8th Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 (1798–9)

Free texts and images.
Jump to: navigation, search

8th Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 (1798–9)
written by Dmitri N. Smirnov
From a book: «The Anatomy of Theme in Beethoven's Piano Sonatas», 2007. Publ.: ssm 46, Ernst Kuhn, Berlin, 2008, p. 71–73. Russian version: Восьмая соната до минор, соч. 13 (1798–9).

8th Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 (1798–9)

This sonata was dedicated to Carl von Lichnowsky (1756–1814), a Prince of Polish background, Mozart’s pupil and Beethoven’s patron. There is a general uncertainty as to whether Beethoven chose the title ‘Pathétique’ or if the title was added by his publisher, but whatever the case, the attraction of the title certainly added to the piece’s immense popularity. However, this pronounced epithet was not the only reason for the sonata’s popular appeal. The structure of the piece brings something quite new and original into the world of music. The relevance of a particular statement from Webern is apparent here: ‘…new music is that which has never been said. Therefore new music would be what happened a thousand years ago, just as much as what is happening now, namely, music that appears as something never said before.’[1]

The sonata does not contain a ‘dance movement’ (scherzo or minuet), but instead it has a very notable slow introduction that returns twice (before the development section and before the coda of the first movement). This represents a kind of hidden fourth movement within this three-movement cycle.

The principal theme occupies bb. 11–35; its structure (in simplified form) is shown as: 8+8+4+4. It begins with a 16-bar period followed by a four-bar segment dwelling on the dominant and its repetition. All of this appears to be an unfinished three-part song, the ‘fixed’ quality of which is weakened by the absence of a proper third part. Herschkowitz stated: ‘The principal theme represents the first and second parts of a three-part song; the third part is replaced by the transition.’[2] Hence a principal theme can be structured not only as a period, a sentence or a three-part song, and all possible fusions between them, but also as an ‘incomplete’ form; in this case the three-part song remains incomplete (see also the principal theme of the Sixteenth Sonata Op. 31/1-I).

The actual sizes of the structural elements of the theme exceed their borders – each one finishes on the strong beat of the following bar, which coincides with the beginning of the next section. Therefore, the half-cadence of the antecedent actually finishes at b. 19 and has not 8, but rather 9 bars. The same happens with the consequent, and so on, and this is why the whole length of the theme is not 24, but in fact 25 bars. It is possible to find the origin of this effect in the length of the 7-note main motive, which is certainly produced from the 6-note motive of the introduction by rhythmic simplification and the addition of the last note.

Ex. 8.1

Beeth Son8-1 1.jpg

The motive that occupies two bars, actually exceeds the borders of these two bars and finishes on the first beat of the third, unlike the example from the closing theme of the finale of the Fifth Symphony Op. 67-IV, where a similar rhythmic pattern actually finishes before the bar line:

Ex. 8.2

Beeth Son8-1 2.jpg

In this sonata the repetition of the motive enters on the next beat of the bar forming the syncopation that works like a spring, creating a huge stream of energy. The content of this vessel is larger than the vessel itself, and bursts out of its mould. The intervallic characteristic of the motive (in semitones) is very unusual: (I)+4+1+2+1+3+1, if one takes into consideration the fact that +4 is the major third (in the minor key!) and +3 is not a minor third, but an augmented second. The major third at the beginning means that harmonically the theme begins with an artificial dominant on the tonic, which is quite outstanding. The melodic shape of both antecedent and consequent creates the image of a spear thrown to the sky, reaching its apex and then losing speed and falling down.

Ex. 8.3

Beeth Son8-1 3.jpg

Both antecedent and consequent are built as sentences. The 7-note motive is repeated and followed by two more repetitions that are altered by reduction and augmentation at the same time. Firstly the motive is reduced into four notes (the first three notes of the initial form of the motive are omitted), and then into just two notes (only the two last notes of the motive remain). However, the rhythmic units are augmented, and as a result of this double operation both abridged motives occupy the same space as the original motive and its repetition.


The Eighth Sonata contains three movements: a sonata, a small rondo and a large rondo that has the features of a rondo-sonata. There are fifteen themes in the whole cycle: three of them are principal (2, 6 & 10), five are subordinate (3, 4, 9, 13 & 15), two are subordinate with a transitional function (11 & 12), two are subordinate that together form a contrasting second part of a three-part song (7 & 8), two are closing (5 & 14), and one is introductory (1). They include the following types of theme-construction: a sentence (10), an incomplete three-part song with a period (2), a three-part song with a period and a contrasting second part (6), a three-part song with a period (15), four quasi-sentences (3, 7, 8 & 13), and seven quasi-periods (1, 4, 5, 9, 11, 12 & 14). Tonally they relate to each other as follows:

Ex. 8.4

Beeth Son8-1 4.jpg

A Complete Thematic Catalogue

8th Sonata in C minor Op. 13 (1798–9)
I. Grave: C / Allegro di molto e con brio: ¢, sonata form
1. Intro: C-minor, a kind of period with both clauses as sentences
147+2+1²-1+2²+2+1²–1, 'Pattern 49, Rate 300

Catalogue 147.jpg

2. PT: C minor, incomplete a 3-part song (I-II parts, III = transition)
b. 11-35 with period (both clauses are built as sentences)
148I+4+1+2+1+3+1²+4, Pattern 145, Rate 100

Catalogue 148.jpg

3. ST1: E-flat minor – E-flat major, a quasi-sentence bb.51-88 (89)
149V+5+2+1+1⁶+5+2-7, Pattern 194, Rate 250

Catalogue 149.jpg

4. ST2: E-flat major, a quasi-period bb.89–112 (113)
150I⁵+1+1+2+1+1+1+2, Pattern 1, Rate 150

Catalogue 150.jpg

5. CT: E-flat major, a quasi-period bb. 113–121 plus closing bars and re-transition bb.121–132
151III+8–1+1+2–2–1–2, Pattern 349, Rate 80

Catalogue 151.jpg

II. Adagio cantabile: 2/4, small rondo
6. PT: A-flat major, a 3-part song bb. 1-36 with period bb. 1-16 (both clauses are build as identical sentences) and contrasting 2nd part
152III–2+5–2–1+3+5+2, Pattern 77, Rate 20

Catalogue 152.jpg

7. ST1 (theme of 2nd part): F minor – E-flat major, a modulating quasi-sentence bb. 17-23
153V+1²+8–1–2+7–4–1, Pattern 536, Rate 1 (12+8) NB!!!

Catalogue 153.jpg

8. ST2 (closing bars): E-flat major, a quasi-sentence with re-transition bb. 24-28
154V–3+3'–3–42–12–22–1, Pattern 123, Rate 150

Catalogue 154.jpg

9. ST3 (‘Trio’): A-flat minor – V of A-flat major, a quasi-period with re-transition bb. 37-50
155V+5+3–1–2–1+6–5, Pattern 195, Rate 100

Catalogue 155.jpg

III. Rondo. Allegro: ¢, rondo-sonata
10. PT: C minor, a sentence bb. 1-17 (with repeated dev. and closing bars)
156V+5+2+1+2–3+1–3, Pattern 194, Rate 250

Catalogue 156.jpg

11. ST1 (Trans): F minor – E-flat major, a quasi-period bb. 18-25
157VII+1+7–4+9–3+7–2, Pattern 7, Rate 15

Catalogue 157.jpg

12. ST2 (Trans): E-flat major – E-flat minor, a quasi-period with extension bb. 25-37
158III+3²+2+2+1+2+2+1, Pattern 98, Rate 100

Catalogue 158.jpg

13. ST3: E-flat major, a quasi-sentence bb. 27-43
159I+2+2–2–2+5–1+8, Pattern 50, Rate 800

Catalogue 159.jpg

14. CT: E-flat major, a quasi-period bb. 44-51 followed by re-transition based on ST3
160V+7⁴+5²–2+1+1²+7⁴+5, Pattern 293, Rate 60

Catalogue 160.jpg

15. ST4 (Trio): A-flat major, 3-part song bb. 79-107 with a period (repeated) bb. 79-94 followed by the 14-bal long pedal point on V of C minor.
16115a. Right hand: III+5–7+5–7+5–1–2, Pattern 211, Rate 10
16215b. Left hand: I+4+3+5–7+6–7+5, Pattern 147, Rate 300

Catalogue 161.jpg

The Notes

  1. Webern. The Path, p.12.
  2. Herschkowitz. On Music, vol. II, p. 125.

Cc-by.jpgCc-non commercial.jpg © Dmitri N. Smirnov. Can be reproduced if non-commercial.