CONVERGENT MUSICAL EVOLUTION
How do composers conjure and craft their music? Whence come their melodic and motivic ideas? Are they always de novo? Are they borrowed? Or are there certain motifs that are universal ?
Ludwig van Beethoven began writing his ninth symphony in 1817.
The Ode to Joy theme in the final movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony stemmed from a melodic idea which he had originally hatched back in 1790, when he set to music a 1785 poem and drinking song by Friedrich Schiller, an die Freude (To Joy).
Beethoven’s 1795 Lied (German art song), Gegenliebe (Returned Love), contained the motif that he would later employ as the “Ode to Joy.”
Ah, but Wolfgang Mozart had already penned that melodic motif twenty years years earlier, in 1775, in a sacred work, the Misericordias Domini, KV 222.
In Mozart's Misericordias Domini, at the 1:05 mark, you can hear the Ode to Joy melody, i.e., Beethoven's Ode to Joy.
The motif repeats several times in Mozart's composition.
How can this be?
Did Beethoven copy Mozart?
It is highly unlikely. There is no evidence that Beethoven ever heard the Misericordias Domini, nor did he ever see the autograph.
A similar example is heard with Beethoven's 1805 Eroica symphony theme.
Mozart had penned a similar motif thirty-seven years early in the overture to his 1768 opera, Bastien und Bastienne, KV 50.
Bastien und Bastienne was performed only once in Mozart's lifetime, a private performance at the home of the physician Dr Hans Mesmer.
The opera was not published until the 1880s and received its first known public performance in 1890.
It is highly unlikely for Beethoven to have seen the manuscript and he never heard the opera.
Here is a snippet of the overture to Bastien und Bastienne. Do you hear a bit of the first theme of Beethoven's Eroica symphony within it?
These serendipitous motivic events are examples of what I call Convergent Musical Evolution. These motifs are simple, diatonic, with no chromatics, and with small intervals between the notes.
Convergent Musical Evolution is a form of Convergent Evolution - an analogy would be butterflies and birds independently evolving to develop wings.
What we have here with these lovely Mozartian and Beethovenian motifs is straightforward: it is not one genius borrowing from another. Rather, it is two geniuses, independently conjuring and crafting eternal and universal melodies.
Left: The posthumous portrait of Wolfgang Amade’ Mozart Barbara Kraft 1819 Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Vienna
Right: The Portrait from Life of Ludwig van Beethoven with the Missa Solemnis. Karl Joseph Stieler 1820 Beethovenhaus Bonn