The Form and Tonal Structure of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13, Ii. “Adagio Cantabile”

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The Form and Tonal Structure of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, II. “Adagio cantabile”

March 19, 2013

Form and Analysis

Many consider Ludwig Von Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 as his first major musical accomplishment, more commonly known as Sonata Pathetique. Written at the age of 27 in 1798, the young composer had gained instant fame and his work was published only a year later. Beethoven, being one of the first significant musicians to work for them selves, is said to have given it the title.

This composition consists of three movements of which we will further examine movement II, Adagio Cantabile. This movement is placed in high contrast with the other two, particularly in tempo. It follows a five part rondo form and A B A C A structure with an 8 bar coda at the end.

Section A (mm.1-16) begins with the 8 bar main theme in A♭ major with a gentle vocal-like melody in the soprano. The antecedent of the phrase hits a half cadence at m. 4 with the consequent ending on a perfect authentic cadence in m. 8. The main theme is then repeated with variation through mm. 9-16 with the soprano line an octave higher and a thicker middle voice texture.

Section B (mm. 17-28) presents new material and modulates briefly into the key of F minor, which begins vaguely with a dominant pedal tone. After a few V-i establishments of our new tonic, Beethoven immediately starts preparing the next key change into E♭ major and confirms it with a PAC in m.23. The new tonic is then transformed back into the dominant of the home key of A♭ at m. 27 with a crescendo that drops back down into the MT with variations in section A’ (mm. 29-36) This repeated section follows the first almost exactly with some textural differences but still ends with the same PAC in A♭ major at m.36.

Section C (mm.37-50) adds a new variety and stands as the highest contrast point in the piece. Beethoven moves directly into the parallel minor of A♭...
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