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10. Beethoven – Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor (“Pathetique”)

July 2, 2011

Beethoven was the first major composer whose entire career was for himself, and not any religious or political institution – he lived in the beginning of the Age of the Individual. One major aspect of Beethoven’s lasting influence was that he put a new fuel into basically all of the existing genres of the time. Where piano sonatas and string quartets (to name a couple) had perhaps been upper class “living room” entertainment, Beethoven transformed the forms into grand, artistic, dramatic, soul-bearing expressions, which were meant for the concert stage and an audience of hundreds.

Listen on Youtube:
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, I. Grave – Allegro di molto e con brio

Things to listen for:
– The dramatic opening introduction – marked Grave (Italian tempo marking, indicating something like “slowly and solemnly”).
– The jump into the exposition – marked Allegro di molto e con brio (Quickly, with fire).
– Changes in dynamics (volume) – louder sections, quieter sections, crescendos (gradual increases), sudden sharp increases and decreases.
– Sections that build in tension, vs. sections that resolve tension.
– Recurring sections and themes

Structural timeline:
0:06 introduction – 1st theme
0:52 introduction – 2nd theme, reusage of 1st theme
1:51 exposition – 1st theme
2:24 exposition – 2nd theme
3:16 exposition – closing section
3:36 (repeat of exposition section)
5:21 reprise of introduction (not sure what to call this – Beethoven is going outside the box)
6:12 development
6:57 recapitulation – 1st theme
7:20 recapitulation – 2nd theme
8:07 recapitulation – closing section
8:30 coda? altered reprise of introduction
9:12 ending


Listen on Youtube:
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, II. Adagio cantabile

As was typical, big contrast between 1st and 2nd movements. Much more serene, melodic, smooth, less anxious. The Italian marking for the movement means something like “slowly and singing-ly.” One universal comment about Beethoven is that beautiful melodies didn’t come easily to him, like they did for Mozart and Tchaikovsky. This movement’s opening melody is among Beethoven’s most beautiful, I think, but I bet he really had to work on this one – sketch, redraft, tweak, try this, try that, revise again – and at the same time, work hard on getting the harmonies, moving inner lines, and underlying rhythmic texture and flow that were all just right, until the final product was perfect. Mozart was said to have taken “dictation from God,” but Beethoven had to build everything with his own hands, extensively working out ideas in his sketchbooks that he carried around at all time (something Mozart didn’t need to do). In all this, Beethoven is said to be the master “architect” of classical music, whose genius showed in how he “built” and “crafted” his works.

But, Beethoven’s toiling over this movement’s main melody (as I speculate of it) did do quite well – so well, that Billy Joel borrowed it. Listen to the chorus at 1:20:

Billy Joel – “This Night”


Finally, the closing movement of the Sonata:

Listen on Youtube:
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, III. Rondo – Allegro

Allegro means “quickly,” and a Rondo is a classical form or convention, in which there is a theme that returns several times. As you might expect, sometimes it returns identically as it is first heard, but other times it returns with some variation and goes other directions.

Structural timeline:
0:01 Rondo theme introduced
0:24 Second theme, part A
0:56 Second theme, part B
1:15 Dramatic closing of Second theme
1:22 Rondo theme
1:43 Third theme
2:20 Another big closing of a section
2:40 Rondo theme
2:51 Development of Rondo theme, leading into restatement of second theme
3:50 Rondo theme, with substantial alterations
4:16 Dramatic closing, with a nice “slam” on the bottom note
4:33 Coda – One more brief usage of Rondo theme (in major tonality) before it ends.

Next: 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony

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