Beethoven, Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 8, Beethoven Sonata Pathetique, piano, piano blog

Patient voice-parceling in practicing Beethoven’s Adagio Cantabile (Sonata “Pathetique”)

Some piano students view playing a choir of voices with a rich bed of sustain pedal as an un-delayed gratification. It’s an icing on the cake indulgence that often eludes the main course of diligent, attentive, and analytical practicing.

A case in point is Beethoven’s hauntingly beautiful, Adagio movement of the “Pathetique” Sonata, Op. 13, with its layer of voices that begs for a satisfying exploration.

Beethoven Adagio Cantabile segment

From my perspective, the composer’s mosaic is best assimilated through a careful voice-parceling process that invites a sensitive awareness of harmonic rhythm and balance–first among treble, tenor and bass lines, but quickly blossoming into a 4-voice effusion. (Soprano, Alto, Tenor Bass). In a variation-like unfolding, Beethoven eventually adds a rhythmic variant with a triplet underpinning, while he fleshes out a melancholic melody that’s always draped in lush harmonies, moving as chains of broken chords within the texture. And as a core of underlying support, a soulful bass meanders with flowing, cello-like expression.


In the attached teaching video, I examine a recommended layered-learning approach to Beethoven’s middle movement by individualizing voices, then permuting them, so they’re understood in relation to each other before being integrated into a developed whole. In this step-wise journey to musical unity bundled in patience and slow tempo framing, a newfound ecstasy is experienced that’s tied to a deep well of understanding.

(Note: The contrasting, mood-shifting middle section in the parallel minor is not explored in this segment.)

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