One of the young Beethoven’s most cherished desires was to surpass Mozart, the idol of his childhood years. After a mysterious early death in 1791 Mozart’s fame only increased, becoming cloaked in legend and raising the composer’s genius to inaccessible heights. Beethoven arrived in Vienna at the end of 1792, intending, in the words of his patron Count Ferdinand Waldstein, to ‘receive Mozart’s spirit from the hands of Haydn’.
The young Beethoven could not avoid such competition ‘in absentia’, even if he had wished to: his contemporaries still remembered Mozart well and constantly compared the style, manner of execution and creative temperament of the two composers. Such comparisons were not always in favour of Beethoven. Although it was commonly believed that he had the upper hand when it came to improvisation, outstripping even Mozart, critics usually reproached Beethoven the composer for an unnecessarily complicated style and an intentional striving for originality. As if taking a stance against those who preferred ‘lucid’ and ‘elegant’ art (essentially, the art of the music salon), in
his early years Beethoven frequently took as an example the most complex and richly dramatic of Mozart’s works. For Beethoven, Mozart represented both a rival and an ally in equal measure.