can be found in "Sonata Forms" and "The Classical Style."

Rosen's point is that many passages in the Classical Style exist to emphasize key changes; the actual material used in these passages need not be related to the main themes (in sonata forms, for example). By incorporating scales and the like into the themes, the "filler" passages can be made to sound thematic.

The "Emperor Concerto" and Piano Sonata #32 are a couple of good examples.


What's the point in asking how to analyse Beethoven's style then saying "I'm not a classical music analyzer"?!

Beethoven delights in taking a simple theme, often little more than a fragment, and transforming it through exciting new (compared to earlier composers) key changes. His style is ALL about harmony! If you want to analyse and reproduce it, don't reject the necessary tools.

  • Because I wasn't one at the time I wrote this question? But I was a composer wanting to emulate Beethoven. Obviously that's changed now, I'm doing analysis all the time because of the book I'm writing, but back at the time I wrote this question, I had 0 experience in harmonic analysis or any other kind of analysis.
    – Caters
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 15:47

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