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

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.


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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