Piano Sonata No.8

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Sonata No.8 in C minor

Op. 13 • “Pathétique”

Recommended recording

Curated by Mary Elizabeth Kelly, Primephonic Curator

About this work

This was the earliest of Beethoven's piano sonatas to reach warhorse status. The work is cast in three movements: the first is marked Grave-Allegro di molto e con brio; the second, Adagio cantabile; and the finale, Rondo (Allegro). Beethoven opens this composition with a slow, meditative introduction, using this feature for the first time in a sonata. Seemingly posing a question, or struggling to overcome a dilemma, the music seeks resolution and relief, which appears in the exposition proper, when the movement, driven by tremolando octaves in the left hand, quickens, and theme transforms itself into deeply anxious utterance, introducing, once again, a questing, uncertain mood, without excluding forceful utterances, possibly indicating a desire to transcend the feeling of uncertainty. During the brief development section, a sense of dramatic tension predominates, but the general tone changes in the recapitulation, leading to a coda, which closes the movement. The second movement begins with a soothing, languid, melancholy melody of an autumnal beauty. Dominating the entire movement, this initial theme eclipses both the subdued second theme and the moment of dramatic tension in the middle section of the movement. The Rondo finale is really the second Rondo in the sonata, since the middle movement possesses the structural features of that form. This movement opens with a gracefully eloquent theme accompanied by arpeggiated figures played by the left hand. Although the mood seems bright, the music is tinged by melancholy, notwithstanding the playful second theme. Following repetition and thematic development, the first theme surfaces as simultaneously more agile and more delicate. A lengthy, brilliant coda completes the movement. Dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky, this composition was first published in Vienna in 1799.

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