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Beethoven Pathetique - Sonata 2nd Movement - Teaching Notes

Pathetique Sonata in C minor Op.13

2nd movement - Adagio Cantabile
Ludwig van Beethoven.
Grade 8 ABRSM Piano, Grade 6 AMEB

Teaching Notes

A good method to start practising this movement is to play just the melody. Following that, attention must always be paid to the semiquavers never becoming too dominant for the melody. In fact this accompaniment becomes ever increasingly busy (two hands from bar 9 and converting to triplets in bar 51 and then two hands in triplets in 59), and so you’ll need to work even harder at the voicing as you progress through the movement.

The opening instruction includes the word “Cantabile” which is key to understanding the expressive nature of this piece. A little rubato can be tastefully applied and although there are no dynamics, some rise and fall with the phrases would be appropriate.


Be careful not to take the tempo too fast, it is marked “Adagio” after all, thinking of a quaver as being the pulse. Some editions write the semiquavers  of bars 1 to 8 in the LH, maybe to make ease of reading with all the ledger lines but they should be played.


In bar 16, be gentle with the feminine ending, that is the dischord on the first beat resolves softly on the middle of the bar. A definite breath needs to be heard after the middle quaver and be sure that the upbeat to bar 17 is a Demi-semiquaver, not simply a semiquaver. Again the lower part must be completely subservient to the upper melody.


The ornaments in bars 20 and 21 can both be played as hemidemisemiquavers, that is 4 notes to each accompanying semiquaver (6th semi of bar 20 and 7th semi of bar 21). The ornament in bar 22 is necessarily quicker as the first four notes occupy the space of a demisemiquaver. To get an even rhythm here, try first practising this bar WITHOUT the ornament, then add in the ornament without changing the speed of the B flat.


In bar 23, be careful to observe the rest after the first quaver, (no lingering pedal). The melody then moves to the bass line in bar 24 and careful pedalling is needed on each chromatic change to avoid blurring. There is also a crescendo marked and again, another in bar 26, but rather than the volume becoming accumulative, each phrase should probably restart “p”.


In bar 36, there is a complete change of mood between the 3rd and 4th quavers and this should be marked with a breath, a break in the sound before the final quaver which is actually an upbeat into bar 37. If any pedalling is done here it needs great care, not to obscure any rests or articulation. Notice particularly the “semi staccato” marks in LH bars 38, 40, the RH staccato in bars 42, 43 and LH staccato in bars 49, 50. The section from bar 48 to 50 is especially challenging to bring out the long top melodic line with the chords underneath also played with the RH. One little help might be a spread thumb to play the bottom two notes of the last triplet group in the RH bar 50.


The dotted rhythms of bars 66, 68 should be differentiated from the triplets below, that is to say that the demisemiquaver after the dot is played  AFTER the final LH triplet.


In bars 70 to 72, some editions mark the ornament before the “rf” note as an acciaccatura, others as an appoggiatura. In any case they are not hurried, but rather melodic in nature and even slowing down with each of the successive repeats of the figure.


In the final bar, be sure to count the beat correctly. It is common to hear students play this bar at half speed, not understanding that the rests are semiquavers and so each chord is a quaver apart, (NOT a crotchet).

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