Not to squeeze the analogy until it screams, but there is something auspicious in the fact that Beethoven’s First Piano Sonata starts with the musical device called a “Mannheim skyrocket.” A rising staccato arpeggio, the skyrocket was a Mozart trademark, appearing most famously at the start of the last movement of his G-minor Symphony (K. 550). Beethoven’s note-for-note (except for the key) appropriation amounts to a cry of “the king is dead, long live the king”—after this six-note figure, Beethoven abandons Mozart and is henceforth engaged in building his own kingdom.

If it is true that a prime indication of genius is the establishment and development of an original style, Beethoven shows his cards very early on, even though homage to musical ancestors is still occasionally paid. The skyrocket also signals the beginning of a body of piano...

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