Beethoven Piano Sonata No 8 “Pathétique” Op 13 1st Movement with sheet music
Unlike most of the nicknames given to Beethoven’s works, Pathétique is believed to have been picked by the composer himself to convey the romantic and even sorrowful mood of the sonata. The first movement begins with a dark and dramatic introduction before assuming the brisk, nearly frenetic motion of the traditional sonata form. The second movement is gentle, with a central theme that gradually evolves as new melodies derived from fragments of the original are introduced. In the final movement Beethoven offers a tempestuous rondo.
Tonality and influences
Beethoven did not pick C minor arbitrarily as the key center for the first movement. It has a long-standing association with the tragic temperament, dating from the pre-Baroque. For Beethoven, C minor was the key
of choice for funeral marches (for example the slow movement of the Eroica Symphony) and for relentless, agitated music. He was greatly impressed by Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto, No. 24, K491, and there
are echoes of the unsettled mood of that piece as well as the final tragic moments from Don Giovanni in the Pathétique. Around the same time as writing the Sonata, he had embarked on the String Quartet, Op. 18 No. 4,
also in C minor. It makes for interesting comparative listening (see Spotify playlist).
Other precedents in a similar tragic mode are:
Bach’s Partita for keyboard in C minor
Mozart’s Fantasia in C minor, K475
Beethoven’s own ‘Electoral’ Sonata No. 2 in F minor
The Pathétique may indeed borrow certain features from all the above, whether the ornate introduction or a more general reflection of mood, but it also set a new benchmark for writing in the tragic style.