Sonata Pathétique in C Minor


For Beethoven, the key of C minor was especially associated with tragedy, drama and intensity; he wrote three piano sonatas in this key (op. 10 no. 1, op. 13, and op. 111).

The Grande Sonata Pathétique, op. 13, (apparently named by the composer himself, or at least it had his blessing) was written in 1798 when Beethoven was 27 years old. It is dedicated to Prince Karl von Lichnowsky, one of Beethoven’s most significant aristocratic supporters.

The work is comprised of three movements:

  1. Grave (slow and solemn) – Allegro di molto e con brio (very quickly, with vigour) (C minor)
  2. Adagio cantabile (slowly, in a singing style) (A-flat major)
  3. Rondo: Allegro (quickly) (C minor)

The sonata was a great success in establishing Beethoven’s reputation as a composer at the time - the work was instantly popular and has remained so to this day. Pianists respond to the drama and intensity of the music and clamour to learn it. In this series of videos I look at a few of the challenges the work poses, offering some interpretative and technical guidelines as well as suggestions for practice.

Lastly with regard to editions, please do make sure you are using a reputable Urtext as your main source. You can supplement this with other editions that might help with fingerings and the realisation of ornaments, etc. I especially like Artur Schnabel’s (Alfred Masterwork Editions), Claudio Arrau’s (Edition Peters) and Stewart Gordon’s (Alfred Masterwork Editions).

Resources & links

  • Click here to view open domain editions for this work (external link).
  • Click here to find out more about one of the practice tools (quarantining) featured in these videos or click here for more information on other practice tools.

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