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Piano Sonata No.8 in C Minor Op.13, ’Pathétique’

Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.8 in C minor, Op.13 ('Pathétique') Beethoven composed this sonata in 1798-9 (that is, about the same time as the six string quartets, Op.18), and it was published, with a dedication to Prince Carl von Lichnowsky, in the autumn of 1799 in Vienna by Joseph Eder, who entitled it - apparently with Beethoven's sanction - "Grande Sonate Pathétique". The first movement opens with that rarity in Beethoven's sonatas, a slow introduction: a powerful and dramatic Grave, which reappears twice, in shortened form, during the development and before the brief coda. The widely modulating Allegro itself is of breathless urgency, with an impulsive first subject above a bass in rapping octaves - itself a prominent, quasi-orchestral motif that permeates much of the movement - and a sighing second subject in E flat minor. The Adagio cantabile (in A flat major) relies for its effect on the direct appeal of its main theme, rather than on any organic development of it; the form of the movement is that of a simple rondo with two episodes, the second of them making a feature of triplets, which are retained after the return of the refrain and until the end of the movement. The finale is a rather agitated sonata rondo with three episodes, of which the second, which is based on a broad theme in A flat major presented contrapuntally in contrary motion, is the most remarkable.

© Robin Golding

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