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Left: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart painted by Barbara Krafft, 18 years after his death. Right: Beethoven, painted by Joseph Carl Stieler (1819-20).

Luckily for us, what happened in Vienna never stayed in Vienna

Vienna, the end of the 18th century, early 19th century. Aside from the various coffee places (hipsterish avant la lettre) and the occasional Habsburgian power struggle, in this era the city was home to some of the most famous and most brilliant composers of Western music in history: Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn.

These three giants form the First Viennese School. Not only did the composers share their whereabouts, but even more significantly, they have a similar music style. If you think about the classics of classical music, the music of the First Viennese School composers is most likely the first that will spring to mind. Everything is there: the violins, pianos, grand compositions for orchestras and even opera.

Mozart and Beethoven are the most significant representatives of the Viennese School,  so they’re a great place to start exploring the classical repertoire. In future pieces, we’ll have a more detailed analysis of their lives, the meaning of their work and the way it came about. But for now, just lay back and casually acquaint yourself with this marvellous chapter of European heritage.  

Mozart (1756-1791)

Full name: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Pianist, prodigy and musical genius, played and wrote music almost as soon as he could walk. He finished his first orchestral symphony to be played by an orchestra at a mere 8 years old and composed an amazing amount of music throughout his life. Many pieces of his are well known to our ears. Everyone knows the opening melody of his 40th symphony for example:

He wrote grand operas:

But his elegant chamber music (music to be played by smaller groups of musicians) is very recommendable too:

Beethoven (1770-1827)

Like Mozart, Beethoven was a pianist and a musical prodigy, who played and wrote music from a very early age. He took Mozart’s style and developed it further by making it more romantic, so Beethoven’s music is a tad more emotionally oriented and more grand on the whole, but he never departed from the typical Viennese classical style.

Listen to his third symphony for Beethoven’s typical style:

His third piano concerto (a composition for piano and orchestra where the piano takes the lead role) shows just how spectacular Beethoven’s compositions can get:

But again, like Mozart, he wrote great and more elegant chamber music too:

Further listening

Both Mozart and Beethoven’s bodies of work are vast and diverse, but everything they composed is worth listening to. For calmer and more intimate music, check out Mozart’s and Beethoven’s piano sonatas. For more fireworks, go to Beethoven’s symphonies. Feeling sad? Then Mozarts Requiem might console you. All great examples of just how wonderful Western classical music can be!