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, (this title from the publisher had Beethoven’s 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:
Grave (slow and solemn) – Allegro di molto e con brio (very quickly, with vigour) (C minor)
Adagio cantabile (slowly, in a singing style) (A-flat major)
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.
I decided to make a series of video walkthroughs of the work, where I look at a few of the challenges the work poses, offering some interpretative and technical guidelines as well as suggestions for practice. There are 11 videos in all, which I hope will help players deal with the common questions and problems that tend to arise when learning it.
For example, the spot from bar 93 – 98 is a common minefield for inaccuracy and tension. I have 8 processes that, if you go through these systematically and patiently for a few days in a row, will make these bars feel comfortable so that you can enjoy their exhilarating effect.
In this video excerpt, I demonstrate two or three of these practice ideas. You will find plenty of advice in the other videos in the series too.
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).
Don’t miss András Schiff’s lecture-demonstration on this sonata (and all the other Beethoven sonatas too).
The complete set of video walkthroughs for this work (eleven full length videos) is available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.
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