• LOGIN
  • No products in the cart.

Beethoven ‘Pathétique’

Beethoven Piano Sonata Op.13 No.8 in C minor, ‘Pathétique’

Vienna from Belvedere by Bernardo Bellotto, 1758

Beethoven composed this sonata in 1798 and dedicated it to Prince Karl von Lichnowsky, who was a friend of Mozart’s and Beethoven’s and a strong supporter of music in Vienna. It was given the name ‘Pathétique’ by Beethoven’s publisher, though probably with the composer’s consent, due to its dramatic moods, particularly clear at the very start with the brooding Grave introduction. The C minor key, one which Beethoven used most famously in his Symphony No.5, provides many dramatic opportunities, and Beethoven would have been aware of both a Piano Sonata and a Fantasia in that key written some years earlier by Mozart.

Beethoven and the piano

Beethoven had been living in Vienna for five or six years by now and was forging a reputation as a talented and compelling pianist and improviser. The piano he would have been playing on was quite a recent invention but was largely replacing the harpsichord in popularity given its ability to play at different dynamics and with a wider palette of colour. Beethoven’s performing style was known for its dramatic contrasts and he was getting a reputation for being passionate and even forceful in his playing. He often spoke of his frustration with the lack of power in the pianos he played and longed for a greater, more dramatic sounding instrument.

You can see plenty of examples of Beethoven’s approach to piano writing in this sonata. His use of dynamic contrasts, thick chords and a wide tessitura (range of pitch), along with other performance markings, was groundbreaking at the time.

Sonata form

The first movement of this sonata is in sonata form, a structure which had become commonplace and popular in the Classical period, particularly in first movements of sonatas, symphonies and string quartets by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Sonata form developed out of binary and ternary form. It has two main thematic and tonal centres arranged into three sections called the exposition, the development and the recapitulation. Most sonata form movements are then rounded off with an ending section called a coda.

Some sonata form movements, like the ‘Pathétique’, begin with a slow introduction. Then, the exposition presents (or ‘exposes’) the main thematic material, arranged into two subject groups, the first in the tonic key and the second in a related key such as the dominant or the relative minor/major. The subject groups are linked by a bridge passage or transition and are usually quite different in character. The exposition usually finishes with a short passage called a codetta, usually in the ‘new’ key of the second subject.

The development section is the part of the movement where some of the themes heard in the exposition are ‘developed’, perhaps by changing their character, expanding one or two motifs or exploring new keys. Since the development is the central section of the music, there is a sense of build-up and increasing tension and, eventually, a return to the tonic key.

Then we hear the recapitulation, where the music of the exposition is repeated (‘recapped’) but without the move to a new key for the second subject. The bridge passage therefore becomes rather redundant but inventive composers like Beethoven still liked to allude to different keys in this section, without ever really settling on them. After the second subject is repeated, we usually have a coda to finish the movement.

Sonata Form, in summary, looks like this:

Not always present, but if one is written it is often slow

1st Subject Group – in the tonic key

Transition or Bridge Passage – where the key changes
2nd Subject Group – in a related key, like the dominant

Codetta – in the same key as the 2nd subject group. In many Beethoven works, a third theme is introduced here.

Selected parts of the 1st and/or 2nd subject group are developed. The music goes through several keys and builds in tension as the next section approaches.

1st Subject Group – in the tonic key

Transition/Bridge Passage – now does not modulate

2nd Subject Group – in the tonic key.

Longer than the codetta and in the tonic key.

The ultimate guide and directory
of free music education resources
for all ages.

The Music Education Council (MEC) acts as a medium for bringing together in a working relationship those organisations and institutions in the UK involved in music education and music education training, thereby creating a common meeting ground and opportunities for the exchange of information and the promotion of joint or connected activities.

The Duet Group is a specialist music services company. It comprises Duet Education, Duet Media, Duet Shop, Duet Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Duet Foundation and is the world’s only company dedicated to providing musical instruments to individuals, schools, and universities.

top
©2020 Duet Group | Privacy Policy  

On this website we use first or third-party tools that store small files (cookie) on your device. Cookies are normally used to allow the site to run properly (technical cookies), to generate navigation usage reports (statistics cookies) and to suitable advertise our services/products (profiling cookies). We can directly use technical cookies, but you have the right to choose whether or not to enable statistical and profiling cookies. Enabling these cookies, you help us to offer you a better experience. Cookie policy