Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique introduction (beginner piano)

Today for PianoTV’s Halloween series, we’re going to learn a snippet of a piece with tons of diminished chords – for more information on those, check out the previous video on diminished chords if you don’t know what I’m talking about. This fragment is Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique introduction – and who cares that we’re not learning the full piece, which is at a very high level? This introduction is suitable for people who have been playing piano regularly for 6 months to a year. The other 20 minutes of the composition can be learned on a later date. 🙂

Sheet music

Sheet music for Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique Introduction

Sonata Pathetique introduction – Backstory


This is Beethoven’s 8th piano sonata in C minor, opus 13, and it was written in 1798 when Beethoven was 27 years old. These crazy composers – when I was 27 I certainly wasn’t writing virtuoso-level sonatas.

This sonata is nicknamed “Pathetique” because it sounds so sad and tragic. It has three movements, and is about 20 minutes long – definitely check it out beyond the 1 minute or so introduction we’re doing today because it’s awesome.

Learning Points of the Sonata Pathetique introduction

Key signature: This is one we’ve never done before, C minor. C minor has three flats, so watch out for those Bs, Es, and As.

Italian: Grave (pronounced GRAH-vay) basically means to play super slow and solemn, somewhere around 50 beats per minute. Con Pedale simply means “with pedal”, so you’ll want to keep your ears open for appropriate places to lift – generally for each chord change.

Dynamics: When you have an “f” and a “p” right beside each other, it’s basically telling you to crank out the first set of notes and then instantly become quiet. Because forte means loud, and piano means quiet.

Diminished chords

In the second measure, we have an F# diminished 7th – F#, A, C, Eb.

In the very next measure, we have Ab, B, D, F – another diminished 7th.

Then we have an Eb diminished 7th on the 5th bar, Eb, F#, A, C – the same notes as the first diminished 7th, but in a different configuration. And so on. This song is full of diminished 7ths!

A note on the sheet music

This sheet music arrangement of the introduction sounds exactly like the original, with the exception of the end. I simplified this run to a reverse 16th note scale – you’ll notice the original is a little faster and busier in this section, but this simplification does the trick.

(It is an Eb major scale, going in reverse – Eb major scale has the same key signature as C minor – three flats – so even though this intro begins in C minor, it ends in its relative major key, Eb.)

Conclusion

That’s about all I can tell you about the Sonata Pathetique introduction – aside from a quick note on how to practice. Like many songs, I think it’s important to take this piece one line at a time, and really work on keeping consistent fingering and building your memory. Go extremely slow (slower than Grave) so that you can keep it accurate – it’s not useful practicing wrong notes.

xo,
Allysia

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.