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Piano Sonata No. 8 (Beethoven)
Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, op. 13 was titled "Pathétique" by the composer himself, unlike most of the other "named" sonatas. It was published in 1799, though written the year before, when the composer was 27 years old. Beethoven dedicated the work to his friend Prince Karl von Lichnowsky.
The "Pathétique" Sonata is perhaps the earliest of Beethoven's compositions to achieve widespread and enduring popularity. Many music historians judge that Beethoven was the first Romantic composer, and those who do might well regard this sonata as defining the start of the Romantic period.
The sonata is in three movements:
- Grave; allegro di molto e con brio
- Adagio cantabile
- Rondo: allegro
The first movement is in standard first movement sonata form. It includes a long grave introduction, which delays the primary theme until the exposition at the start of the allegro section. This main section is in 2/2 time in the key of C minor, modulating like most minor-key sonatas of this period to the relative major, E flat. A striking event in the movement is the return of the slow introduction. This may have been inspired by Joseph Haydn's "Drumroll" symphony, completed three years earlier in 1795. Beethoven extends Haydn's compositional practice by returning to the introductory material not once but twice, at the beginning of the development section as well as in the coda.
The adagio movement opens with the famous and beautiful cantabile ("in a singing style") melody. It is in rondo form: the main theme is played three times, interspersed with two modulating episodes, the first going from C minor to E flat major, the second from A flat minor to E flat major. With the final return of the main theme, the accompaniment becomes richer, taking on the triplet rhythm of the second episode. The brief coda is striking for its stylistic diversity: four bars of Romantic transcendence, followed by a strikingly conventional 18th century close.
The sonata closes with a 2/2 sonata rondo movement in C minor, which departs to E flat and A flat major. The main theme strongly resembles the second theme of the first movement, being identical to it in its pitch pattern for the first four notes and in its rhythmic pattern for the first eight. Notes of Beethoven's show that he originally planned the movement as a rondo for piano accompanied by another instrument, perhaps a violin.
It is possible that the "Pathétique" sonata was inspired by an earlier work of Mozart, his piano sonata K. 457 (1784). Mozart's work is likewise in C minor, has three movements in roughly the same character as Beethoven's, and in the first movement includes menacing rolling octaves for the left hand.
The "Pathétique" Sonata takes approximately 19 minutes to perform. It is widely represented on the concert programs and recordings of professional pianists, and is also a favorite among amateur players.
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