Bastien and Bastienne…and Beethoven?

Musical mystery, or compositional coincidence?  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote the music for his one-act opera Bastien and Bastienne in 1768, at the age of 12.  The short Overture to Bastien and Bastienne bears a remarkable resemblance to the opening theme of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, composed between 1802 and 1804.  Although the keys are different (Mozart’s overture is in G major and Beethoven’s symphony is in E♭ major), could it be that Beethoven had Mozart’s theme in mind while he composed his 3rd symphony?  It is unlikely that Bastien and Bastienne was known to Beethoven, as that music received its first public performance in 1890.  Perhaps, just a coincidence.  Great minds think alike, it appears.

Overture to Bastien and Bastienne, Statatskapelle Dresden, Sir Colin Davis, RCA 74321-56698-2
Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, London 430 792-2

3 thoughts on “Bastien and Bastienne…and Beethoven?”

  1. As one listener to “Classics by Request” on Wisconsin Public Radio pointed out, it is possible that both Mozart and Beethoven might have heard and been inspired by the same source material. I hadn’t considered that, and it is certainly a possibility.

  2. I was also struck by this similarity.

    While it is undeniable that the development of the themes is completely different and it goes in completely different directions, the theme from the overture of ‘Bastien und Bastienne’ of Mozart is so similar to the one first theme of the first movement in Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ – so similar, that one may wonder…

    1. Thanks, CP. Upon further investigation, I found this from W. A. DeWitt at https://www.beethovenseroica.com/Pg3_anal/1mov/1m03.htm :

      “The purity of this theme is derived from the tones of the E♭ triad. Triadic intervals are the basic building blocks of melody. So basic in fact, there are numerous parallels to be found with this theme. One is the Overture to ‘Bastien et Bastienne’, an operetta written by Mozart at the age of twelve.”

      “As with any Beethoven work, the entire structure of this movement is based on the simplest of components.”

      So, perhaps, just a coincidence, but an interesting one, nonetheless.

      Apparently, many others have noticed this coincidence that we also discovered. The first reference I can find is from 1945:

      https://www.jstor.org/stable/739336

      Dave

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