Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Sonata No. 8 ("Pathétique")

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: 17–20 Minutes
Genre: Sonata
Time of Creation: 1798
World Premiere: Unknown (first print 1799)

Table of Contents

Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 (Pathétique) in 5 Sentences

Ludwig van Beethoven composed his Piano Sonata No. 8 with the epithet Pathétique (“The Pathetic, the Passionate”) in an eventful time: personally, Beethoven was struggling with incipient deafness, and the political situation was dominated by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is often said that one can hear the processing of the personal situation in Beethoven’s Pathetique – it would thus be the entry of the subjective into the music. Stylistically, Beethoven’s Pathetique can be seen as a kind of breakthrough moment: Here, the composer put his personal style, characterized by extreme contrasts (see below, “Questions and Answers”), on paper for the first time with great clarity.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Beethoven's Pathetique

Highlight 1: "Struggle" Introduction

Beethoven’s Pathetique begins with a slow introduction that can be interpreted as a “subjective struggle” (see above): Pay attention to how the music “drags” its way upward, slooooowly and bit by bit. It goes up a bit…then down again…then up again…until the climax is reached….

Highlight 2: Tumble down into the main theme

…but it doesn’t help. After all the struggling up, the melody does tumble down again at the end of the introduction, leading into the fiery main theme:

Highlight 3: Vocal second movement

The second movement is dominated by one of Beethoven’s most famous melodies. One could almost put lyrics to this movement, sing it as a heartfelt, dreamy song:

Highlight 4: Third movement – everything brought together

In the third movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique, many elements from the first two movements are brought together. This becomes especially clear shortly before the end of the sonata: there is another short allusion to the second movement, and then the piece ends with the “falling down” that we already know from the first movement (highlight 2):

3 Questions and Answers about Beethoven's Pathetique

Question 1: To whom did Beethoven dedicate his 8th piano sonata?

Beethoven’s 8th piano sonata with the nickname Pathétique is dedicated to Prince Karl von Lichnowsky, a patron of Beethoven.

Question 2: Does Beethoven's Pathetique have anything to do with Mozart?

There is often speculation about a connection between Beethoven’s Pathetique and Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 14: Both works are in the same key (C minor), have similar structures, and feature similar themes (especially in the second movements).

Question 3: What role do contrasts play in Beethoven's music?

Strong contrasts are one of the most essential elements in Beethoven’s music. At the beginning of the Pathetique, for example, this becomes clear in the dynamics: an extremely wide volume spectrum is already traversed in the first 10 measures. But contrasts also play a role on a larger level – for example, the “fiery” first movement dissolves into an “intimate” second movement.

2 Recommended Recordings of Beethoven's Pathetique

Recording 1: Anastasia Huppmann (video production, 2019)

Pianist Anastasia Huppmann’s interpretation of Beethoven’s 8th piano sonata combines technical perfection with stirring passion that leaves one breathless:

Recording 2: Valentina Lisitsa (live, 2014)

A live recording comes from Valentina Lisitsa:

1 Quote about Beethoven's Pathetique

The flight into a sharp, into a tempo that rushes along as if crouched, free of time-consuming giant effects [is] [...] in the Allegro molto of the Pathétique [...] the only form to do justice to the movement.

Joachim Kaiser

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