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What are some musical characteristics that can be analyzed to tell if a piece of music was written by Ludwig van Beethoven or Frédéric Chopin?

Both are unmistakably present in the concert repertoire of the piano, and there is a lot of material by each composer. What characteristics can be most easily heard to distinguish between the two?

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    Neither--it's a transcription of the aria "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's opera Gianni Schicchi, wherein Lauretta pleads with her father to let her marry Rinuccio. As Luke mentioned, song identification questions are too localized; I will edit to bring this on-topic. – NReilingh Sep 30 '12 at 5:15
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It's easier to identify Chopin, since he developed a very personal style. For example, if there is strong chromaticism, it's probably Chopin. But it should be noted that, toward the end of his life, Beethoven too started composing in a more chromatic manner. Listen to the Adagio of op. 106 or the Arioso in op. 110. It doesn't seem like Beethoven at all: it's Chopin!

Other characteristics of Chopin are a strong emphasis on the melodic line, a rich musical texture, a tendency toward virtuosism and a very fast harmonic rhythm (but there are many exceptions to this one).

It's harder to identify a composition by Beethoven, mainly because he approached composing in a totally different manner than Chopin. Musicologists talk about the infamous "three periods", and such a categorization may work at times, but the truth is that Beethoven tried something new with every composition. He composed the 5th and 6th symphonies at the same time, and these two works are largely different for content and form. Before 1813 circa, he rarely used contrapuntal devices. After that year, more than half of his compositions contains a fugue.

I think the only constant characteristic he always had was his obsession with motivic development. If the theme gets constantly developed in new and different ways, it may be Beethoven.

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I'd characterise Beethoven as prioritising harmony first, rhythm second, and melody, if at all, last. So with Beethoven, melody is an emergent property rather than anything else.

Chopin on the other hand wrote melodies and then harmonies to accompany them. Typically, I'd also say that his pieces have a lot less drive, as his use of rhythm, especially syncopation, is more, say, conventional.

You can find an easy example of this in Beethoven's first sonata, at the tail end of the first theme(? term correct?), where the suspension is written as a single key on the 1, and the remaining chord is added on the two. The normal way of doing this would be to have the suspension be a full chord with one stray key, then resolve that one key.

As an aside, if you play either, you'll find that Chopin has tried to make his pieces playable, e.g. used scales where the longer middle fingers can rest on black keys, with thumb and pinky on white keys, whereas Beethoven put his vision of harmonic relations first.

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I have listened to a lot of Beethoven, so I am pretty well versed in his style from his middle period(which is when he really blossomed as a composer). The Pathetique sonata, although composed during his early period, is a very good example of what I mean whenever I say Beethoven's style.

These are the characteristics I associate with Beethoven's music:

  • Sudden dynamic changes(both forte to piano and vice versa)
  • Sudden tempo changes
  • Octave heavy
  • Using the minor mode a lot, even in major keys
  • Overall, very dramatic sounding, even in an otherwise peaceful key such as C major.

All of these are found in the Pathetique Sonata. Also, Beethoven had a thing for C minor. His most dramatic works are often in C minor. Beethoven's music tends to be complex and it sounds as though the bass is a melody of its own, albeit very repetitive and mostly in octaves. You can't get the essence of Beethoven without the bass line. He also is one of the best composers as far as development is concerned. You don't need to look any further than his Fifth Symphony to see how he can transform a simple, short motif, to a complex work of art.

Very few of these characteristics I associate with Chopin except the sudden tempo changes. Chopin to me is more melodic in nature when it comes to his music. His bass line tends to be an ostinato and most of the beauty comes from the melody alone. If you just played the melody without the bass line, you would still get the essence of Chopin. Also, another thing I associate with Chopin is having the rhythm in 3s. He uses triplets a lot and I really mean a lot.

His Nocturne op. 9 no. 2 has triplets in 2 forms. First there are the explicit triplets where you actually see a 3 above the notes. But most of the triplets there are implicit triplets in the left hand. He basically wrote it in 4/4 but decided on a 12/8 time signature to avoid lots of triplet marks. But I mean really, 12/8 is the triplet form of 4/4 so me saying that there are implicit triplets in his most famous nocturne is very accurate.

  • Odd--I find that I can likely distinguish Beethoven pieces from, say, Mozart pieces, even if all I am given is the melody. (Mozart's music resembles noticeably more chromatic and heated versions of Clementi's music and other style galant pieces, I've found. Mid-period and later Beethoven is too heated for even that.) – Dekkadeci Feb 7 at 6:10
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The characteristic that matters most to me personally is duration. In a general sense, Beethoven's works are longer than Chopin's. If you choose Beethoven's piano sonatas as one example and then compare to Chopin's Preludes, the difference in duration is easy to notice. There is some 'cherry picking' involved in this observation. You could pick a German dance from Beethoven and compare to a longer Chopin etude.

Texture is another element to pay attention to. Compared to Chopin, Beethoven's style was an earlier style rooted in counterpoint and the voice leading of vocal music. Chopin's style didn't follow those conventions as much. With Chopin I think of a waltz style left hand with wide spacing that isn't concerned with strict voice leading. In over simplified terms it's more SATB harmony with Beethoven compared to melody plus chords with Chopin.

Something that might get overlooked, but I think is probably the most profound difference, is the structural difference in the forms of Beethoven and Chopin. Sonata form and the recapitulation is at the heart of Beethoven's compositions. But recapitulation isn't important in a lot of Chopin's music like the preludes or mazurkas. Small binary and ternary forms were used and the poetic mood of the music was more important that the formal manipulation of themes.

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Beethoven’s writing and style uses mainly the Sonata-form

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonata_form

while Chopin can be identified by his Salon style, arpeggios over and over ...

and the virtuoso piano style, however, are the great free piano creations of Chopin, to which he gave titles such as Ballade, Scherzo, Impromptu, also the F minor Fantasia and the Barcarole, which is much more than a barcarole, belong to. The form of these great piano pieces is the freely treated large form of song, which in the period after Beethoven broke the supremacy of the sonata and took its place.

Hermann Keller

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