Table of Contents
Daniel Barenboim plays Beethoven Sonata No. 8 Op. 13 (Pathetique)
Sonata No. 8, Opus 13 by Ludwig van Beethoven was subtitled ‘Pathétique’ by the editor, remember that Beethoven did not give the title that we have popularly known to any of his sonatas. It was published in 1800, and written in 1799, when Beethoven was 29 years old. Beethoven dedicated the work to his friend Prince Karl von Lichnowsky.
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This Sonata is fundamental in piano production for its values of musical abstraction, for its philosophical connotations and structural intuitions for the future: the internal structure of the sonata is the most advanced of the works of Beethoven’s first period. It is considered one of Beethoven’s masterpieces, and one of the most performed in public, both during Beethoven’s own life and today.
The Pathetic was famous from the moment it was first performed, and it’s not hard to see why; It contains three incredibly attractive movements with very different personalities plus unprecedented expressiveness, and contains some of Beethoven’s best musical motifs.
The first and last movements are unified through a single theme; heard, among many other places, in the opening of the first movement, the second theme of the first movement, and the opening of the third. Both are closely linked internally by a set of their own recurring motifs.
The first movement features strangely orchestral textures, there are the vibrant tremolos, the bassoon in the first theme of the second thematic group and the tutti which is the second theme of the second thematic group. I would also be remiss not to mention that the second movement is, how can I put it… a delight!
The Sonata’s Biography
Several important professional friendships developed for Beethoven during this period in Vienna. He became friends with Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) and studied Italian Song Style with the composer over a period of two years in the 1800s. Several prominent pianists who spent time in Vienna were also part of Beethoven’s professional world, notably Joseph Wölffl (1773-1812), his piano playing was greatly admired, and he dedicated a series of sonatas to Beethoven, and Johann Baptiste Cramer (1771-1858), whose performances and piano compositions and methods were revered by Beethoven.
In addition to the Sonata No. 8, Beethoven was writing a set of six string quartets and Symphony No. 8. 1, op. 21. During this period, Beethoven taught the sisters Josephine and Therese Brunsvik and fell in love with Josephine. She married Count Joseph Deym (1752–1804) a year later, but Beethoven’s feelings for her were rekindled after the count’s death. Teresa never married, but her memoirs and her correspondence with Beethoven are a useful source of information about the composer.
The designation Pathetic was one generally used in the period to indicate emotional intensity, a concept that appealed to members of a society laden with formality. The name appeared on December 18, 1799, announcing the publication of the work of Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812).
Two months later, the work was also published by Joseph Eder (1760-1835). The sonata enjoyed immediate popularity, as it was published seventeen times during his lifetime. Sonata No. 8 is dedicated to Prince Karl Lichnowsky (1761-1814), the prince and his wife Maria Christiane (1765-1841) were accomplished musicians and patrons of the arts. Shortly after his arrival in Vienna, Beethoven lived in the Lichnowsky home for several years, and many of the composer’s works were heard for the first time at musical evenings held there.
Furthermore, the prince was influential in gaining the support of other members of the nobility. Beethoven dedicated several important works to the prince: the piano sonatas No. 8 and No. 12, the piano trios op. 1 and Symphony no. 2, op. 36.
First Movement, C minor
Grave: Allegro di tanto e con brio | 4/4 :: Alla Breve | Sonata-allegro
The pointed rhythm of the introduction reflects the style of the French baroque opening, a style that the composer will use again at the beginning of the Sonata No. 32. Its reappearance throughout the movement, both in its original tempo and as a motif in the Allegro is a procedure that Beethoven also used in the first movement of Sonata No. 17.
Observations on interpretation
There is controversy over where to begin the repetition of the exposure. Of the seventeen editions published during Beethoven’s lifetime, all but two show the first indication of repetition in the Allegro di molto.
However, it is also not shown in two contemporary editions, such as in Haslinger’s edition (c. 1828) and in Breitkopf & Härtel Beethoven Gesamtausgaben (1860). The absence of the repetition sign suggests that the introduction is included in the repetition of the exposition. Performers who take the repetition of the exposition do not agree on whether to return to the beginning of the movement or the Allegro di molto.
The dotted rhythm of the French overture had been used in chamber works, symphonies and keyboard works such as J. S. Bach’s partitas. Other composers of the period who incorporated this style into the piano sonata are Haydn (Hob. XVI/37) and Clementi (op. 34, no. 2, and 40, no. 3). As noted, Beethoven will use it again in the introduction to the first movement of Sonata No. 32.
In Sonata No. 8, most performers play the dotted rhythm as written. The English music historian Thurston Dart (1921-1971) suggested that the practice of maintaining the fastest possible relationship between the short antecedent and the following strong rhythm in the French overture style persisted well into the 19th century. Dart cites Beethoven’s music for a possible application of this principle, without citing this sonata specifically.
Allegro di molto e con brio alla breve
Measures 11 to 49
The opening theme features a rising set of double notes over a tremolo bass pedal point, all marked piano. The tremolo figure in the left hand was easier to play and control on the pianos of the time.
Measures 38 to 49
The opening phrase of the first theme is modulated through A♭ major and B♭ major, the latter extended through cadences reiterating the expected relative major dominant, E♭ major.
Measures 51 to 88
The second theme is introduced in parallel minor of the relative major, E♭ minor, a relationship suggested but not realized in the expositions of the first movement of Sonata No. 1 and Sonata No. 14. The relationship emerges in its full extent in the first movement of the exposition of Sonata No. 23, after a statement of the second theme in the expected relative major.
Measures 89 to 132
An extended closing section in the relative major, E♭ major, culminates in a restatement of the first theme in that key.
Measures 133 to 136
Introductory material, marked Tempo I, modulates to E minor and acts as a bridge to a return of the Allegro di molto.
Measures 137 to 149
The opening phrase of the first theme is juxtaposed with the opening phrase of the introduction, the latter now heard at a faster tempo, moving from E minor to G minor.
Measures 149 to 158
The opening phrase of the introduction is fragmented, the last two notes now heard as a fast two-note figure.
Measures 167 to 187
A pedal point in the dominant of the opening tone supports an ominous figuration in a lower register of the piano that uses the opening phrase of the allegro theme to rise to a reiterated climax, now supported by overlapping half notes in the lower register, a texture that must have startled the audiences of the period.
Measures 207 to 219
The change extends from the allegro of the theme of the first phrase through the tones of D♭ major and E♭ minor and reaches the mid-cadence in F minor.
Measures 221 to 294
The second theme begins in the subdominant, F minor, but returns to the starting key at bar 237. The subdominant relationship can be seen in the recapitulations of the first movement of both of Beethoven’s other piano sonatas in C minor, apparently Beethoven’s own favorite key, Sonata No. 5, where the theme opens in F major instead of minor, in bars 215 to 232), and Sonata No. 32 in bars 124 to 128. The rest of the recapitulation presents all the material heard in the exposition, including the return of the allegro’s first theme.
Measures 295 to 298
A final return of the introductory theme leads to a suspenseful cadence in the opening tone.
Measures 299 to 310
The final statement of the first theme of the Allegro brings the movement to a brilliant close, the final cadenza, a series of short chords marked fortissimo.
Second Movement: A flat major
Adagio cantabile | 2/4 | ABACA, coda
The two outputs, B and C, are in F minor, modulating to E♭ major, and in A♭ minor, modulating to E major.
Measures 1 to 8
The opening theme has been noted by writers as an example of unusual drag, as shown in early pressings and recent critical editions. 19th century editors often changed the ligature. The original drag is consistent every time topic A appears. Several theories have been proposed as to why the composer chose this pattern, one of the most logical being that it was born from trying to play the theme as legato as possible without the aid of the pedal, legato that describe changes in the position of the hand.
Measures 37 to 63
A sixteenth note triplet accompanies section C and remains for the reformulation of theme A and the coda.
Measures 55 and 63
The first edition aligns the last note of the sixteenth note in triplet figure with two thirty-second notes on the melodic line, implying an earlier performance practice of extending the length of the eighth note with dots in the right hand to accommodate this congruence. Some editors adjust the alignment to a visual presentation that suggests polyrhythmic playing.
Rondó; Allegro | 4/4 –alla breve | ABACABA, coda
The first B section is in E♭ major; the second opens in C major and goes to the starting tone, C minor. Section C is in A♭ major.
Measures 1 to 17
The first theme presents an interesting variety of articulation details. The entire first measure shows a phrase mark that ends on the last eighth note of the measure, suggesting that the downbeat of the next measure should be strong.
This strong rhythm on the first beat coincides with the strong rhythm of measure 4, preceded by staccato quarter notes. The two paired notes in the following sentences add to the articulation challenge. Finally, the care with which the composer marks them in indicated staccato is exemplified by comparing the quarter notes on the downbeat of measure 8, where the note does not show staccato, thus ending the phrase, with the downbeat of measures 12 and 14, where the staccato marks assist the quarter notes to highlight the following syncopations.
He also compares the quarter notes in measures 5 and 6 to those in measures 9 and 10.
Measures 79 to 107
Section C presents a more sustained theme and invertible counterpoint.
Measures 107 to 120
A rising passage built on the dominant of the opening tone prepares the way for the A’s return.
Measures 182 to 210
A dramatic coda based on themes A and B with unconventional sforzandi features and a sustained dominant seventh in the key of A♭ major. A surprise return to the opening tone brings the work to a brilliant close. Departures to remote pitches or slowing down the tempo in the codas occur several times in the sonatas. Compare this ending with the endings of Sonatas No. 3, No. 5, 24, 26 and No. 28.
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