SONATA N0. 8, OP. 13

Title Page to Opus 13


"Of these works, the Pathetique Sonata is the earliest composition by Beethoven that is really popular today, and also his first work with a very well-known tune:  the theme of the slow movement has been transformed into numerous versions ranging from Anglican chant to pop song.  The sonata fully deserves its acclaim.  It surpasses any of his previous compositions, in strength of character, depth of emotion, level of originality, range of sonorities, and ingenuity of motivic and tonal manipulation, anticipating in may ways his style of the next decade" (Cooper: 82). 

Cooper's introductory remarks to his discussion of this Sonata already outline the broad spectrum that the popularity and reception history of this work encompasses, from its composition to its actual worth and on from there to is reception history during Beethoven's life time, to its reception during the "romantic" 19th century, to its popularity and with that also its partial over-use, to its very critical reception in the first two thirds of the twentieth century, and, finally, to its more level-headed reception during our days.   On our lengthy journey, we will be accompanied by Cooper and Thayer with respect to the sonata's creation history, by Maynard Solomon's comments with respect to the dedication of this work, by the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung and Ignaz Moscheles with respect to its early criticism and reception during Beethoven's life time, by William Kinderman's and Barry Cooper's musicological comments, by the German music critic Joachim Kaiser, who provides us with an excellent overview of the history of the reception of this sonata, during the early 20th century, and the Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti with his comments on the sonata's musical content, and that, again, from the viewpoint of an active, performing pianist, followed by a midi listening sample link and a link to the Beethoven Bibliography data base with respect to further research.  We wish you a great deal of reading enjoyment with the material offered here!   


With respect to the time frame of the creation of this work we are fortunate that the thorough Beethoven researcher Barry Cooper, with his Beethoven biography that was published in 2000, offers us an opportunity to update Thayer's findings to a certain extent.  

In this respect, we refer to Cooper's discussion of this topic on p. 82 - 83 of his book and would like to summarize his thoughts as follows:  

Cooper's Questions and Discussion of Possibilities

Cooper's Comments with respect to existing Sketches

1.  Since the work was published in December, 1799, one could also raise the questions as to whether sketches to it would not have been contained in one of the sketch books that Beethoven used during the time of summer, 1798 to the summer of 1799.  However, reports Cooper, no sketches can be found in both sketch books he used during this time. 

2.  On this basis one could, on the one hand, assume that the work might, perhaps, have been composed in the first half of 1798 and that it publication might have been delayed in the event that the work had been commissioned, due to matters pertaining to that possible commission, or that, perhaps, the publication might have been delayed due to printing problems.   (However, as Cooper reports, during this period, as with op. 14, no. 2, there also do not exist any sketches worth mentioning from this period, contrary to which there exist sketches of op. 14, no. 1).

3.  On the other hand, one could ask oneself the question as to whether the 'Pathetique' was written during the period that lay between Beethoven's use of the first and second sketchbook, or even during all of this time, whereby he might not have included these sketches in either of the two sketchbooks.  

4.  A further possibility might be that Beethoven wrote this work rather quickly, after the second sketchbook had already been full, since a sketchbook of which it is assumed that Beethoven used it between the end of 1799 and the beginning of 1800, has been lost.  This possibly lost sketch book could also contain sketches to his Septet and to his First Symphony.  


1.  As first existing sketch, Cooper refers to a sketch from the year 1796, which was later used in the slow introduction to the sonata. 

2.  Cooper then refers to two sketches among sketches to the String Trio, Op. 9, which, when one examines them, appear to have been written for string instruments rather than for the piano.  Yet, they already contain the end of the finale which, according to Cooper, is usually composed when a work has already seen some compositional progress.   The theme of the finale, writes Cooper, here appears in A-flat Major, within a c-minor frame, as in the later version.  He asks himself as to whether Beethoven wanted to use this finale in the c-minor String Trio.  Since the A-flat-Major version of the final  quotes the theme of the slow movement of the Pathetique, Cooper also asks himself as to whether this slow movement might also have already been sketched.  

3.  Cooper points out that further sketches to this work are very puzzling.  He refers to a sketch of a part of the c-minor sonata movement that should be dated at the beginning of 1798 and which has a lot of similarity with the first movement of the Pathetique, however, in its melodic detail, it is very different so that many musicologists have not associated it with the sonata.   

4.  Lastly, the assumption that the sonata had already been completed in 1978 is proven wrong by the existence of a fragment of a hand-written score which Beethoven wrote on a kind of paper that he did not use before 1799, and, as Cooper points out, this fragment shows the introduction in a not yet final version.  

Cooper's Conclusions

Cooper concludes that the entire problem is made still more difficult through the various publications.  As he reports, there were two Viennese editions, one by Eder and one by Hoffmeister.  Hoffmeister's edition was announced on December 18, 1799, and it was assumed that Eder's edition had appeared prior to it, which limited the time frame of the creation of this work.  However, in the meantime, Beethoven research has come to the conclusion that Eder's edition is based on Hoffmeister's edition.  Therefore, the time frame of the compsotion of this work can be extended up to October, 1799.   

For comparison's sake, let us also look at Thayer's comment:  

"The "Sonate pathetique," Op. 13, was published by Eder, in Vienna, in 1799, and afterwards by Hoffmeister, who announced it on December 18 of the same year.  Sketches for the rondo are found among those for the Trio, Op. 9, and after the beginning of a fair copy of the Sonata, Op. 49, No. 1.  From this there is no larger deduction than that the Sonatas probably had its origin about 1798.  One of the sketches, however, indicates that the last movement was originally conceived for more than one instrument, probably for a sonata for pianoforte and violin.  Beethoven published the two Sonatas, Op. 14, which he dedicated to the Baroness Braun, immediately after the "Sonate pathetique" (Thayer: 213-214).

With respec to the time frame of the compositon of this work, we can come to the conclusion that its first beginnings date back to 1796 and that Beethoven might have made last corrections to it in October, 1799.  




Beethoven's dedication of one of his works to one of his patrons always provides us with an opportunity to, in addition to chronological matters and questions as to the creation of his works, consider his relationships to these patrons, but also his general life circumstances during the time of the creation of such works.  This can be added almost "seamlessly" to our chronological investigation, since it provides us with the time frame for our further deliberations.  Here, we are looking at the period of 1796 to the end of 1799.   

Beethoven's general life circumstances of these years are discussed in some detail in the relevant section of our Biographical Pages.   Here, we may note that, at least for the year 1797, there have arisen questions as if and as to when--due to whatever reasons--his loss of hearing might have found its beginning.   

The first more intense 'creation year'  of this work, 1798, saw Beethoven's loss of his Bonn friend, Lenz von Breuning, and the beginning of his acquaintance and friendship with Karl Friedrich Amenda, while the second 'creation year', 1799, saw the beginning of his friendship with the Brunsviks and his having to bid farewell to Amenda.  

With respect to the dedication of this work, visitors of our 'Works' pages may already have taken a look at the Piano Sonatas page there and found out that this sonata was dedicated to Prince Karl Lichnowsky.   How can Prince Lichnowsky, then, be brought into connection with the Pathetique?

In the introduction to his discussion of Beethoven's relationship to this patron, Maynard Solomon (Solomon, Beethoven: 61) states that Beethoven, after his arrival in Vienna, after a few weeks, moved out of his uncomfortable rooftop room and became a member of the household of Prince Lichnowsky and, also after he moved out on his own, chose his apartments in such a way that he stayed close to Lichnowsky's residence.  

His journey to Prague and Berlin, during the first half of 1796, had also been arranged by Prince Lichnowsky who supported him in a similar fashion as he had supported Mozart in 1789 (Solomon:  61).  

Thus also the year 1796, in which Beethoven wrote his first sketches to the Pathethique, saw Lichnowsky active as his patron.  With respect to their relationship, Solomon writes:  

" .  .  .  Lichnowsky himself gained Beethoven's deepest affection and gratitude, and his wife, although she was only five years older than Beethoven, became a "second mother" to him.  .  .  .   In return for his patronage, Lichnowsky received the dedication of Beethoven's first major Vienna works, the Trios, op. 1, and later those of the Sonate pathethique, op. 13 .  .  . " (Solomon: 62).

Prince Karl Lichnowsky


While we do not know how Lichnowsky received the Sonata that was dedicated to him, we can report on the relatively friendly reception of this work by the critic(s) of the Leipzig Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung

"No. 20 -  February 12, 1800

Grande Sonate pour le Clav. ou F. P., comp. et dediee a son Altesse Monseign. le Prince de Lichnowsky, par Louis van Beethoven. Oeuv. 13. a Vienne chez Hofmeister. (1 Thl. 8 gr.)

Not without justification, this well-written sonata is called 'pathetique', since it certainly has a passionate character.  In the A-flat Major Adagio that should never be played in a dragging style and that is filled with beautifully-flowing melodiousness but also with modulation and good movement, the soul is wrapped in calm and comfort, out of which, however, it is re-awakened, and that in the dual meaning of the word, by the Rondo's first Allegro note, so that the main feeling on which the sonata is based is carried through, which gives it (the sonata) unity and inner life, thus, real aesthetic value.  If one can say something like this of a sonata--provided, as is the case here, that every other requirement of musical art has not remained un-fulfilled--is, obviously, a proof of its beauty.  The only thing that the reviewer would remark of a B e e t h o v e n  who can certainly be inventive, himself and bring something new if he wants, is, although it is not meant as a criticism, but rather only as a wish for more perfection, would be that the theme of the Rondo has too much of a reminiscence in it.  Of what?  The reviewer can not determine that, himself, but the idea is at least not new.

The Viennese public that, as is known, shows much enthusiasm for music and that also warmly supports it, must, indeed, be pleased with the fact that it can call many  excellent artists their own, to which, undoubtedly, Herr van Beethoven belongs of whom we hope that he will enrich us with many more products of his genius and diligence."

Since this sonata had already been well-received in Leipzig in 1800, Thayer's quote of the report by Ignaz Moscheles is also not surprising:  

" .  .   .  I had been placed under the guidance and tuition of Dionysius Weber, the founder and present director of the Prague Musical Conservatory; and he, fearing that, in my eagerness to read new music, I might injure the systematic development of my pianoforte playing, prohibited the library; and, in a plan for my musical education which he laid before my parents, made it an express condition, that for three years I should study no other authors but Mozart, Clementi, and S. Bach.  I must confess, however, that, in spite of such prohibitions, I visited the library, gaining access to it through my pocket-money.  It was about this time that I learnt from some school-fellows that a young composer had appeared in Vienna, who wrote the oddest stuff possible--such as no one could either play or understand; crazy music, in opposition to all rule; and that this composer's name was Beethoven.  On repairing to the library to satisfy my curiosity as to this so-called eccentric genius, I found there Beethoven's Sonata pathetique.  This was in the year 1804.  My pocket-money would not suffice for the purchase of it, so I secretly copied it.  The novelty of its style was so attractive to me, and I became so enthusiastic in my admiration of it, that I forgot myself so far as to mention my new acquisition to my master, who reminded me of his injunction, and warned me not to play or study any eccentric productions until I had based y style upon more solid models.  Without, however, minding his injunctions, I seized upon the pianoforte works of Beethoven as they successively appeared, and in them found a solace and a delight such as no other composer afforded me" (Thayer: 242-243). 

What changes did the reception of this work undergo after Beethoven's death, up to our days? 



We will not pursue this question in a 'purely chronological' manner, but rather, in our look at the musical content of this sonata, we will follow our 'usual' pattern.  Comments are offered in this sequence:  




Each category can be directly accessed by clicking on the above links.  Therefore, if you prefer one kind of comment(s) over another, you can make your own selection. 


To start with, Maynard Solomon offers us a well-balanced comment: 

"The Sonate pathetique, op. 13, of 1798-99 has had a great popularity partly on account of its romantic title, but this does not diminish its real importance.  It is the most dynamically propulsive of Beethoven's piano sonatas thus far, the first sonata to utilize a slow, dramatic introduction, and the first whose movements are clearly and unmistakably linked though the use of related thematic material and conscious reminiscences.  In its ardent, youthful way, it opens up the path to the "fantasy sonatas" of the following years" (Solomon:105).

Its "pathetic" title led William Kinderman to investigate a comparison of it with Schiller's 'pathos' concept:  

"The Sturm und Drang pathos of pieces like the Pathetique was often overestimated in the 19th century but has been dismissed too readily in the twentieth as self-indulgent posturing.  A more promising approach is offered by Schiller's 1793 essay Über das Pathetische, its lucid discussion of tragic art contains a conceptual framework that applies well to Beethoven.  Schiller stresses that the depiction of suffering as such is not the purpose of art; such depiction is properly regarded as but a means to an end.  Pathos or tragedy arises when unblinkered awareness of suffering is counterbalanced by the capacity of reason to resist these feelings.  In such resistance to the inevitability of pain or despair is lodged the principle of freedom.  Schiller thus regards tragic art as founded on the intersection of suffering nature on the one hand, and moral resistance to this reality on the other.

Beethoven's Schillerian tendencies ran so deep that tragic resignation appears relatively rarely in his works, at least as a primary determinant of artistic character.  In his C minor pieces, unlike Mozart's, resignation is typically supplanted by a resistance tending to revolution; this subjective principle in Beethoven often involves a quest for an alternative vision that banishes, or at least delimits, the sway of strife.  We shall return to this idea in connection with the narrative design of the Fifth Symphony.  More germane to the Sonate pathetique is Schiller's basic concept of tragic pathos as a resistance to suffering" (Kinderman:  47).

Barry Cooper provides us with background information on the 'characteristic' sonata of the 18th century and how this applies to this Sonata:    

"The sonata is one of Beethoven's few instrumental works with an authentic descriptive title.  This places it in the category of 'Characteristic' sonata, similar to but distinct from the programmatic sonata.  In a 'characteristic' work or movement, as was recognized in the eighteenth century, a specific mood is expressly evoked, without any actual narrative.  Carl Friedrich Cramer explained in 1786 that in ordinary sonatas 'several different characters are presented mixed up together', whereas in a characteristic work 'only one definite character is expressed throughout the piece'.  In the Pathetique, Beethoven combines standard sonata procedures with the intense expression of pathos from every angle and by every conceivable means.

The choice of key is extremely significant.  C minor was widely accepted as a 'pathetic' key in the late eighteenth century, and was also rapidly becoming a personal emblem for Beethoven.  He had used it in Bonn in his first published composition--the Dressler variations--and in his first known draft for a symphony, as well as in his greatest Bonn work, the Joseph Cantata.  It reappeared in Vienna in the most successful of his Trios, Op. 1--the one Haydn had recommended withholding from publication--and again in the String Trio, Op. 9 No. 3, and the Piano Sonata, Op. 10 No. 1.  Considering that Beethoven preferred to vary the key of successive works in the same genre, it is surprising that he should return to C minor so quickly: the fact that he did so further singles out this key as being particularly personal for him.  It is unlikely that any single event (such as the death of his close friend Lorenz von Breuning in 1798) prompted the sonata, but Beethoven had already experienced intense suffering on several occasions, and was thus able to combine personal feeling with standard musico-rhetorical devices, including a suitable choice of key" (Cooper: 83).              



After the rather well-balanced comments by 'our' musicologists and researchers, the German music critic Joachim Kaiser offers us an informative overview of the change in reception of the "pathetic" in Beethoven's works, from the 19th to the 20th century:  

"Beethovens populärste Sonate.  Gewiß nicht bedeutender, >>gültiger<< als Opus 10 Nr. 3 -- eber eben doch etwas bebend und selbstbewußt Neues:  nämlich Musik mit Muskeln, mit gespannt hervortretenden Adern.  Ein c-Moll-Ausbruch, der nicht als Ergebnis eines Prozesses, sondern von Anfang an, mit dem ersten, schwer fallenden Akkord, beeindrucken will.  Am Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts entstanden, antizipiert und prägt die von Beethoven selbst so genannte >>Pathetique<< jenen im 19. Jahrhundert beliebten Typus >>interessanter<< Bekenntnismusik, der über Chopin (Trauermarschsonata), über Liszt und Wanger bis zur >>Pathetique<< Tschaikowskys reicht.

Die Grave-Einleitung, das synkopisch pointierte Allegro-Thema, die gestaltlos unheimlichen Pianissimofarbflecken der Durchführung und die Tremolobegleitung des ersten Sates: das alles ist nicht nur zum >>Spielen<< da, ist nicht mehr nur Musik, aus deren Entfaltung sich ein Gehalt ablöst, sondern es prunkt mit dramatisch-rhetorischem Pathos.  Unwiderstehlich selbstsicher präsentieren sich die opernahfte Duettszene des ersten Satzes, die weihevolle Adagio-Melodie, der schneidende Schluß des Rondos.  Wahrscheinlich darum hat man die Pathetique als erste ganz eigentümliche Beethovensche Geniekundgebung begriffen, als erstes dämonisches Gewitter, welches die späteren Entladungen (Appassionata, 5. Symphonie, Sonate Opus 111) kraftvoll akündige.

Doch die Welt dieser Pathetique ist ebenso leidenschaftlich wie heil, ebenso gestaltenreich wie überschaubar, zugleich ekstatisch und wirkungssicher theatralisch.  In keinem anderen Werk Beethovens spielt sich das von Leidenschaft erfüllte >>Ich<< so flammend auf, kein anderes lud auch zu so hemmungslosem Mißbrauch ein..." (Kaiser: 156; --

-- Kaiser calls this work Beethoven's most popular sonata, yet certainly not more important or >>valid<< than op. 10, no. 3, rather, in his view, it is something tremblingly-selfconfident, new: namely, >>music with muscles<<, with potruding arteries.  A c-minor outburst that does not want to impress as the result of a process but rather already with its first, heavily falling chord.   Written at the end of the 18th century, writes Kaiser, this sonata that Beethoven, himself, called >>Pathetique<<, this work anticipates and forms the type of >>interesting<< confessional music that was popular during the 19th century, which, according to Kaiser, reaches from Chopin (funeral march sonata) via Lizst and Wagner to Tchaikovsky's >>Pathetique<<.    

The grave introduction, continues Kaiser, the syncopic, pointed Allegro theme, the formless, eerie pianissimo coloring of the development and the tremolo accompaniment of the first movement, all this, opines Kaiser, is not only there to be played, it is no longer >>only<< music, out of the unfolding of which its content can be derived, rather, it presents itself with dramatic, rhetoric pathos; irresistible, self-assured, is how the opera-style duet scene of the first movement presents itself, as well as the solemn Adagio melody, and the cutting finale of the Rondo.   Perhaps, argues Kaiser, it is due to this that the  Pathetique has been understood as Beethoven's first, original manifestation of his genius, as his first demon-like thunderstorm, which powerfully foreshadows his later outbursts (in the Appassionata, in the Fifth Symphony, in the Piano Sonata, Op. 111).

Yet, writes Kaiser, the world of this Pathetique is as passionate as it is whole(some), as full of content as it is ecstatic and effectively theatrical.  In no other Beethoven work, continues Kaiser, the passionate >>ego<< erupts so flamingly, no other work lent itself this much to unbridled abuse...). 

"Nennen wir das Pathetique-Unbehagen ruhig beim Namen.  Wurde diese Sonate mit Recht zu Tode geritten, gedonnert?  Ist sie vielleicht zu übersichtlich, zu theatralisch extrovertiert?  Strömt die Gebärde zu effektvoll, der pathetische Ton zu ungebrochen?  Wenn man die Pathetique zum hundertsten Mal hört: hemmungslos heruntergerast den ersten Satz, mit weihevollem Tränenblick zelebriert den zweiten, spitz und rasch abschnurrend dasRondo, dann ist man nicht, wie bei so manchen anderen Werken, in die man zuhnehmend empfänglich eindringt, reicher geworden -- sondern eher undankbar, ungerecht.  Fast geniert man sich, diese Sonate einst vorbehaltlos geliebt zu haben.

Daß Beethovens Pathetique und seine 5. Symphonie, daß auch Werke wie Schuberts >>Unvollendete<<, Mozarts >>Kleine Nachtmusik<<, Brahms' g-Moll-Rhapsodie, Wagners >>Tannhäuser<<-Ouvertüre, Debussys >>Claire de Lune<< und Mahlers 2. Symphonie dem Abnutzungseffekt so besonders ausgesetzt scheinen, ist kein Zufall -- und schon gar nicht Schuld der Hörer oder Interpreten.  Offentischtlich besteht ein enger Zusammenhang zwischen stürmisch rascher Zuneigung und späterem Überdruß.  Die meisten von Abnutzungsmalen besonders versehrten Stücke sind nämlich nicht nur höchst charakteristische Musik, sondern sie haben -- in der Biographie der Hörer -- eine verändernde, öffnende, rührende oder berührende Funktion gehabt:  an der Pathetique, an der >>Unvollendeten<<, an der >>Auferstehungssymphonie<< ging (und geht) vielen Musikfreunden zum ersten Male auf, was das sei, eine Beethoven-Sonate, ein Schubert-Mysterium, eine Mahler-Symphonie. . . .  

Was so überredend, so umwerfend und zwingend zu beeindrucken vermag beim ersten Hören, das wirkt, entsprechend rasch, ein wenig >>trivial<<.  Was an dem betreffenden Stücken hinreißt, verabsolutiert sich zum >>Reißer<<.  >>Kleine Nachtmusik<< oder Pathetique imponieren auch dem Unmusikalischen -- dem korrepondiert der gebildete Überdruß, das blasierte Lächeln des >>Kenners<<.  Folglich fühlen sich viele Interpreten dazu gehalten, mit diesen Werken etwas ganz Besonderes zu >>machen<<, das wohlbekannte Gericht unmäßig scharf oder zumindest irgendwie extrem zu würzen, damit es schmackhaft und interessant gerate.  Weil aber die Pathetique onehin schon extrovertiert ihre Wirkungen ausspielt, verdoppeln forciert auftrumpfende Darbietungen nun genau jenen Abnutzungseffekt, gegen den sie sich aufzulehnen versuchen.  

Hängen diese Schwierkigkeiten vielleicht auch damit zusammen, daß wir mittlerweile ein (vielleicht lustvoll) schlechtes, unfreies Gewissen haben gegenüber dem >>Pathos<<, dem >>Pathetischen<<, dem ungebrochen Leidenschaftlichen?  Eine solche Vermutung klingt plausibel, obwohl es auch im letzten Drittel des 20. Jahrhunderts an hysterischen Leidenshaftsausbrüchen vor allem im Bezirk politischer und sportlicher Entscheidungen nicht fehlt.  Was irritiert eigentlich am Pathetischen?  Der Begriff als solcher, mag er auch >>obsolet<< (das heißt >>veraltet<< ) wirken, erklärt ja noch nichts.  Romain Rolland, ein nobler und generöser Beethoven-Bewunderer, hat im Zusammenhang mit der Pathetique folgende Formel angeboten:  >>Die etwas zu glatte Lösung einer vom Theater hergenommenen Aufgabe.  Die Schauspieler sind zu sichtbar.<< (>>Beethovens Meisterjahre<<, Insel Verlag 1930, S. 95)"     (Kaiser: 157-158; --

-- Kaiser continues by challenging us to call this >>Pathetique<< discomfort by its name and he asks himself and the reader if this sonata has, justifiedly, been >>ridden to death<< and whether the work is, perhaps, to easy to assess, to theatrically extroverted, whether its gestures flow with too much effect, and whether its pathetic tone is to >>un-broken<<.  If one, so Kaiser, hears the Pathetique for the 100th time, its first movement mercilessly rattled off, its second movement tearfully presented, and its Rondo again "rattled off" rather quickly, then, one has not been enriched as one would with be after listening to many other works of which one discovers more and more, over time, but rather, one might find oneself in a rather ungrateful, unjust mood and one is almost ashamed of, perhaps, once, having loved this sonata without reservations.  

Kaiser then argues that Beethoven's Pathetique and his Fifth Symphony, that also works such as Schubert's >>Unfinished<<, Mozart's >>Kleine Nachtmusik<<,  and Brahms' g-minor Rhapsody, Wagner's >>Tannhäuser<<-Ouverture, Debussy's >>Claire de Lune<< und Mahler's Second Symphony are subject to this effect, is no coincidence and certainly not the fault of their interpreters or of the audience(s).  Obviously, argues Kaiser, there is a close connection between stormy, immediate affection and later tiredness (of a work).   Most of such pieces are not only highly characteristic music, but they have--in the biographies of their listeners--brought about change, an opening up, or they have touched them: at the example of the Pathetique, of the >>Unfinished<<, of the Mahler's Second Symphony, many music friends understand, for the first time, what that is, a >>Beethoven Sonata<<, a >>Schubert mystery<<, a Mahler Symphony. . . .  

That which, at its first hearing, may by so convincing and impressive may, rather quickly, also become a bit >>trivial<<, continues Kaiser, that which enthuses us in these pieces may quickly turn into a >>hit<<, and that pieces such as the >>Kleine Nachtmusik<< or the Pathetique also impress the non-musical individuals--with which, in Kaiser's opinion, corresponds the nosed-up smile of the >>connoisseur<<.  Consequently, argues Kaiser, many interpreters feel inclined to make >>something special<< out of these works, and they either spice the well-known work unusually bland or hot so that it might become more interesting.    However, infers Kaiser, since the Pathetique is already as extrovert as it is, doubly-forceful interpretations also double the effect of our being tired of it, all the while their intention was to  work against this.  

Kaiser then asks himself if our difficulties might also have to do with the fact that, in the meantime, we might--even with a certain >>enjoyment<< sport a bad conscience with respect to >>pathos>> and the >>pathetic<<, with respect to unbridled passion?  Such an assumption, writes Kaiser, sounds plausible, even if, in the last third of the 20th century, there is (was) no lack of hysterical outbursts of passion, particularly in politics.  What, asks Kaiser, is actually irritating us when we consider >>pathos<< and the >>pathetic<<, today?  The term itself, even if it is now obsolet, does not explain anything further.  He refers to Romain Rolland, whom he calls a noble and generous Beethoven admirer and quotes him as follows, with respect to a >>formula<< of the pathetic and of pathos (in this work):   >>Die etwas zu glatte Lösung einer vom Theater hergenommenen Aufgabe.  Die Schauspieler sind zu sichtbar.<< (>>Beethovens Meisterjahre<<, Insel Verlag 1930, S. 95; Rolland writes here that it refers to a rather pat solution of a task that has originated with the theatre, and that the actors are too visible)).

"Wie haben sich nun die Interpreten -- und der Pianist müßte noch geboren werden, der nicht irgendwann einmal mit Leidenschaft über die Pathetique herfällt -- gegenüber dieser >>etwas zu glatten<< Theaterlösung verhalten?  An der Pathetique läßt sich so exakt wie an kaum einem anderen Musikstück Interpretationsgeschichte studieren.  Diese Sonate ist als Herausforderung zu schneidend, zu exzentrisch, als daß irgenwelche freundlich-verbindlichen mittleren Antworten lohnten.  Wer sich bei der Pathetique auf bloßes Unterspielen zurückzieht, der hat das Interpertationsproblem dieses Werkes nämlich keineswegs klug unterlaufen.  Lahme Vorsicht schützt hier nicht vor der Strafe des Mißlingens . . .

Die von Beethoven selber hinzufefügte Charakterisierung >>Grande Sonate Pathetique<< gehört -- wie immer sich der Begriff im Laufe der Jahrzehnte verändert oder diskreditiert haben mag -- durchaus zur Sache.  Nicht anders als eine cantabile oder eine dolce-Vorschrift, die ja auch nicht eindeutig zwingend festliegt, wie da ein gesangvoller oder >>süßer<< Eindruck hervorgerufen werden soll, sondern eben nur, daß es zu geschehen habe.  Beethovens Überschrift darf, sonst wäre sie ja überflüssig oder verlogen, nicht als nachträglich drangeklebte Zutat wegargumentiert, sie muß vielmehr als Forderung respektiert werden.  Wäre das Wort >>Pathetique<< hier tatsächlich nichts als Zutat, dann dürfte auch kein unwiderstehlich dramatischer Schwung, keine Tendenz zu opernhaft erregter Tremolo-Begleitung die musikalischen Charaktere durchwirken.  Hier werfen sowohl der schwerlich ganz dingfest zu machende >>Geist<< wie auch die komponierte buchstäbliche Einzelheit das Pathos-Problem auf: demgegenüber wäre es nicht etwa vorsichtig positivistisch, sondern einfach eine Fälschung, wenn man den Kopfsatz so verstünde, als brauchte man sich um das alles nicht zu kümmern, als ließe sich auch dieses >>Allegro di molto e con brio<< wie eine Bach-Invention oder ein frühes Haydn-Rondo tönend bewegt herunterperlen.  . . .  Die meisten Interpreten haben, und keineswegs nur in jüngster Zeit, den Begriff und die Funktion des Pathetischen zu differenzieren gesucht.  Man kam nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg während der zwanziger Jahre offendar darin überein, daß der statuenhaft, wenn nicht gipsbüstenhaft heroische >>Feier<<-Beethoven ein historisches Mißverständnis gewesen sein müsse.  So wie in der deutschen Literatur mit dem Aufkommen des Realismus -- also lange vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg -- der pathetische Schiller-Ton verdächtig und verdächtigt wurde (in Gerhart Hauptmanns >>Ratten<<, 3. Akt wird der Konflikt ganz konkret, als Betonungs- und Rezitationsproblem beim Schauspielunterricht ausgehandelt und thematisiert), so wandten sich etwas später auch die Musiker von Beethovens, heute würde man sagen, >>affirmativem<< Pathos ab, und zwar auffallenderweise ebenso die Wortführer der antiromantischen und antipathetischen >>Neuen Sachlichkeit<< (man denke nur an die Anti-Beethoven-Stimmung bei Strawinsky, Cocteau, auch bei Hindemith während der zwanziger Jahre), wie die allen ..sachlichen<< Tendenzen gewiß fernen Angehörigen der (expressionismusnahen) Neuen Wiener Schule.  Ein Rudolf Kolisch -- Schönbergs Schüler und Schwager, Primarius des Kolisch-Quartetts, Autor des berühmten Aufsatzes >>Tempo and Character in Beethovens Music<< aus >>The Musical Quarterly<<, Jahrgang 1943 -- und ein Theodor W. Adorno, der als Berg-Schüler und Musikschriftsteller später repräsentativer Interpret der Neuen Wiener Schule werden sollte:  sie beide stimmen mit dem von ihnen damals heftig bekämpften Strawinsky zumindest darin überein, daß man sich, um einen authentischen Beethoven zu gewinnen, an die sonst meist für irrig, für widersprüchlich, für unspielbar schnell, für bloße Richtungsbekundungen gehaltenen, extrem raschen Metronomangaben Beethovens halten müsse.  Schönberg- und Strawinsky-Schule berührten sich also bemerkenswerterweise in der Überzeugung, Beethoven dürfe nicht schleppend, dröhnend, feierlich-verdrossen oder feierlich-erhaben vorgetragen werden.

Mithin wäre also rasche, schlanke oder auch gezackte Tempo-Gespanntheit ein Heilmittel gegen alles hohle, scheppernde Pathos?  Ein marxistischer Philosoph, der seine Herkunft aus dem Expressionismus nicht verleugnet, nämlich Ernst Bloch (Tibor Kneif hat unter dem Titel >>Ernst Bloch und der musikalische Expressionismus<< in >>Ernst Bloch zu ehren<<, Suhrkamp-Verlag 1965, S. 277-326, alles Notwendige ausgeführt, bot auf einem literarischen Umweg eine hilfreiche Therapie für das Pathos-Krankheitsbild.  Beonders hilfreich vielleicht deshalb, weil Bloch an die Frage heranging, ohne von Beethovens Autorität verängstigt, zur Vorsicht bewogen zu sein.  1932, bevor der aufgedonnerte optimistische Kolossal-Stil der dreißiger Jahre mit seinen Geschmacklosigkeiten einsetzte, machte Bloch in dem Aufsatz >>Die Kunst, Schiller zu sprechen<< (am leichtesten zugänglich in >>Literarische Aufsätze<<, Suhrkamp Verlag 1965, S. 91ff) einige Vorschläge, welche >>Stile der Rettung<<es gäbe, wenn die Gefahr der pathetischen Unglaubwürdigkeit drohe.  >>Nicht nur der volle Jambus macht Schiller schwierig, auch noch sein hohes Pathos aus Lebensferne, die Leidenschaft im abstrakt idealischen Gewand.  Das ist bereits die objektive Schwierigkeit oder Unstimmigkeit in Schiller selber; die >>sachliche<< Zeit von heute plaudert nur viel davon aus.<<  Wie aber sehen Blochs >>Stile der Rettung<< aus?

Während die an Beethovens Pathetique denkenden Leser nun höchstbegreiflicherweise fürchten, wir hätten unseren musikalischen Gegenstand bei diesen literarisch-philosophischen Pathos-Betrachtungen endgültig aus den Augen verloren, tauchen im Zusammenhang mit Blochs Typologie durchaus spezifisch musikinterpretatorische Verhaltensweisen wieder auf.  Blochs erster Rettungsvorschlag entspricht dem, was Rudolf Kolisch und was Adorno . . .  direkt forderten, nämlich: >>sehr rasch<<.  Blochs zweiter Rettungsvorschlag lautet: >>zerteilte Sprache, gewollte Pause<<.  Also Artikulation gegen den Fluß, gegen den Strich.  .  .  .  Blochs dritter Vorschlag:  >>eine infantile, ja psychopathische Vortragsweise<<.  .  .  .  Vierter Vorschlag:  Rettung durch barockisierendes Übertreiben.  .  .  .  Als fünfte Rettungsmöglichkeit bietet Bloch an: exakt parallisierende Logizität, die Betonung gleichsam der >>Melodie der Logik<<.   .  .  .

Wenn wir uns nun aber den Einzelheiten des Notentextes und ihrer >>logischen<< Bewältigung zuwenden, dann stoßen wir -- und das gilt ebenso für die Funktion der Grave-Einleitung zum Ganzen, wie für das Verhältnis, welches erstes Thema, Seitensatz und Schlußgruppe zu einander haben -- auf einen widersprüchlichen Sachverhalt, der sich mit dem Begriff >>dialektisch<< nur umschreiben, aber nicht wirklich erklären läßt.  Pathos hat zwei einander anscheinend ausschließende Folgen.  Einerseits prägt großes Pathos durchdringend und vereinheitlichend die Entwicklung eines Sonatensatzes.  Andererseits führt es zu einer Steigerung der jeweils einzelnen Ausprägung, also zu einer ausgesprochenen Gegensätzlichkeit der jeweiligen Charaktere.  Dieser hoffentlich nicht zu erklügelt wirkende Widerspruch hat praktische Konsequenzen.  Zum Beispiel:  Muß die Grave-Einleitung wiederholt werden:  Beethovens diesbezügliche Angaben sind nicht eindeutig.  Oder: ist entschiedener Tempowechel zwischen synkopiertem, von Trommelwirbeltremolo begleitetem Hauptsatz und dialogisch freiem Seitensatz nicht nur gestattet, sondern geboten?  Oder auch:  muß motorisch drängende Vehemenz hier, eben um des zwingend-leidenschaftlichen Endeffektes willen, alle individuellen Verschiedenheiten wegglühen?

Erstaunlich, fast unglaublich scheint zunächst, daß selbt bei diesem beispiellos populären Stück keine Einigkeit über die weiß Gott nicht beiläufige, irgendwelche Druckfehler oder Lesarten philologisch ausspielende Frage herrscht, ob der pathetische Teil der Pathetique, nämlich die gewaltige Grave-Einleitung, tatsächlich eine >>Einleitung<< ist.  Also ein Portal, durch das man zum Bau des >>Allegro di molto e con brio<< gelangt.  Oder gehören diese hochexpressiven zehn Takte als völlig integrierter Bestandteil zum Sonatensatz?  Beethoven hat am Ende der Exposition des Allegro ein Wiederholungszeichen vorgeschrieben, aber es ist nicht eindeutig klar, ob nur das Allegro wiederholt werden soll oder auch das eröffnende Grave.  Hugo Riemann schreibt in seiner >>Analyse von Beethovens Klaviersonaten<<, 2. Band. S. 1ff:  >>Daß das Grave aber keine Einleitung ist, sondern durch mehrmalige, wenn auch nur andeutungsweise Wiederkehr den ganzen Satz zusammenhält wie Mörtel die Steine, betont bereits Lenz sehr nachdrücklich ...  Meine Ausgabe der Beethovenschen Sonaten<<, fährt Riemann fort,>>fordert bei der Reprise im ersten Teil >>von Anfang<<.  Der wichtigste Grund, das Grave bei der Reprise mit zu wiederholen, ist aber natürlich der, daß das Kopfmotiv desselben an der Spitze der Durchführung selbst gleich zu Anfang ... verarbeitet wird . . .<<" (Kaiser:  158-161; --

-- Kaiser then turns to the question as to how interpreters have >>dealt<< with this, as Rolland put it, >>somewhat too smooth<< theatre solution of the Pathetique, and Kaiser is of the opinion that, at the example of this Sonata, one can study the history of piano interpretation better than, perhaps, at the example of any other piece, as, in his opinion, this sonata, as a challenge, is too cutting, too eccentric in order for any friendly, non-committal interpretations to bear any fruit.  Those, argues Kaiser who, in their interpretation of the Pathetique, try to limit themselves to a kind of mere 'understatement' have not found a clever way of dealing with this problem, as lame caution does not protect the interpreter from the punishment of failure . . . 

Kaiser then states that the characterization that Beethoven gave to this work,  >>Grande Sonate Pathetique<<, belongs--regardless of how this term, during the course of decades might have changed or become discredited--certainly to the subject matter, and that in the same way as a cantabile or a dolce instruction which, after all, also does not precisely indicate as to how a 'cantabile' (songful) or a 'dolce' (sweet) effect should be created, but rather only that it should be created.   Beethoven's characterization, continues Kaiser, may not be considered or 'argued away' as a superfluous afterthought, since this would mean that it is not applicable or even a lie, no, it must, emphasizes Kaiser, be respected as an instruction and as a demand.  If the word   >>Pathetique<<, reasons Kaiser, were nothing but an addition, then the musical character of this work should not display any dramatic tension, no tendency towards operatically-agitated tremolo accompaniment.    Here, continues Kaiser, the musical >>spirit<< as well as each compositional detail lead us to the so-called >>pathos<< problem:  considering this, it would not be carefully positivistic but rather simply a falsification if one would understand the first movement in such a way as if one would not have to pay attention to any of this, as if also this  >>Allegro di molto e con brio<< can simply be played like a Bach invention or like an early Haydn Rondo.  . . .  Most interpreters, writes Kayser, have, and that not only in the recent past, tried to differentiate the term and the function of the >>pathetic<<, after WWI, during the twenties, one obviously arrived at an agreement that the so-called statuesque, heroic, >>solemn<< Beethoven must be a historical misunderstanding and that, just as in German literature, with the arrival of realism, thus long before WWI, the so-called Schillerian pathos was viewed with suspicion (as a literary example, Kaiser refers to Gerhart Hauptmann's drama >>Ratten<< and its third act in which this problem is dealt with as a problem of recitation and text emphasis), somewhat later, also musicians turned away from Beethoven's, as one would call it today, >>affirmative<< pathos, and, in this context, particularly the anti-romantic and anti-pathetic leaders of a >>new matter-of-fact style<< (Kaiser refers here to the anti-Beethoven mood of Stravinsky, Cocteau and also Hindemith, in the 1920's), but also to the members of the >>Second Viennese School<< that were closer to expressionism than to any >>new matter-of-fact style<<, such as Rudolf Kolisch, Schönberg's student and brother-in-law, leader of the Kolisch Quartet amd author of the famous essay, , >>Tempo and Character in Beethoven's Music<< in >>The Musical Quarterly<<, 1943 -- und to Theodor W. Adorno, who, as Berg student and as musical writer would later become the representative interpreter of the >>Second Viennese School<<: according to Kaiser, both agree with Stravinsky, against whom they faught valiantly at that time, at least with respect to the requirement that, in order to arrive at an >>authentic<< Beethoven, one would have to adhere to Beethoven's metronome markings that, otherwise, have been considered wrong, controversial, for unplayably fast.  Therefore, argues Kaiser, the so-called >>Schönberg<< and >>Strawinsky<< schools were in noticeable agreement with respect to their view that Beethoven should not be played in a >>dragging<<, neither in a >>loud and hollow<< manner, and certainly not in a >>solemn and sublime<< manner.  

Kaiser asks himself if this would mean that a fast, lean or jerkily-tense way of playing Beethoven's music would be a remedy against all >>hollow pathos<<.  In this context, Kaiser refers to the Marxist philosopher who did not deny his affinity to expressionism, namely Ernst Bloch . . . in a literary round-about manner, offered a helpful therapy against >>pathos sickness<<, and Kaiser considers this particularly helpful since Block addressed this issue without being intimidated by Beethoven's authority.  Kaiser refers to Bloch's 1932 essay, >>Die Kunst, Schiller zu sprechen<< (the art of reciting Schiller) in which he offered a few suggestions as to what stiles would >>save<< Schiller performances:   >>Nicht nur der volle Jambus macht Schiller schwierig, auch noch sein hohes Pathos aus Lebensferne, die Leidenschaft im abstrakt idealischen Gewand.  Das ist bereits die objektive Schwierigkeit oder Unstimmigkeit in Schiller selber; die >>sachliche<< Zeit von heute plaudert nur viel davon aus.<< (Bloch writes here that not only the full iambic verse makes Schiller >>difficult<<, but also that his exalted pathos that is far removed from real life, which he describes as passion, cloaked in idealism, which he, for his time, finds one of the objective difficulties with Schiller).  Kaiser then asks himself what Bloch's >>saving style<<  is about.  

Kaiser then concedes that some of his readers might fear that, in his discussion of literary aspects of pathos, he might have lost sight of Beethoven's Pathetique, while he points out that Bloch's typology offers certain specific musically-interpretative behavior patterns, and he then refers to Bloch's first >>saving idea<<, which corresponds again with what Rudolf Kolisch and Adorno directly demanded, namely  >>sehr rasch<< (very fast), and Bloch's second idea is conveyed as >>zerteilte Sprache, gewollte Pause<< (divided-up language, intentional pauses), his third idea as:    >>eine infantile, ja psychopathische Vortragsweise<< (an infantile, even psychopathic manner of speech),  while his fourth idea refers to saving the text by baroque-style exaggeration, and to his fifth idea as exact paralleling >>logic<<, or the >>melody of logic<<.  

Kaiser then invites the reader to turn with him to details of the score and their >>logical<< treatment--whereby he points out that this applies to the function of the >>Grave<< introduction, to the relationship of the first theme, the side theme and the final group to each other--and, in this process, continues Kaiser, we would be faced with a contradiction that, with the term >>dialectic<< can only be circumscribed but not clearly explained.  Pathos, argues Kaiser, has two consequences that apparently exclude each other.  On the one hand, overall, pathos forms the development of a sonata movement in a unifying manner.  On the other hand, it leads to an acceleration of each particular emphasis, thus to a contradiction of the particular characteristics.   This hopefully not too elaborately presented contradiction, continues Kaiser, has practical consequences and refers to the following questions:  Does the >>Grave<< introduction have to be repeated?  After all, Beethoven's instructions are not quite clear. The second question Kaiser refers to is that of a decisive change in tempo between the syncopated main theme that is accompanied by drum tremolo and the side theme that he describes as >>dialogically free<<, and he asks as to whether this change is not only allowed but rather called for, demanded.   He also asks as to whether driving vehemence, for the sake of a forceful, passionate overall effect, has to burn away all individual differences.    

Kaiser points out that, at first, it appears almost incredibly astonishing that even with respect to this extremely popular piece there is no agreement with respect to  the certainly not unimportant question as to whether the pathetic part of the Pathetique, namely the enormous >>Grave<< introduction, is actually an >>introduction<<, thus a portal through which one arrives at the constructionof the >>Allegro di molto e con brio<<.  Kaiser asks himself if, alternatively, these highly expressive ten measures are a completely integral part of the sonata movement.  Beethoven, writes Kaiser, at the end of the exposition of the Allegro, has indicated a repeat sign, however, it is not completely clear as to whether only the Allegro is to be repeated or also the introductory >>Grave<<.   Kaiser then refers to Hugo Riemann's >>Analyse von Beethovens Klaviersonaten<<, Vol. 2, p. 1ff:  >>Daß das Grave aber keine Einleitung ist, sondern durch mehrmalige, wenn auch nur andeutungsweise Wiederkehr den ganzen Satz zusammenhält wie Mörtel die Steine, betont bereits Lenz sehr nachdrücklich ...  Meine Ausgabe der Beethovenschen Sonaten<<, fährt Riemann fort,>>fordert bei der Reprise im ersten Teil >>von Anfang<<. (Riemann writes here that the Grave is not an introduction but rather, by its frequent returns, even if these returns are only hinted at, holds the movement together like mortar holds bricks together, and Riemann refers here to Lenz who has already observed this.  Riemann then refers to his own edition of Beethoven's sonatas which, in the reprise of the first part, demands, >>from the beginning).  Kaiser points out that the most important reason to repeat the Grave in the reprise is that that its head motif, at the head of the development, is also elaborated on right at the beginning.  . . .<<).


After this thorough discussion, for your "relaxation", we offer you Anton Kuertis comments on the musical content of this sonata: 

"The grandeur of the "Pathetique" Sonata is immediately clear from the fact that it starts with a slow introduction.  While earlier composers often did this in symphonic works, it was rare to do so in a mere instrumental sonata.  It could be dangerous, like proclaiming one's importance before having demonstrated it in any way" (Kuerti:  20).

Grave: Allego di molto e con brioPresto

In his description of the first movement, Kuerti continues by asking himself the question as to whether the slow introduction is actually an introduction, since it returns at the beginning of the development (12) and in the Coda (15), and since in the development, material out of it is used (13).  Perhaps, so Kuerti, the remarkable introduction is an integral part of a unique, original form.  He indicates that the sources do not clearly indicate as to whether the exposition should be repeated from the beginning (from the introduction on)--as in his rendition--or only from the beginning of the Allegro (10) on, as most scores indicate.  From the inner content of the work, indications are, writes Kuerti, at least contradictory.  The last passage of the exposition (11), continues Kuerti, appears to call for a  forceful, solemn return of the introductory chords; thus, the identical passage, in both instances of its repeat, leads back to the "introductory" material and not to the impatient, nervous forging-ahead of the Adagio theme.  On the other hand, argues Kuerti, the improvisatory nature of the last part of the "introduction" appears almost too spontaneous in order to tolerate a repetition.  

Kuerti then refers to the interplay of Major and minor, which he considers important in all three movements.  Here, writes Kuerti, tradedy is emphasizes by darkening, when the half playful and half serious pleading of the second,  theme (14) returns in minor instead of in Major.  (Kuerti: 20).   

Adagio cantabile

"Rarely has so much been said so powerfully, simply and briefly as in the Adagio: its perfect proportions and deep emotions seem to suspend time, giving it a vast and warmly spacious aura" (Kuerti: 20). 

According to Kuerti, the second section (16) appears unexpectedly and intensely in the minor tonic, and almost has the character of a development rather than that of an episode.  Kuerti calls it both moving and superb as to how the triplet accompaniment that is introduced in this episode is taken up again in the last return of the main theme.  During this episode, writes Kuerti, the triplets had evoked anguish, but now, since they return in their >>usual musical environment<< and in the Major key of the main theme, they emphasize the warmth and depth of the theme and lend it a wonderful unity.   

The short coda (18) writes Kuerti, takes an element of the theme and compresses it.  As Sir Donald Francis Tovey has pointed out so observantly, continues Kuerti, one could compare the end of a movement to the foreground of a painting, since it is the last detail that we become aware of, and therefore, it is closest to us.  With his compressed phrase lengths, here, the foreground, as in a painting, adds a human dimension.   (Kuerti: 20).

Rondo: Allegro

"The Finale has been criticized for being less significant, less intense than the other movements.  But to place a passionate movement here would be foolish, for it would be futile to compete with the dramatic intensity of the first movement, and to write a humorous or brilliant rondo, especially in the absence of a menuetto, would disturb the sublime effect of the Adagio.  The Rondo's cool, lyrical poignancy, which only occasionally echoes some of the first movement's storminess, gives the 'Pathetique' an exquisite balance of moods.

When, nearing the end, the playfully tender first episode returns (10), it clings fondly and lengthtily to C major, radiating, with its smooth lines, a feeling of great purity which is at the same time desolate because we sense the impending inevitable calamity of the return to C minor.  This final return thus becomes doubly effective and leads, with little delay, to the work's final flourish which, though unostentatious, leaves a feeling of bitterness and anger" (Kuerti: 20-21). 

After this journey that consisted of many different elements, we can also offer you a link to a listening sample of a midi file of the Pathetique:


Kunst der Fuge: Beethoven-Sonatas

We wish you a great deal of listening enjoyment!

For those of you who want to explore this topic further in a serious manner, we can offer you a link to the Beethoven Bibliography Data Base of the Ira Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies in San Jose, California:

Opus 13 - Search