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TitleA Comparison of Beethoven’s and Schubert’s Compositional Processes
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Introduction

Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven are composers that are often compared and

contrasted in a number of ways due to their proximity to each other in the early nineteenth century.

In addition to style and focus, one such contrast is in the area of compositional process, with

Beethoven producing a large number of drafts and sketches, and Schubert seemingly writing as

quickly as possible without revision. While there is certainly no single correct way to write music, the

process by which composers compose has great influence on their musical output. Perhaps the key

to the differences between Beethoven‟s and Schubert‟s music can be partially explained by

examining their composition processes. Once these processes are determined and analyzed, it may

be possible to use this information in teaching composition.

Beethoven’s Compositional Process

The individual compositional process is a procedure that has as many iterations as it has

composers who compose.
1
Of the composers with whom we are generally familiar, Ludwig van

Beethoven‟s method of composition stands out as being very methodical and structured. His

extensive use of sketches, sketchbooks, and drafts are starkly contrasted with other significant

composers of his time such as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Schubert.

These three composers are usually regarded as extremely prolific, seemingly writing entire works

from beginning to end, without drafts, and moving on to the next. Beethoven‟s process, however, is

significantly different and prolonged.

The immediate first difference in Beethoven‟s process is his extensive use of sketches. Much

of this information comes to us from Gustav Nottebohm, who was the first to write extensively on


1 In-depth studies of compositional processes in general may be found in Stan Bennett, "The Process of Musical
Creation: Interviews with Eight Composers," Journal of Research in Music Education 24, No. 1 (Spring, 1976); Mary A.
Kennedy, "Listening to the Music: Compositional Processes of High School Composers," Journal of Research in Music
Education 50, No. 2 (Summer, 2002), and Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, Harrison Birtwistle, Brian Ferneyhough, Steve
Reich, Franco Donatoni, Louis Andriessen, and Gyorgy Ligeti “Brave New Worlds: Leading composers offer their
anniversary predictions and speculations…,” The Musical Times 135, no. 18 (Jun., 1994).

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dedicated to unity of form (namely, the “complete outline” and “continuity drafts” steps), while

Schubert‟s workflow has no mention of unity. It is instead assumed that Schubert addressed any

major questions regarding formal unity in the initial piano sketch stage, and used the bulk of his

compositional process for orchestration. Or perhaps Schubert was more focused on melodic rather

than harmonic motion, which would free him from concentrating on form and allow him to

primarily work with melody-driven development.

Beethoven, however, takes the opposite approach, taking meticulous care to see that his

forms are unified, as seen by his “continuity drafts” and “complete outline” stages. While formal

unity seems to be missing from Schubert‟s process, Beethoven‟s process is missing orchestration.

Beethoven‟s process of orchestration is similar to Schubert‟s process of formal unity. Both

composers come to these tasks with a sense of intuition.
19

Beethoven‟s approach to orchestration

and Schubert‟s approach to form seem to be holistic in nature.

Influence of Compositional Process on Music

Both Beethoven and Schubert‟s music show direct and indirect links to their compositional

processes. As an overall example, Schubert‟s generally melodically-driven music resembles his

streamlined workflow, while Beethoven‟s choppy workflow matches his motive-driven work which

often involves the sparring of opposing forces. This is not to say that Schubert‟s works are better-

constructed or that Beethoven‟s works are segmented. Rather, each composer‟s workflow accents

the individual composer‟s mindset and attitude. In this way, both workflows are an outgrowth of the

individual composer‟s preferences. Beethoven was influenced significantly through and by struggle,

and his music emulates that struggle through primarily motivic means. The process by which

Beethoven achieves this is similarly marked by struggle (especially when Beethoven‟s process is

compared to Schubert‟s).


19 This intuition may be due to each composer‟s other works. Schubert‟s extensive experience with lieder may have
honed his lyricism, while Beethoven‟s work with large forms may have sharpened his orchestration skills.

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