Studying Beethoven – Piano Sonata in Cm (Op. 13)

The Pathetique sonata (in Cm, Op. 13) is arguably Beethoven’s first great sonata; at least it was the first one to earn itself a nickname, one that Beethoven liked for a change. The sonata is a milestone for Beethoven, where the composer achieves a high sense of drama never done before in his career, taking his skills to the next level. He was only 27 years old at the time.

The sonata itself comes in a structure prominent in Beethoven’s later great sonatas; it is composed in three movements, with a great first movement in the full scope of sonata form balanced by the second and third movement combined; in the same structural approach in the Waldstein (in C, Op. 53) and the Appassionata (in Fm, Op. 57). The Pathetique is in a minor key, so it follows a structure where a serene and deeply felt middle movement stands between two emotional abysses. Later sonatas that follow this pattern are the Moonlight (in C#m, Op. 27), the Tempest (in Dm, Op. 31), and the Appassionata (in Fm, Op. 57).

Grave – Allegro di molto e con brio 

The first movement is of truly epic proportions, boasting a grand and tragic slow introduction followed by a dark and agitated sonata form, with the grand, tragic motif recurring at the development and coda sections. The introduction motif exists to add extra weight to the sonata form and to vastly increase the first movement’s emotional breadth and depth. While the main subject in the sonata form proper is truly pathetic, the sonata would be hardly better than the early Fm sonata (Op. 2) without the extra motif. Beethoven always looked forward, to climb higher and higher, and so he considered it a failure if he merely repeated himself.

The Grave motif has a melodic arc based on forcefully rising up two steps, then sighing down one step; it holds a dotted rhythm that characterized French Baroque music by giving it powerful feeling and royal grandness, most effectively used by Jean-Baptiste Lully; it harmonically moves to a diminished seventh chord and hangs on it before resolving to a new key. Regarding melodic line, Beethoven peaks twice, with the melody at a high subdominant note relative to the key he resolves to; the first note being Ab with Beethoven resolving to Eb and the second note being F with Beethoven resolving to Cm.

Beethoven spends the first few bars slowly rising up the Cm scale, his harmonies Cm and Bd7, later adding some F#d7 to lead to G, the dominant. – The melodic note is first the tonic, then subdominant, then tonic of Cm, pointing that Beethoven makes much use of the subdominant key in this movement, which is Fm, significant since Fm was considered to be the darkest key in Beethoven’s time – Beethoven slowly climbs his way up to the Ab note (with a small leap from F to Ab), meanwhile his harmonies lead F#d7-G before using keys close to Cm to reach Bb7, preparing us for Eb. (Notice that Beethoven briefly plays C instead of Cm, adding a more colorful touch to the passage.)

Now in Eb, Beethoven develops his Grave motif further by contrasting a piano, tender, pleading phrase with a fortissimo, forceful denial. – Beethoven uses this idea of pleading and denial in other words, such as the second movement of his piano concerto in G (Op. 58) – Beethoven slowly works his way up the Eb scale (but never “perfectly” as he almost always includes small leaps to make the melodic arc more jagged) all the way to the high F note, frequently using leading tones such as C# and Eh. However, he does take the melody in interesting turns by using interesting harmonies; he moves to D of all chords, mutates it to Dd, and moves to Fd.

Once Beethoven reaches that high F note, he modulates Gm7-Ab, meaning he briefly denies us the Cm we expect to hold us hanging a little while longer and to play the softest and most tender phrase of the introduction. The last bar comes in the standard harmonies of Cm, Bd7, and G7, and shrinks the note values further to play a long descending chromatic scale. And Beethoven hangs us on a diminished chord (Bd7) while holding us on a sudden high note, which is a typical technique for Beethoven at this point.

The sonata form is monothematic; it makes use of the main subject and its variations throughout the entire movement; as a main subject, subordinate subject, closing subject, development, and coda. Haydn, the great composer and Beethoven’s teacher, also created monothematic sonatas where the same material appeared as main and subordinate subjects. The main subject itself is a rising Cm scale but uses Eh frequently, which makes the harmonies to often be Ed leading to Fm. Beethoven emphasizes Fm, the darkest key, and the leading tone gives a sharp edge that highlights the wrathful and tragic subject, which you wouldn’t get if the rising Cm scale had no accidentals. All this established the main subject, now Beethoven must add to it in order to resolve it; he does this by using half notes that move down the Cm scale, an inversion of the main subject before. Beethoven resolves through F#d7-G-Cm.

For the transition, Beethoven uses as material the syncopated sustained notes held in G, the dominant of Cm, then follows it with downward eight note arpeggios where Beethoven again uses F#d to lead to G. But all this is a small episode in Cm the whole time, now Beethoven modulates for real. He brings back the main subject so he can break it up into smaller leader notes, and he pairs it with a huge contrast; low, thundering whole notes resolving down a step. This way he modulates from F#d-G to Gd-Ab to Ad-Bb, then he breaks down the whole notes so he can use a cell to descend by the octave; he uses Ad-Bb over and over, so by highlighting Bb he prepares us for Ebm.

The subordinate subject uses material from the main subject but part of it is broken off and placed in the base. Beethoven uses repeated notes in the middle register to give harmonic context with his left hand while he jumps between low and high registers with his right, and trails this striking motif with a falling melody in the treble, again an inversion. Beethoven’s new key is Ebm, which subverts our expectations of Eb or Ab, and he points it out more by using Gb notes. He modulates us to Db during this time, from Bbd7-Ebm to Ab7-Db and Ab7a-Db. Time to raise the pressure; Beethoven uses large leaps and trails off with the descending melody more to build our anticipation as he leads us to the closing section; the harmonies change from Db to Ebm7 to Bb7, making us expect Eb major.

And for the closing section in Eb, Beethoven makes use of a long rising Eb scale but with chromatic notes thrown in; Eh-Ah-Dh, thus linking the harmony Eb to the harmony C7, the major submediant. Beethoven builds us up slowly, with sixteenth note Alberti base in opposite motion, taking the melody higher while the base goes downward, taking us to a high Eb note before falling quickly downward, resolving through Eb-Eba-Ab-Bb7-Eb. Beethoven brings us a new phrase, using a half note to underline that high Eb and descending downward in sixteenth notes. It also holds examples of where Beethoven has the implied harmonies of the two hands not agree with each other. The left hand fleshes uses repeated notes to flesh out the harmonies Cm-Fm7-Bb while the right hand fleshes out diminished sevenths of the left hand harmonies;

And finally, Beethoven plays the main subject once more, untampered with except in the key of Eb, and brings back whole notes that keep leaping by octave from the Eb6 to the Eb5 notes. He cycles through keys close to Eb, then he falls to a D note and makes the leap by two octaves, and shifts the harmonies to D7-G7 to prepare us for Cm.

Now here is where performance gets tricky. Most print editions of the Pathetique direct us to repeat the Allegro sonata form, but Andras Schiff makes a compelling argument of why we should go all the way back to the Grave introduction; it further cements in our mind the bold and tragic material that gives so much weight to the first movement.

Beethoven reprises the Grave introduction before going to the development proper. He begins in Cm again but his high note is G, the dominant, not the tonic note of C like last time. Beethoven climbs his way slowly to a high Eh note, the median, before slowly moving down to a middle Eh, making much use of the F#d7-Gm harmonies, before shifting to D#d-Em.

Beethoven lands on Em for his development, the mediant of Cm, and for his first core he uses the subordinate subject in treble and base lines, meanwhile accompanying it with tremolos or repeated quarter notes. The material itself is, the subordinate subject, a more jagged version of the main subject made entirely of leading notes, the rising scale replaced by leaps from leading cell to the next. Thus Beethoven plays the material in the treble, taking us from Em to D to Bbm, then shifts the material to the base, taking us from Bbm to Gb to Bd, then leads us from F#d7-G.

Thus begins the second core, where Beethoven drums away tremolo notes at the base in G, the dominant of Cm, there is high tension here as the 18 th century audience would expect that G base to leap to C to resolve the tension through a V-i progression. But Beethoven has no interest in letting us off the hook easily; he uses arpeggios in the tenor range to cycle through C#m-Dd-Ab-G, keeping an Ab (the submediant of Cm) as the top note. He does suddenly shift to the soprano range to play a variation of the main subject, using C#d-Dm, then makes use of something new; whole notes and trills, to bring us to Cm-G. Once Beethoven has brought us to G7, the dominant, he uses eight note arpeggios to throw us all the way down from a high F, the subdominant he makes so much use of in this movement, to a baseline C.

Now in the recapitulation, Beethoven still develops his main subject even after just reintroducing it; he develops the descending half notes to function as a new transition to trail us to the subordinate subject, modulating from Db to Bb7-Ebm to C-Fm. Beethoven puts the subordinate subject in Fm, which deviates from the usual as most listeners expect the harmony of C. But Beethoven does modulate to Cm, but even still he uses harmonies such as F9, Bb, and Ab, as if he was in Eb the whole time. The closing section is the same as before, only transposed to Cm, but at the end, when Beethoven thunders with his whole notes and two octave leap, he crashes us to F#d7, which appears like he is leading us to the G, the dominant.

He returns to the Grave introduction but without the large thick chords; the point is to create a poignant and sad feeling and keep us in suspense, which works very well as Beethoven built so much expectation beforehand. Beethoven, perhaps more than any other composer, knew the value of silence. Silence is as important to music as zero is important in math. He leads us from F#d7-Gm to Bd7-Cm to Ed7-Fm, before softly floating down the Cm scale, using Cm-G7. Beethoven uses the main subject a final time to bring the movement with a fortissimo close, using F#d7-Cm-G7-Cm, delaying the F#d7-G7 progression a bit with an in-between harmony of Cm.

Adagio cantabile 

The second movement is romantic and deeply felt, and its pensive nature contrasts the agitated and violent first movement. It is rondo form where the main subject appears three times and is contrasted by two subordinate subjects and a coda. So what about the main subject itself? The melody is based more or less on the Ab triad while also making use of rising chords, leaps downward, and resolving by a downwards step. The harmony usually sticks to Ab and other nearby harmonies, but does have a Ghd7-Ab and a Ahd7-Bbm progression. The etxture is sophisticated, with a songlike soprano melody above and a similar base below, both using quarter notes and first species counterpoint, while the alto and tenor roles come in sixteenth notes to flesh out the harmonies.

Now Beethoven arrives to a brief subordinate subject in Cm, the texture simplified to only two voices, the melody built around the cell of a held quarter note and descending sixteenth notes taken from the main subject. The peak note is always Ab, the submediant of Cm, until it becomes G when Beethoven suddenly moves to Eb. The retransition shifts the melody, now a chromatic descent and later a chromatic turn, to the tenor part, the repeated eight notes give the very thick harmony of Bb9s4 before resolving to Eb9 so Beethoven may return to Ab.

Beethoven replays the main subject but only once but avoid repeating himself too much. Now he mutates to Abm to play a second subordinate subject, and breaks it into two parts; an eight-note descent by scale followed by a leap or a step in the treble, and a chromatic descent in triplets in the base, while the alto is made of repeated notes to flesh out a harmony. Beethoven lingers around in Abm and Eb for the first sentence, then makes a sudden leap to the F# note, the dominant of the relevant key, to a passionate outburst in B7, the median of Abm. The triplet descent swaps to the soprano role as the harmonies modulate to E through the progression B7-E-F#7-E (in between harmony)-B7-E.

Beethoven begins his second sentence in E and B7 but rather than taking his material to any special places he slowly modulates back to Ab; he uses rising broken chord triplets way down in the base to do so, going through Dd7 (leading tone of E) to Bbhd7 (submediant of D) then to Eb7 (subdominant of Bhd7 and dominant of Ab). Beethoven returns to the main subject, playing it in full, and slightly develops it further by using triplets in the alto and tenor parts.

The coda makes use of descending triplets in the melody, with the melody starting high on an F note (submediant of Ab), then falling to an Eb note and later an Ab note. The whole movement can be said to be a gradual development where sixteenth notes gradually become triplets as the movement progresses. Either way, Beethoven gently lets us down with a turning and descending phrase. He uses Ab and Eb7 as harmonies the whole time to let us know the piece is over.


The third movement is a rondo in Cm and, together with the second movement, balances out the massive sonata form first movement. While this last movement is not as grand and tragic as the first movement it is still a heavyweight piece of music in its own right, and should be respected as such. Most listeners would agree that this rondo satisfies us as an ending to the entire sonata. Beethoven himself may have disagreed, as he would go on to try different ways of putting the most weight on the end of a sonata, not the beginning. His later third movements, such as those of the Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas, do have a higher drama and urgency than the first movements and create the climax of the entire sonata, not just one movement. Beethoven would later blow even that out of the water with the fugue finale of the Hammerklavier sonata (in Bb, Op. 106), and repeated that success with the choral finale of the 9 th symphony (in Dm, Op. 125) and the Große Fugue finale of his massive string quartet in Bb (Op. 130).

But we have not arrived to such heights yet.

But we have not arrived to such heights yet. The main subject begins with a dotted swinging motion in Cm, peaks with G and Ab (dominant and submediant) half and three quarter notes, and swings back down to Cm. Beethoven draws a tail to our subject, where the melody peaks to the Bb and C notes (subtonic and tonic) before decisively ending with G-Cm chords. The harmonies never leave the usual Cm nexus except for a brief moment in C, between Ab and Fm.

The transition uses loud whole note chords to suspend us before resolving to the “proper” harmony, whereby rising and falling arpeggios in piano take over. In this matter Beethoven easily takes us to the subordinate subject through C7-Fm and Bb7-Eb. Again, Beethoven is fond of playing the dominant or leading chord of the new home key first, then resolving to it, and even modulates to the dominant or leading chord through keys relevant to them, not the new home key.

Beethoven uses the subordinate subject to raise the blood pressure; he uses eight notes in both hands; arpeggios in the left hand, a brisk melody in the right, all in Eb. Beethoven sprints around in Eb before climbing up with half notes to Bb (dominant) and Eb (tonic) so he can slip into new material; two phrases built on triplets imitating one another in the soprano and alto parts. Beethoven builds his first phrase, and its triplets, on the high Bb note, dominant of Eb, and peaks his dramatic descent with the highest note in F, the supertonic. In the next phrase, Beethoven centers on a high Ab note, subdominant of Eb, and Db, the subtonic. Never one to leave well enough alone, Beethoven squeezes in one more dramatic descent, the peak note being C, the submediant of Eb. The harmonies throughout the entire subordinate subject are rather plain, mostly Eb and Bb7, with only a Cb7a, an Ad-Bb, and a Cm7 chord throughout.

Beethoven begins the closing subject with a theme made of repeated notes and slow turns, the key notes are Bb (dominant) and F (dominant of dominant), and includes a chromatic descending base with a Cb note, which adds dissonance to an F harmony. This small episode acts as a brief respite and a bridge to the real closing subject, one built on the imitation of eight note triplets among soprano and alto, based on Eb and Ab notes. Using this standard I-IV-I progression, Beethoven uses it to build to a climax, at first using the triplets in a melody in a full bar to peak at a G note (mediant), then jumps up a broken Dd chord (leading tone of Eb) to reach high up to F (subdominant of C), playing the harmony of G7 in the process. This way Beethoven modulates through Eb-Abs4-Dd-G7-Cm.

Beethoven briefly returns to the main subject, then immediately jumps to a second subordinate subject in Ab; it functions like a canon with a subject of half notes that leap up by 4ths and down by 5ths. The harmonies have a marked contrast to previous subjects because Ab is by no means emphasized, drifting through almost every key closely related to Ab while Ab itself only appears once in the beginning. Beethoven repeats the subject many times, trading it among alto, base, tenor, and soprano, each new version a variation, and he tails it off by using whole notes to lead the base through F-F#-G, while the treble climbs down from a high C (median of Ab) to a low G (dominant of Cm). Now in the retransition, where the triplets are crushed into sixteenth notes, Beethoven hammers G in the melody (dominant) over and over, slowly jumping into higher Gs by octaves, then to Bh, then to D, then peaking at F (subdominant of Cm); in other words, up the G7 chord. The harmonies are just are straightforward; G-Cm-Bd, and so forth, and like the melody they function to prepare you for a return to Cm.

We now return to main subject a third time, which Beethoven cuts up after the first sentence to lead us to the subordinate subject in a different way. His transition his built on rising arpeggios figures that climb up the Gm7 chord to peak at F (subdominant as usual), and drop to G (dominant), while the harmonies are built on leading tones Bd-Cm, Ed-Fm, and F#d-G. The third subordinate subject is similar to the first one, transposed to G rather than Eb, where Beethoven peaks with a high F note (subdominant of Cm) and later when he uses triplets in imitation he holds on C notes (subdominant of G7) and G notes (dominant of C).

The closing subject begins in C, the mutation of Cm, which you would expect to be in the subordinate subject, but Beethoven develops it by leading his melodic line, through three fourth notes, up a Gm chord to an Ab note, the essential harmonies progressing through Cm-Gm-Dd-Eb-Dd7. The retransition is brief; Beethoven uses whole notes to make a chromatic fall from Ab (subediant of Cm) to Eb (median of Cm) while the harmonies progress G-Da-Bd-Cm.

Beethoven repeats his main subject a fourth time, and jumps to the coda, which is once more a long dramatic climb up a C chord of all things, before leaping to a G note (dominant) and repeating it to raise the pressure, then another leap to a high F note (subdominant of C), then rapidly falling to a Bb note (dominant of Eb). The harmony at this point is build around C7-Fm, where the subdominant Fm is key in a recapitulation and this coda functions as such, with some progressions to relative keys mixed in; F#d7-Bd-Cm, Dd-G, Db-Eb7. The base notes remain the roo

Beethoven holds us on Eb for a while to signal he is still not done yet, which you wouldn’t get if he went to Cm. So he delays Cm a little more with calm Ab versions of the swinging phrase from the main subject. A small leading melody from F#d7-Cm (in between note), then Beethoven plays a fortissimo finish from G7-Cm, the melody flying down from F (the usual subdominant) to C.

Beethoven Analysis – Piano Sonata in C (Op. 2)

I still feel sketchy when analyzing the melody or thematic material. Otherwise, my formal and harmonic analysis is fine. I may not analyze any more sonatas or only sonatas I really like since it may take a year to analyze them all and I would really like to compose my own music thank you very much. Improving my own skills is the reason I do such tedious work in the first place. Beethoven’s 3rd sonata is a brilliant finish to a unique triplet of works, each showing very different moods. The Fm sonata was tragic and brooding, the D sonata was lyrical, the C sonata is vivid and dazzling; it’s virtuoso score hints at piano concerto material.

As usual, a complete formal and harmonic analysis of the piano sonata is in the video above, an overview of the sonata’s overall form below.

Form of C (Op. 2)

0:00 The 1st movement, in sonata form, has the most distinct piano concerto feel to it, since the transitioning passages do look very much like a piano accompaniment to an orchestra. The main subject on the other hand is not that energetic by itself but does have enormous potential energy, which Beethoven exploits by setting it off like dynamite. Unlike with the earlier sonatas, Beethoven’s doesn’t focus so much on the main subject; most of the music in this movement sounds like stock set of riffs Beethoven used to improvise, which he did a lot early in his career.

9:30 The 2nd movement is far off in the mediant key of E, a relation we see for the first time. The movement itself is made of two very different characters; the first one is a rather complex lyrical melody Beethoven goes out of his way to leave unresolved, the second character devotes the left hand for a singing baseline with dotted rhythms lifted from the first character while the right hand plays arpeggios similar to those of a Baroque prelude.

16:40 The 3rd movement has cheeky scherzo that uses F# and starts the downbeat at A, which confuses the key of C major. The scherzo consists of a descending subject that changes registers (and hands) as it keeps going down the keyboard. Meanwhile, other voices join it in counterpoint, often based on the playful turn at the very beginning. The minor trio is more conventional; the right hand plays triplet arpeggios while the left hand plays a simple base. The coda is built on the Bdim-C cadence (vii/I) as opposed to the more usual G7-C cadence (V7/I). All this is subtle humor on Beethoven’s part but sadly most of the jokes are lost to us as we don’t understand the language of sonata form like Beethoven and friends did. It’s hard to get parodies and jokes when you don’t speak the language fluently.

19:57 The 4th movement is an extensive rondo as Beethoven returns to the main subject over and over again, changing it in many different ways, while departing from it afterward in a new direction almost each time. What you get is a pretty complicated rondo, so complicated you could even see sonata form elements in it, complete with two expositions, a long development section, two recapitulations, and a coda. Beethoven, as I said before, wanted to give the finale of a piece the most weight, and tried different ideas throughout his career. He often settled this problem in his early days by expanding the rondo by making it more like a sonata.

Beethoven Analysis – Piano Sonata in A (Op. 2)

This sonata gave me a real headache. Anyway, this is the second of three Beethoven piano sonatas in Op. 2. This work is light, lyrical, and witty, as opposed to the dark and tragic Fm sonata. But don’t be fooled! The A sonata is more complex and difficult as Beethoven plays with mediant (III) and submediant (VI) keys a lot, frequently leaping to them. He also likes to leap to the supertonic (ii) and flattened subtonic (VIIb), which are both a M2nd away.

A complete formal and harmonic analysis of the piano sonata is in the video above, an outline of the overall form below.

Form of A (Op. 2)

00:00 – The first movement plays a lot with downward triads and running up and down the scale, usually with a lot of counterpoint. Beethoven is fond of leaping by the III or VI in the subordinate subject, as well delaying the harmony from changing alongside the melody, which makes the keys more ambiguous. Beethoven leaps down the VI especially in the development and the subordinate subject in the recapitulation.

11:11 – The second movement suggests definite instruments; muted trombones and string bases in the main subject. Beethoven bases the whole melody of the main subject on peaking it at B4 and F#5, then taking it down. This is the basic structure to many classical melodies but Beethoven takes it to an extreme. The developments in Bm and D are in typical keys. The first development is based on the descending scale, a contrast to the main theme.

17:32 – The scherzo of the third movement is based on a rising arpeggio while the trio is based on a descending scale, like so much other material in this sonata in all the Op. 2 sonatas. Beethoven takes the development of the scherzo all the way to G#m (vii), an extreme place to go relative to A. The development of the trio is in C, a far less distant key relative to A.

22:18 – The last movement is very long and substantial for a rondo, showing that Beethoven is unhappy with the overall structure of sonatas. The minuet and rondo are usually short and light in content, which is lopsided considering how large and important the sonata form in the first movement is. The early Beethoven’s attempts to solve this problem involve making the last movement either sonata form or lengthy rondos, such as this movement. Save the best for last as the saying goes.

The main subject is an operatic dip from E6 all the way down to G4 or F#4, and is the most striking subject of the entire sonata. This movement may be the most gentle and lyrical of the entire sonata but it is the most complex and difficult as Beethoven leaps to the III and VI keys more than in any other movement. The “development” sections explore the dotted motif of the main subject while the “transition” turns the 16th note ascension of the main subject in all sorts of directions; descending down the scale, arpeggios, turns etc.

Beethoven Analysis – Piano Sonata in Fm (WoO 47)



Beethoven, when making his second attempt to compose a piano sonata, wrote a more difficult and serious piece of music than he did when writing his first sonata. It is in the dark key of Fm, maybe the darkest key in classical music, has more complex harmonies, and has a denser harmonic structure. In this piece, Beethoven’s emotions are darker and more passionate in the minor first and second movement yet more pensive in the second movement in the middle. The second movement has a sublime quality we don’t hear in the earlier Eb sonata.

Yet, as I examine and play the sonatas of the mature Beethoven, I become shocked at how simply the preteen Beethoven wrote his early music in comparison. He still writes for two parts in most places, abuses the Alberti base, and uses the simple thin textures of octaves. Still, keep in mind that Beethoven was already a prodigy at twelve who could compete with most composers of the day three times his age. This sonata holds much promise for the young Beethoven, a promise he fulfilled in his later years.

All movements in this sonata are in sonata form. Click on the roadmap below to expand it. To hear the complete sonata with all annotations go to this link:

Scan Form ii

The exposition; the introduction (bars 1-9) is made of two contrasting sentences. The first sentence is a typical statement of slow introductions during that time, the first phrase goes from Fm to C, the next statement returns from C to F. He contrasts a heavy loud cord and dotted rhythm with soft legatos. The orchestration is not obvious but you can hear it; a loud tutti announcement followed by a soft string quartet. This beginning is important because we see Beethoven using music as a tool of speech and rhetoric, not just a way to string melodies together, which suggests that Beethoven will be able to build his ideas together, to create an argument or thesis if you will.

The second sentence develops the ideas of the first; he transforms the descend by 2nd into rising octaves, rising from F to Gb to A to Bb. Meanwhile he uses the Alberti base but in the base register, especially on the downbeat by striking the lowest notes on the pianoforte’s range. The bottom register sounds like a contrabassoon and base, especially on a pianoforte where the lower register is raspier. But more important, the rising line in the treble gives a slow, creeping, crawling feeling, a device Beethoven used a lot in his music to raise tension before releasing it. Beethoven also uses more inventive harmonies, like Gb (the Neopolitan major), then mutates it to Gbdim. And finally, he suspends the music on a C chord (V/Fm) with a C note as the base (the 5th or dominant note of Fm).

All this dense and detailed music at last done with, we move to the exposition proper. The main subject and transition (bars 10-17) are fused into one sentence and proceeds as thus; first the melody flies up two octaves in Fm as a Mannheim rocket, a tool Beethoven used a lot in his early career, inherited from Haydn and Mozart, and representing drama and angst. Then the melody descends in 3rds from Fm to Db to Bbm, a technique Beethoven recycled from his Eb sonata. I don’t blame him since using it takes you to a relative key so easily while using diverse harmonies.

The subordinate subject (bars 18-27) is in Ab, a typical key a composer would land on in a piece in Fm. The construction is very simple here; not one long intense passage but a contrast between a loud descend on the Ab chord and a soft rise on Eb. The closing theme (bars 28-36) feels a little forced but it is remarkable. The cello base descends down by 3rds (notes Ab, F, Db), something that fascinated Beethoven in his career.

The development (bars 37-46) is short and simple. In the first sentence, Beethoven imitates the Mannheim rocket but in Ab. The second sentence, the meat of the development, is new material not based on anything before it; alternates from chords to arpeggios and likewise alternates from Fm to Bbm. These are somewhat imaginative harmonies, as Beethoven mutates the home key and plays I-iv chords, not something too expected. And finally he suspends the piece with two chords on F.

He enters the recapitulation; the introduction here is very different from before, which is important as it shows how Beethoven adds new ideas to old material. It allows us to glimpse at how the mature Beethoven transforms the material he works with; he digs ever deeper into it, explores its potential, plays with it, changes it in all sorts of ways. He creates music that is different at the end of a peace or movement than before, making it feel like you went on a long journey and changed along the way. Of course you didn’t go anywhere. Beethoven was manipulating your mind all along, something he gets very skilled at over the years.

The introduction (bars 47-56); the first sentence changes harmonies a bit, Fm-F unlike before, which was Fm-C. It’s small but it takes the harmony down a 4th, giving a IV chord or subdominant like effect. The second sentence is very different; very loud rising arpeggios, important since this is material taken from the development section and expanded. Beethoven plays around with harmonies; he mutates the keys of Bb and Eb. He turns Bbm to Bb7 and Eb to Edim7. It doesn’t seem like much, but remember how he turned Gb to Gbdim? He’s doing it again but with more keys.

Beethoven plays recapitulation, almost exactly the same as the exposition, but with some differences in range and timbre he uses to create a darker sound to the music. The main subject (bars 57-64) is the same as before. The subordinate subject (bars 65-74), now in Fm, has the base and treble spread out by two octaves to create a more intense effect, then has phrases low in the tenor (viola) and base (cello and base) to create a darker feel. The closing statements (bars 75-83) have little change, the base only a m3rd lower than before.


The second movement shows the young Beethoven at his best on the piano; it has a certain sublime quality he achieves by doing three things. He uses ambiguous harmonies and rhythms, especially in the subordinate subject, he uses richer and more varied textures as opposed to octaves, and he writes for the key of Ab. Composers at Beethoven’s time thought each key had a special character best used to reflect certain moods and states of mind. The key of Ab had an eerie sound that made listeners pensive and sensitive to sublime thoughts, especially back in the day when performers used mean tuning to tune their instruments; the further a key was from C the more dissonant it sounded.

You could say classical music is based on the I and V chord (kind of how jazz is rooted in the I and IV chord), and composers use such a base to build a structure of building tension in the V chord and then resolving it in the I chord. Of course composers write in many remote keys in a work but the work, in the end, hangs on creating a I-V tension and resolving it. Beethoven turns this idea on its head during his middle and late period, like building a Eb-B tension in the “Emperor” concerto and a Bb-B tension in the “Hammerklavier” sonata, but that is many years from now. The young Beethoven suspends tension in this movement by not resolving in perfect or authentic cadences, allowing him to expand his ideas since he can avoid resolving them so soon.

I found this movement the most difficult to analyze out of all movements in these “Kurfursten” sonatas, leading to many mistakes in my annotation, which forced me to remake the YouTube video on this sonata.

The exposition; the main subject (bars 1-8), using 3rds to great effect while the base uses good counterpoint by rising by steps as the melody falls and having the melody an octave higher and with more sixteenth notes in the second phrase to heighten the emotion. The transition is made of two sentences; the first sentence (bars 8-16) expands on the main subject by having the melody, made songlike by its 3rds and 6ths, end in cadence that don’t resolve the music. Furthermore, in each cadence Beethoven uses Ab as the base to blur harmonies. It makes you wonder if Beethoven is really implying Eb7 with an Ab note thrown in or Bbm7. It would seem like an Eb7 but in the second sentence (bars 19-22) Beethoven mutates it to Bb so he can modulate to Eb with a Bb-Eb harmonies, which implies Bbm7.

The subordinate subject (bars 23-31) is the most special line in the entire sonata it starts on the wrong harmony. The first sentences starts in Fm in all places but then goes through many Bb7-Eb harmonies to imply Eb. The melody keeps climbing up the scale from the D note to the Ab note, then falls to a low F note, an imperfect cadence. The second sentence rising in dynamic and pitch up the scale to Bb, again suspending the music in Bb, the V chord. Beethoven is taking great pains to suspend tension as long as he can, something he didn’t do so well in the Eb sonata, and finally lands on Eb in the closing section (bars 35-40). He even uses three voices when closing, something a little new.

Beethoven divides the development into two pre-cores and two cores and uses it to replaces the main theme and transition in the recapitulation. The first pre-core (bars 40-44) mimics the main subject but in the harmonies of C7-Db and reverses the melodic arc from descending to rising. The core itself (bars 44-48) is in Fm, with a simple, sad, songlike melody rising and falling with a C note humming in the alto register. Beethoven purposefully makes the note C because it is the 5th note or dominant of Fm; by implying such he keeps tension and lets him play almost any melody without fear of dissonance.

The second pre-core (bars 49-54) acts as a “resting point”. Beethoven lingers in Edim7 (vii7/F), the leading tone to F, and constructs it in such a way to keep tension. He keeps most of it in Edim7, uses arpeggios to build up to a striking, loud syncopated section, and climaxes by keeping the music suspended briefly. Beethoven takes a syncopated section in the exposition as material and, while he doesn’t alter or expand it, he uses it for a different purpose. Then Beethoven resolves to the core, but lands on F, not Fm, like we expect.

The second core (bars 55-60) is pretty simple as Beethoven just plays thirty-second notes over an octave base. He concerns himself with returning to Ab. The base goes down the circle of fifths, from F, Bb, Eb, and Ab. The harmony implied by the thrity-second notes is not so simple as that Eb base is really part of a Gdim harmony. In the end, Beethoven makes an Eb-Ab-Eb cadence, ending with the base on the Eb, the dominant. Now on Eb, Beethoven plays the retransition (bars 61-64) like he played the transition before, serving the same function, just a 4th lower in harmonies. The subordinate subject (bars 65-76) and closing statement (bars 77-85) of the recapitulation change little, only a 4th lower in harmonies.


The third movement is rapid and lighter in substance than the first movement but is still complicated in structure. The main subject (bars 1-32) comes in two sentences and it is the first time we see Beethoven develop a main theme by playing a variation of it. He approaches the main subject in later sonatas as well, such as the “Waldstein” and “Appasionata” but with far more invention. In this sonata, he changes the melody little and uses the Alberti base yet again, but the changed material still does its job to heighten the angst. But Beethoven does use some interesting harmonies. The very first bar of the main theme starts out in F but then mutates back to Fm and he makes use of the C9 (V9) harmony. It sounds like Gdim in the first sentence but later in the second sentence the Alberti base gives you context, letting you hear its true design.

The exposition; the main subject is also the transition, easily landing to the subordinate subjects. The first subordinate subject (bars 33-44) is in Eb7 and ends in a IV-I cadence, which is interesting because most composers would land on Ab instead. While Beethoven does land a 5th higher on Eb he makes it Eb7 and uses Ab to create a IV-I effect, suggesting he may move to Ab. The second subordinate subject (bars 45-59) makes the Eb7-Ab harmonies more obvious by using loud octaves in the base and arpeggios in the treble. The closing statements (bars 60-74) are also odd; he spends some time in Ab7 and Db, but finally lands on Ab. Beethoven delays modulation to the “proper” key.

The development and retransition fused together (bars 75-84) is extremely short. It’s even shorter than the main subject, and it does disappoint me a little as Beethoven could have at least played it again as a variation. Either way, Beethoven mutates the home key of Fm to F while developing the material a bit; he uses new keys like Gb (the Neopolitan or IIb) and Bbm (iv). He does develop the melodic arc as well by making it rise higher and more often. He dips the melody down a bit before rising it; he raises it Gb, then to Db, and landing it on C just a m2nd away.

The recapitulation; the first subordinate subject (bars 85-101) is a little more complex, dividing amongst the Fm-C7 harmonies, and uses the chromatic base of Bh to make a leading tone of Edim9 lead to Fm, but then makes an imperfect cadence in C to keep the tension high. The second subordinate subject (bars 97-112) is much simpler, arpeggios in C7 and Fm. The closing section (bars 112-126) has little change, just dropped by a m3rd to put the key in Fm. The very last notes are important though, as Beethoven throws all parts down to the lowest register to create a downward, tragic finale. He later replicates this ending in the Op. 2 and “Appasionata” Fm sonatas but to greater effect. Even now Beethoven seems aware the very lowest note on the pianoforte is an F note (the lowest note on the modern piano is an A note). It possibly represents a darkest, lowest point in music, in feeling and literally in tone with the pianoforte. Beethoven doesn’t find lower points in feeling or transcend them until his last piano sonatas.