Mozart vs. Beethoven

Today we will answer a very important question; a question that has plagued classical music scholars for centuries, I’m sure. The first person to actually ask me this question was not a learned professor or a talented colleague, it was my twin brother. Which was surprising at the time since his favorite musician was Weird Al Yankovic and his favorite instrument was his hand in his armpit. The question is this: in a no holds barred battle to the death, who would win-Beethoven or Mozart?

Initially, I was shocked that he knew the names of more than one classical composer and secondly, I was shocked that I had never considered this myself. The question, while slightly inane, does bring a certain humanity to historic figures that are often set upon pedestals as gods of composition. These high and lofty figures were mere mortals in their day with strengths and weaknesses. Besides, why shouldn’t we pit them against each other for our own amusement?


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Born: January 27, 1756

Lived In: Vienna, Austria

Composed: Nearly 1,000 works in just over 30 years including everything from simple piano songs to epic operas.  His most famous works include The Magic Flute, A minor Piano Sonata, and his Requiem.

Fun Fact:  He was a very fashionable guy who always had the best clothes and wigs money could buy.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Born: December 16, 1770

Lived: Bonn, Germany

Composed: Just over 200 published pieces exist from his lifetime as well as dozen of unpublished sketches.  His most famous works include Piano Concerto No.5 (Emperor), Symphony No.5, and the massive Symphony N0. 9.

Fun Fact:  He started to loose his hearing at the age of 26.

Now when setting up this match, important things must be considered.  Location for one.  I would hold the fight in Vienna.  Mozart did travel all over Europe as a child prodigy but his favorite place was Vienna.  Likewise, Beethoven might have considered Bonn his home, but he did spend time in Vienna in his 20’s studying under the top composers and music theorists of the day.  Vienna would be the most neutral territory for the two.

Another consideration must be the referee.  We would need to have an individual that while respecting each composer’s talent did not have a definite bias one way or the other.  I would suggest bringing Hayden out of retirement to judge the match.  Hayden was a teacher to both and saw great potential in both composers.

Now, for the Battle Royale.

‘The bell rings and the composers approach each other.  Mozart, being the excitable little scrapper he is, throws the first punch using his impeccable counterpoint he mastered while still in puberty.  Beethoven is stumbles back, but this is nothing he hasn’t seen before.  He counters with a one-two punch using his ability to develop a theme and genius use of codas.  Mozart is shaken by this since it in no way follows the musical forms he himself had mastered.  He quickly retaliates with his innovative comic operas but it’s deflected by the strength of Beethoven’s symphonies. 1, 2, 3, 4…9! 9 punches right to the throat (He wrote 9 symphonies).  Beethoven thinks he’s won but while his back is turned, Mozart takes he out with the sheer prolific volume of his compositions.  Beethoven is down for the count.  As Hayden is counting, Beethoven struggles to get up.  I don’t believe this!  He’s standing again!  Mozart looks nervous.  He’s got nothing left to throw at his opponent.  Beethoven throws down Mozart using his pent up Daddy issues.  That’s right folks, he had to put his career on pause in his late 20’s to take care of his family because his father was a belligerent alcoholic.  There’s a lot of pain there folks.

I guess it doesn’t matter how much music you write, when it comes to a fight, he with the most issues wins and Beethoven had issues.  I won’t even get into his “Immortal Beloved.”

Violins Are Like Legos: They’re Meant to Come Apart

The bridge, which connects the vibration of the strings to the body of the instrument, is held in place only by the tension of the strings. No glue or adhesive is necessary or even desirable. (Photo by CavinB)
You’ve seen it before. Intermission commences at the junior high orchestra concert. The suspect, a rather uncoordinated violist (who shall remain unnamed), trips over a cello and the audience gasps as it faceplants on the ground. The bridge goes flying. The strings go limp. A harried seventh grader fights backs tears as she runs to her fallen instrument thinking all is lost, her life is over, and her parents will surely disown her. And to top it off, it’s a rental.

This is usually the time in life when a young musician realizes that 1) string instruments aren’t invincible, and 2) bridges aren’t actually glued on. Who knew?

From food to furniture to clothing to vehicles, the modern era has redefined the production of life’s staples through the use of assembly lines, man-made materials, and machines. But when it comes to string instruments, there’s a reason why violins aren’t made of plastic, commercially manufactured and slapped together with duct tape.

For one, that would sound terrible. Really terrible. But has it ever occurred to you that your instrument is supposed to come apart?

For example, did you know . . .

  • The bridge is held in place by the pressure and tension of the strings. As strings stretch and tighten over time, the bridge may even lean towards the fingerboard and can be adjusted by hand. And if you were to *remove all the strings at once, the bridge would simply fall over.

*This is not recommended, especially while changing strings. Replace strings one at a time to keep the bridge properly positioned and tension on the sound post.

  • The tailpiece is suspended and held in place by the tension of the strings.
  • The sound post (the wooden dowel seen through the f-hole) is also held in place by friction and the pressure and force of the strings on the face of the instrument. Loosening or removing all the strings creates the risk of the sound post falling, which can greatly affect the sound production and quality of your instrument. The sound post can even be moved to affect the sound of the instrument for better (or worse!).
  • The endpin is not glued in but can usually be pulled out by hand.
  • Tuning pegs aren’t glued or secured in place (obviously, as you have to turn them) but are simply held by the friction created by raw wood on wood. If the pegs are difficult to turn and are sticking (sometimes creating a cracking or creaking sound as you turn the pegs), applying a substance called peg dope acts as a lubricant.
  • The face, ribs, back, fingerboard, and neck are glued in place using a water-soluble adhesive called hide glue. Hide glue, which is actually made from animal hides, has been long-used in woodworking and lutherie. The water-soluble characteristic of hide glue allows instruments to be easily taken apart and put back together without damaging the wood, which aids in both assembly and repair.

So why are violins meant to come apart? If they weren’t, parts couldn’t be replaced or repaired easily, especially without sacrificing the entire instrument. Fingerboards, nuts, bridges, tailpieces, endpins, and even necks can be replaced and restored as individual pieces of a larger and beautifully crafted puzzle.

At Kennedy Violins, we take great pride in upholding the historic tradition of handmade string instruments. As each violin, viola, cello, and bass is hand-crafted, setup, and inspected by professional luthiers, you can be confident that every piece of your instrument is expertly constructed and in its place. Top that off with Kennedy Violin’s Lifetime Warranty and you can expect your instrument to truly last a lifetime.

And that’s even more impressive than your nephew’s Lego collection, if I do say so myself.

It’s never too late…

…to learn an instrument. Really.

Many people go nearly their whole life wishing they had learned to play an instrument. Later in life many find the joy and challenge of learning to play well worth the effort. It’s not something one can expect to master in a short time – far from it. At that point in one’s life, one does it for one’s soul. For expression. To see if you can do it.

Not because you expect to launch a second career as a concert soloist, but for the sheer fun of it. So you can join an orchestra and play all that great music you’ve listened to all your life.

I write a lot about introducing music to kids at a very young age for the benefits it gives throughout life, which are many. The brain development at that age is astounding as music builds many more connections than one would have without that training. These extra connections are a tremendous leg up on learning many other disciplines throughout the formative years.

But what of the person who for one reason or another just never had the opportunity as a kid, or the time as a busy adult, to pursue that interest, to scratch that itch? Many of the same benefits you get as a kid exposed to making music very early in life are the same benefits you get as an adult embarking on a new pastime. And for many adults, it becomes part of their lives in their retirement years. Never mind that you’re not going to be taking the world by storm with your mad skills on the violin. Rather, you’re going to be learning a new language and a new way to listen and to participate instead of watch.

Even if you played as a kid and never played again after high school, for example, there’s still time to go back and pick up where you left off. Many adults do and find that it’s one of the most rewarding things they do. They relish the challenge, enjoy the music and look forward to the camaraderie of playing in a local community group of like-minded musicians.

Kennedy Violins sells instruments to many, many adult beginners. Those intrepid souls who are finally going to learn the violin or the viola or cello and who need an instrument, will find a great selection of instruments well-suited to adult beginners at Kennedy Violins. The musicians of Kennedy Violins are also teachers and are very adept at helping you make the best choices for your needs.

Once the cobwebs are knocked off  there comes a time when it’s time to find some place to play. Community groups are the perfect place. Many welcome all-comers and have no audition process. Many originally started as a social outlet and eventually became a performing arts organization. Whether it’s a wine club-cum community orchestra or a non-profit arts organization with a board of directors and paid staff, many community organizations are full of adults who are amateurs just looking for a place to play. Why not join them?

And for grownups who want to experience summer camp again, why not check out a few of the adult summer music camps available around the US? It’s just like when you were a kid – except you’re not! Even though I’m a professional musician, I go to a camp each summer on my second instrument and have a blast. The age range is anywhere from the 30s to the 90s (really!). Doctors, lawyers, architects, teachers, nurses, and everything in-between, all attend this particular camp – many year after year. This particular camp is very popular, with people coming from all over the world, because one of the best things about it is the nightly wine tastings organized just for the campers. You won’t find that in your kid’s summer camp catalog!

Plus, you get to hang out with people just like you who are still learning, and just really love playing. For a lot of campers, it’s their one time of the year they can just do what they love and not worry about anything else. Camp’s not just for kids, anymore!

Have a great summer!


Playing violin shouldn’t be a pain in the neck

We always enjoy talking to our customers on the phone or through email about their future instrument purchase. One question we always ask is if someone needs a shoulder rest. The most typical response is, “Do I need one?” We usually explain that it is up to the instructor. But, at Kennedy Violins, we are all players and instructors, so we usually would recommend that people do use a shoulder rest as an accessory to promote good posture — not because we are trying to add another thing for the customer to buy. However, unless someone knows how to use one correctly, a shoulder rest can only become an item of frustration, especially to a beginner.

Without a shoulder rest, a violin or viola student would hold their instrument by the neck of the instrument and place the body of the instrument on the shoulder. To eliminate the remaining gap between the underside of the chin and the instrument, that student would probably need to unnaturally bend his neck to set his chin on the chin rest. Problem solved? Not necessarily. When the body compensates for that space, the left shoulder and the spine are going to be strained while trying to hold the violin this way. Plus, the left hand is not only trying to make intricate movements on the strings, it is also holding the violin up into position.

A simple $20ish solution can eliminate so many potential problems. Once a shoulder rest is properly positioned, the violin/viola can be brought to the shoulder and the chin simply drops into a naturally comfortable position to hold the instrument in place. The most incredible thing about a shoulder rest that is being used correctly is that the left hand can now simply drop down to the side of the player’s body, and the instrument is still held securely (and comfortably) in place. The left hand is now free from holding the violin up into place and can simply maneuver the notes, especially while shifting between positions.

The shoulder rest can be made of a curved plastic or wooden bar that is cushioned where it comes in contact with the body. The arms of the shoulder rest have rubberized feet where it clamps onto the violin and holds it snug. Some students complain that their shoulder rest comes off too easily, but they usually aren’t putting it on correctly. Most shoulder rests are adjustable to fit different sizes of instruments as well as different depths for longer or shorter necks.

Here is an excellent video on how to correctly install a shoulder rest. This video refers to the Kun shoulder rest, which is probably the most well known shoulder rest among players across the country.

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Kennedy Violins offers a great selection of shoulder rests, including the ever popular varieties of the Kun. Our newest shipment of the Portland Acoustical Shoulder Rest is made to our high standards and specifications. It adjusts just like the Kun shoulder rests do, but it is also made with a solid piece of wood. The wood is not only pleasing to look at, but it also has great acoustical qualities as well. Wood naturally carries sound much better than plastic, so a wood shoulder rest will help carry the sound from the back of the instrument as it is being played.

Even though the use of a shoulder rest makes sense to most people, there will be a select few who do not want to use a shoulder rest because they haven’t seen a professional soloist use one. For starters, most people who play violin without a shoulder rest are using a custom fit chin rest, which basically does the same thing as a shoulder rest on a violin with a standard chin rest. But, quite frankly, most professional soloists are like superheroes who can see great distances without using any special tools. Since I do not have super distant eyesight, I’m not afraid to grab a set of binoculars to see the same thing. And, when you see the soloist performing with an orchestra, scan the musicians through the sections and see how many are using shoulder rests. Not all of them will, but I can assure you that the great majority of players will be using a shoulder rest.