Sonata in C minor (‘Pathétique’), Op. 13 Beethoven (1770–1827)
Grave; Allegro di molto e con brio
Beethoven’s ‘Pathétique’ sonata was published in 1799 during what is referred to as his early period. At this time Beethoven was living in Vienna, supported by many generous patrons including Prince Karl Linchnowsky, to whom this sonata is dedicated.
Beethoven’s early sonatas were written not only for artistic but also for pragmatic reasons. As a performing pianist, Beethoven sought to push the boundaries of the ‘forte piano’ which was, at the time, still undergoing rapid development, having only been in popular use for around sixty years. Many of Beethoven’s sonatas worked to the extremes of the tonal range of the instruments of the day, and made full use of the dynamic range available, characteristically adjoining loud and soft sections to further accentuate the contrast.
It has been suggested that the form for the Pathétique sonata was inspired by a piano sonata published two years earlier by Dussek (opus 35, number 3). Both pieces are written in C minor, and the slow movement of Dussek's piece is marked 'patetico', perhaps giving an insight into Beethoven’s naming of the piece. The Pathétique is one of only two piano sonatas that Beethoven named himself; the other being the sonata of opus 26 ‘Les Adieux’ or, as Beethoven preferred, ‘Das Lebewohl’. The first movement of the sonata is prefaced with a Grave section, a feature commonly found in symphonic works but never before used in a piano sonata.
Sixteen bars later it makes way for the main section, in sonata form; it returns twice, albeit briefly, poignantly punctuating the movement.
The second movement, in rondo form, provides relief from the mental anguish of the first. The opening cantabile section, in a major key, is twice displaced by themes set in minor keys; both times it prevails, bringing the music back to...