Grave - Molto allegro e con brio
This Sonata represents one of the few cases in which the popular title came from the composer himself - its full name is 'Grande sonate pathétique' (pathetic in the sense of 'suffering', rather than the English sense of 'pitiful'). It was written in 1798, a time when Beethoven was beginning to become aware of his encroaching deafness and yet was leading a relatively contented domestic life.
Six years earlier he had arrived in Vienna and was taken in as a member of the family by Prince Karl Lichnowsky, who at once introduced him to Austrian aristocratic society, where he found enduring friends and benefactors and soon forged for himself a reputation as a virtuoso improviser at the keyboard. Beethoven dedicated the Pathétique Sonata to Lichnowsky, who in return gave him a valuable quartet of Italian string instruments and shortly afterwards secured for him an annuity of 600 florins.
The dramatic Grave introduction to the Pathétique is the most powerful opening to any of his sonatas to this date and its music becomes an intrinsic part of the movement through its reappearances at the beginning of the development and coda. There is an almost 'orchestral' texture to much of the piano writing, with chords marked forte-piano at the opening and a timpani-like left-hand accompaniment to the Allegro's main theme.
The Adagio cantabile is in one of the simplest of forms: three statements of a heartfelt theme separated by short episodes and followed by a brief coda - there is no attempt at development as such. The Sonata ends with a straightforward rondo that, despite its minor key, only recaptures the general character of the rest of the work in the sforzando chords of the coda, the remainder being more delicate and even humorous.