Beethoven Piano Sonatas op.13 "Pathétique", op.14 N.1
Volume 3 of the Complete Series by David Ezra Okonsar
Sonata N.7 in D major op.10 n.3
The D major Sonata is the longest and the most elaborated Sonata of the
opus 10 series.
Here, Beethoven gets back to the four movement form: fast - slow -
Scherzo or Menuet - fast. The two preceding Sonatas, op.10 N.1 and N.2
have only three movements, this Sonata also features the lengthiest
Menuet since opus 7.
The slow movement "Largo e mesto" is the most characteristic part of
Some twenty eight years later, the composer will say to Schindler:
"Everyone will feel in this Largo the particular state of a soul,
victim of melancholy, with many different nuances of light and shadow."
The second movement, as a masterpiece of the pre-romantic piano
literature, features the composer's all future elements of piano
scoring and will remain one of his most sublime pages.
This first movement has been too often regarded as a "prelude" to the
following Largo, but this assumption is very shallow indeed. The first
movement is very brilliant and virtuoso but it is far from being
superficial in nature.
Masterly crafted and structured, the Presto has one uncanny unity. Jorg
Demus beautifully described it: "this Presto is so solid and tight that
it has no equal in the literature. It may be seen as a paradox because
a "light" and sort of "divertimento" material is being treated in the
most architectural manner."
Even though the "divertimento" qualitative seems to me out of context
for any of Beethoven's work, I can only agree with the rest. The
movement in its whole is fully "architectural" in a rock-solid fashion
and at the same time, beautifully sets the ground for the Largo.
II. Largo e mesto
"Mesto" means sad. The bare bones expression of the inner feelings of
the young composer. By its elaboration and sheer length this movement
supersedes all slow Sonata movements composed by Beethoven until then.
"Where is the theme of this movement?" asks Andre Boucourechliev and
answers "everywhere, because with Beethoven one should not seek the
theme in the beginning or within a melodic form. The "theme" here is a
rhythmical motion of two times three eights which emerges in all
different ways, with changing relationships in the fields of harmony,
melody, dynamics, durations, weight and even silences. Starting from
this "cell" or this "matrix" the imagination escapes towards the most
distant universes and meets the most unexpected, the newest."
Regarding the quoted idea of a "cell", one can point out the
diminished-fourth interval so characteristic. It is also appearing,
very evocatively at the end of the movement.
The connections between movements in a Sonata are gradually becoming a
crucial or even an obsessive idea of Beethoven.
It is interesting to analyze the end of the slow movement in relation
to the beginning of the Menuetto.
The Largo ends with the tonic note: D, alone at the low end of the
keyboard. The Menuet starts, at the right hand with A and then F-sharp,
thus gradually creating the D major chord on top of where the preceding
movement left: tonic note D.
Indicated "dolce" it brings very effectively "light" and "warm" after
the preceding Largo. Sort of consolation or as Alfred Brendel said: "a
balm over a wound". A kind of cheerfulness appear in the very animated
IV. Rondo, Allegro
"Hide-and-seek" game according to Alfred Brendel.
Jorg Demus, on the other hand points out the strange similarity with
the beginning of the first theme of the first movement (D - C-sharp - B
- A - C-sharp) and the beginning of this movement where the same
intervals are presented in inversion: F-sharp - G - B, with the fourth
Presenting the theme "unfinished" or as a "question mark", the
discourse continues interrupted with silences, with "fake" repeats and
The listener is like "played" with. "Normal", i.e. "logical"
expectations according to classical period musical syntax are
always contradicted. The tonal centers also seem to slide continuously
even at the very end of the movement and the coda seems to be a lengthy
"reverence" before dodging.
Sonata N.8 in C minor op.13 "Pathétique"
The title "Pathetique" (or "Pathétique", "Pathetic") while not given by
Beethoven himself, was agreed and even used by the composer referring
to this famous composition.
The Sonata was composed in the years 1798 and 99 and published by Eder
in Vienna as "Grande sonate pathétique pour le clavecin ou piano-forte
composée et dédiée a son Altesse Monseigneur le Prince Karl von
This very popular work is the summit of Beethoven's piano works
composed up to 1800. It is also the second time the composer uses the
key of C minor which is very evocative for him. He will be using that
key once more, only at the ultimate Sonata N.32, opus 111.
Also characteristic in this Sonata is the slow beginning "Grave". Far
from being a "prelude" it is, to quote César Franck, "the cyclical
entity (cell) which will project on the whole composition." Even though
the idea of a slow introduction has been used before, Beethoven gives
to it such a dramatic power that no listener can remain unaffected.
Right after its publication, the "Pathétique sonate" became an immense
I. Grave - Allegro di molto e con brio
The three notes: C - D - E-flat following the "forte-piano", C
minor chord and forging this introduction's theme will also appear as
the core of the theme of the final Rondo. It is repeated with
variations all through the introduction with an orchestral scoring.
The fortissimo chords roughly interrupting the melodic evolution set
the stage for the drama.
A glissando-like chromatic down scale projects into the Allegro di
molto e con brio which is made of two themes.
The first is an almost straight raising scale of C minor harmonized on
each note and presented over a timpani-like, tremolo, left hand part.
The other is also a minor key theme with incisive "mordents" which can
hardly be called "embellishments". The term "mordant" (biting) if taken
literally best describes those "ornaments".
The ending of the movement which re-uses the introductory elements of
the Grave, but the powerful forte-piano chords now replaced with
silences is a dramatic climax which plunges again into the first
Allegro theme and concludes with a brusque coda.
II. Andante cantabile
The second movement is a gracious "lied" with a number of distinct
intermediary parts. The theme's specific contour is very close to the
Adagio theme of Mozart's K 457 C minor sonata.
All through the movement, the left hand seems to positively hold back
the right hand from going to higher keyboard ranges. Even in the serene
A-flat major key and with the use of the warm middle keyboard range
with a beautifully balanced melodic contour, the second movement
delivers only a partial relief within the overall tragic atmosphere of
the entire Sonata.
III. Rondo: Allegro
The very gracious theme of the Rondo, seems to float over a dramatic
landscape. Dark and tumultuous sections, sharp and incisive fortissimo
chords intervene in each section. Only the second couplet, a "fugato"
theme with perfect fourth intervals, seems to soothe the dramatic
discourse which soon takes over in an even more boisterous way.
Sonata N.9 in E major op.14 n.1
After the tumultuous Pathetique Sonata come two short and lovely
Sonatas filled with fascinating grace. Although they may seem "easy" to
play, the Schubert-like discourse requires a great amount of mastery to
They were first published in 1799 by Mollo, music publisher in Vienna
and dedicated to the Baroness Josefa von Braun. The E major one, opus
14 n.1 has been transcribed for string quartet by Beethoven himself.
An euphoric and graceful climate is created by the first theme's
contour made of perfect-fourths intervals. The development travels
through A minor, C major and E minor and all thorough the movement
emerges an alluring finesse.
The second movement is a kind of "Scherzo" in three parts, with a
"maggiore" section in C major. Far from being a traditional Menuet,
neither a scherzo, it looks more like a romantic ballade. It reveals an
obvious string quartet type of ecriture.
III. Rondo: Allegro commodo
The candor and naiveté of this Rondo theme does not mask an inner
joyful energy. The movement is throughout happy, even careless.
Sonata N.10 in G major op.14 n.2
This Sonata which is composed at the same year and with the same
dedication as the preceding one, has even more glistening and radiant
grace. The conclusive Scherzo, especially has a strikingly uplift
spirit in it.
Admirably singing style sixteenth notes make for the affable theme.
Bird-song like repeated notes (remember the Pastorale symphony) and
running down scales with thirds remind us of Mozart or even Cimarosa.
An idyllic feeling overwhelms the listener with fluid runs of
The second movement, Andante, is a series of variations probably
composed before the other two movements. The "Alla breve" indication
reminds us that the tempo must be (at least) flowing.
The theme is given as staccato chords in a kind of march-like spirit. A
well-groomed and may be slightly satiric march.
From the three following variations, the first and the last ones mutate
the staccato theme into sinuous legato figures.
The movement which may be simultaneously serene and vagabond concludes
with a surprising forte tonic chord.
III. Scherzo: Allegro assai
The finale is actually a well-shaped Rondo, but it is appropriately
named "Scherzo" due to its character.
The teasing aspect is so preponderant all through the movement that
titling this "Rondo" would have lessened the importance of that
What else than a binary-time (two beats long) motive, [B-C-D] moving,
bouncing inside a ternary-time (three - eights) signature could have
created that jesting feature?
This makes for the permanent feeling of an improvisation, accentuated
by rests and fermata (held) chords.
Two "trios", one delicately melodic and lyric, the other in the manner
of a land-lied (Landler) bring an ending soft, abrupt and at the low
range of the keyboard which seems to close this game with a feign