Most people argue that because Beethoven kept pushing the boundaries further and further on sonata form and dissonance that he started the Romantic Revolution. On the other hand, I have heard a few people say "Beethoven is only really part of what brought the Romantic Revolution. Had it not been for Schubert and Chopin, we wouldn't have had the Romantic Period as we know it."

But if I'm not mistaken, I hear a tiny bit of romanticism in Mozart's late works, especially works like Symphony no. 40. Repeated dissonant chords just to name one aspect of it. So like I hear a progression towards Beethoven as I go from early Mozart works which sound very Haydnesque, to late Mozart works which start pushing the boundaries. Albeit, very few if any diminished 7ths unlike Beethoven but who is to say that Beethoven really started the Romantic Revolution when you can clearly hear a bit of it in late Mozart? Who isn't to say that if Mozart had lived 20 years longer, there would be no need for Beethoven in the Romantic Revolution?

So I think Mozart is really the composer who started the Romantic Revolution. And some sources say the Romantic Period started in 1770 which would match up with Mozart starting the Romantic Revolution. Most though put the start of the Romantic Period at 1800, the year that Beethoven premiered his first symphony which matches up with the majority who say that Beethoven started the Romantic Revolution. I have even seen a few sources go as far as 1815 for the start of the Romantic Period. That would make Symphony no 9, Beethoven's only Romantic period symphony.

That certainly doesn't sound right to me. I would put an upper boundary on the Classical period of at the latest 1808, the year Symphony no 5 was premiered. Symphony no 5 sounds way too revolutionary to me to be considered to be from the Classical period. I mean, a whole symphony based on just 1 four note motif? A second movement in the key of the submediant? That is certainly unusual for the time that Beethoven composed his 5th symphony. Most minor key symphonies at the time would have a second movement in one of 3 keys:

  • Dominant minor/major
  • Subdominant minor
  • Relative major

The parallel major fourth movement is not nearly as unusual though. It is like the symphonic version of the Picardy Third.

So did Beethoven really start the Romantic Period if there is already romanticism in late Mozart, 3 decades before according to most sources, the Romantic Period started?

  • 2
    It's not unlike looking at a rainbow and trying to draw a line separating the green from the blue. Putting a hard date on the start and end of any period of music (or other) history will always be an oversimplification. As to Beethoven building on Mozart, Newton's famous "on the shoulders of giants" saying comes to mind. (Using the submediant as a related key hardly seems revolutionary, however; there's plenty of that in the Baroque period, and Mozart's 40th, in G minor, has a movement in E-flat major.)
    – phoog
    Jan 10, 2019 at 19:42

3 Answers 3


Of course he didn't, and good on you for spotting such an oversimplification.

The simple fact is that it's almost never fully correct to say that one individual ushered in a new historical era. The web of influences is incredibly complex, and anyone saying "this era started here" is likely either simplifying the matter for teaching purposes, or pushing their own agenda.

There are elements of Romanticism in Mozart, definitely, and in Haydn, too. So too are there Classical elements in late Beethoven. Really, it's best to understand music history as a fuzzy continuum; it's almost best not to think of eras as "starting," but rather just emerging from innovations of the previous era.

My favorite example is those that end the Baroque era with J. S. Bach's year of death. As if, on that day in Leipzig when he died in 1750, the whole world suddenly shook out of their Baroque stupor and thought "well, time to be Classical!"

It's a bit like asking when the first human appeared as a descendant from our evolutionary ancestors. We can't really say, because it was such a gradual change (and one obviously on a much larger scale than this discussion). Or imagine someone saying that Hitler started the rise of German nationalism in the 1930s; this overlooks decades of such rumblings that preceded him.

But unfortunately, these types of claims are rampant in history, and in music history. The French theorist Choron claimed that Monteverdi invented "modern tonality," even going so far as to point to a single dominant-seventh chord in a madrigal from 1592, saying that tonality began here, in this exact measure!

One possible exception to all of this might be the onset of twelve-tone serialism, which "began" in 1923 in the fifth movement of Schoenberg's Op. 23 piano pieces. But even then, this is a part of a larger move away from tonality that includes works by Mahler, Wolf, Debussy, Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, and others.

  • 1
    "simplifying the matter for teaching purposes" Absolutely! Jan 10, 2019 at 20:12


I think I took a class long ago where Belioz's Symphonie Fantastique was offered up as a defining moment.

Schubert? Programmatic stuff like the Erlkönig and made some interesting modulations aside, Schubert seems so formal and rational. I think of his music - at least a large portion of it - as classical.

Personally, when I heard Chopin's 2nd Prelude, that's the moment I thought 'this is different, this is NOT classical music.' But Berlioz beats Chopin out by a few years.

I share your feeling about Beethoven versus Mozart, especially Mozart's later minor-key solo piano works.


OK. Your argument for Romantic elements in Mozart is a valid one. You'll find some in Bach too if you go looking! Everything overlaps.

I'd disagree with you about Beethoven 5 being post-classical though. ULTIMATELY classical, if you like. It's still about key contrasts, it's not a deal-breaker if they aren't always the conventional keys!

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