1798: Beethoven: Sonata No. 13 [PATHETIQUE]: 2nd movement

FRIDAY, February 19, 2021 – 11:51 AM

Beethoven: Sonata No. 13 [PATHETIQUE]: 2nd movement,  age 27

It was written in 1798, but since Beethoven was born in December experts believe it was written when he was still 27. It was published about a year later and was an instant success. it was named: Grande Sonate pathétique” by the publisher, but Beethoven approved of the title, which was unusual, and he may have given it the name “pathétique”. The timing is important because Mozart was only dead a few years. Haydn was still alive and might have known this.I generally try to remember Beethoven’s age and the year he wrote things because it tells us how advanced his musical thinking was.

No one knows for sure how fast his music is supposed to go because the Italian tempo markings are extremely open to interpretation. From time to time Beethoven used metronome markings, but we don’t even know if his metronome was accurate, so such markings are essentially useless

Arrau

This is listed as recorded in 1987, so here Arrau was around 85 years old. I believe it is the slowest recording I’ve heard, and there is no way I would or could play it this slowly, but while listening I am convinced it works. It takes astounding control to play it this way. Arrau was also a sticker for following the score, which means that more than anyone else I know he tried to do everything that is indicated, and it’s really very amazing. He believed going beyond the score, after you first learned it and tried to do what the composer asked for. I think this recording impresses me the most and shows that pianists never get old regarding their playing, if they remain healthy. Three years later he was died, so it is an amazing testament to the ability of the man.

Ashkenazy live

This is the tempo I would pick. I still love the way Arrau played it, but for the rest of us mere mortals this tempo will work better. This is an intensely personal interpretation and as good as any I have ever heard.

Schnabel

He was the gold standard for Beethoven sonatas up until around 1950 and was famous for playing all of them. He is not quite as slow as Arrau, but still rather slow. The recording is 2nd rate in 2021, but the playing is still first rate, so any serious pianist always listens to Schnabel for ideas and inspiration.

Horowitz

This is just a tiny bit faster and almost exactly the tempo I would pick. I grew up with this recording, which was made in 1963 during the time Horowitz stopped performing publicly.

Zimerman

Zimerman has the accuracy of a machine and yet is incredibly musical. This is just about perfect for me, slow but not too much. The recording is disappointing, but the playing is worth the listening. There is no better modern pianist than this man. He just gets better and better. As usual he plays as accurately live as most people do in a studio with multiple takes.

Other thoughts:

First, you want to hear the whole sonata, so after hearing the 2nd movement, be sure to listen to the rest.

Second, I will add comments about the other movements later, because this sonata is one of the greatest every written, the whole thing.

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “1798: Beethoven: Sonata No. 13 [PATHETIQUE]: 2nd movement

  1. I will be comparing the first 2 recordings. The first, was slightly slower than the second. This also made it slighter less fun, slightly less enjoyable, and slightly more boring. However, the second one, is an improvement over the second. Not a massive improvement, but a medium-sized one. I was a bit more invested in it, probably because the tempo was faster. Overall, ok.

  2. This was very entertaining. Each pianist brought his special touch to the music. It was especially interesting as I am learning to play this beautiful piece.

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