Piano World Home Page

Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique

Posted By: FrankieC

Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/23/19 02:47 PM

I am starting to work on this sonata again because I would like to play it at my next recital. It has been years since I have played it and I have always had two question that I never asked about it so I thought I would post it here to see what insight other may have to provide.

I have listened to several pianist's interpretations of this sonata. My favorite interpretations are by Rudolf Serkin and Artur Rubinstein. Here are my two questions with comments:

1. The repeat of the first e con brio section: Rudolf Serkin goes all the way back to the opening Grave section. Artur Rubinstein on the other hand, like all the rest of the pianists I have listened to goes back to the start of the first e con brio section. I prefer the way Serkin does it because I feel that the contrast is needed. I like it so much that if I don't do it, I would prefer not to repeat the first e con brio section at all. I can't believe Serkin did this by mistake while recording it and decided to leave it that way. He was way too good for that IMHO. I am more apt to think that he did his research and decided to specifically play it this way. I would love to hear how others feel about this.

2. The mordents in the e con brio sections: Beethoven specifically wrote them as mordents - not triplets or any other type of ornament for that matter. He wrote them that way on purpose and I want to honor his work by following what he has written. However, when playing at the tempo that I feel the e con brio sections should be played at, I feel it is humanly impossible to play the mordents as written. Serkin takes the e con brio at a tempo that I would expect the e con brio to be played at but IMHO, his execution of the mordents are more like triplets. Rubinstein on the other hand, takes the e con brio at a slightly slower tempo but his execution of the mordents are IMHO as mordents should be played.

I know these questions may seem trivial, but they make a world of difference in the portrayal of the piece to the audience IMHO. I can play it either Serkin's or Rubinstein's way for the most part but wanted to get other opinions from members of this forum. It will help me to ultimately decide which way I want to perform this work at my next recital.

Thanks for any guidance/input!

All my best,
FrankieC
Posted By: JoBert

Re: Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/23/19 03:59 PM

For the first question, there doesn't seem to be an authoritative answer. You will have to follow your instinct. Personally, I don't repeat the Grave, but that is mainly because I learned (well, dabbled) from the Henle edition, where the repeat starts with the Allegro di molto e con brio.
BTW, this has been discussed on PW before (here and/or in the Pianist Corner). A search should unearth a thread or two.
Posted By: FrankieC

Re: Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/23/19 07:14 PM

Thank you JoBert! I have actually never seen an edition where the first repeat goes all the way back to the Grave so I did not think it was up to interpretation. I was fascinated when I first heard Serkin play it this way. I will do a search as you suggest. Sorry for the duplicate thread.
Posted By: Fidel

Re: Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/23/19 07:34 PM

I'm going to be viciously attacked for writing this, oh well...

The Czerny/Moscheles MM numbers for the Grave and Con Brio are:
Grave MM Eighth Note = 58-60
Con Brio MM Half Note = 144-152

Those MM numbers are in whole beat notation meaning two ticks of the MM would pass for the indicated note. Today in the single tick interpretation of MM numbers, those values are:
Grave MM Sixteenth Note = 58-60
Con Brio MM Quarter Note = 144-152

I'm guessing this is way slower than you are used to playing the piece.

My Henle Urtext Edition has no mordents, instead it has trills. And the Henle Urtext repeats to the con brio not the grave.

Bottom line, modern performances are wicked fast. Wim Winters has a different take and I believe he is correct.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LE4gu82vBGM
Posted By: JoBert

Re: Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/23/19 08:29 PM

Originally Posted by FrankieC
I will do a search as you suggest. Sorry for the duplicate thread.

Oh, I didn't want to shut you down. I'm sure people will have new ideas/insights to share, so a new thread can never hurt. I just thought you might find something of interest in the old threads too.
Posted By: Sam S

Re: Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/23/19 08:52 PM

I think these topics have been debated for 150 years or so. I don't think they have the manuscript for the sonata, so everything is based on printed editions. If you are not using an urtext edition, my advice is to get one (or two, and compare). You'll have to make up your own mind abut what to do, unless you have a teacher that insists on something :-) I have found Rosen's book on the Beethoven Sonatas to have some interesting insights, but his writing is sometimes not easy to read - he discusses the repeat but not the trill/mordent.

Sam
Posted By: FrankieC

Re: Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/23/19 09:17 PM

@Fidel - I don’t think anyone on PW will ever attack you. I have seen nothing but respectful responses. Thanks for your input. I appreciate it and will incorporate in to my preparation.
Posted By: FrankieC

Re: Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/23/19 09:22 PM

@SamS - I have several editions including urtext. So far I am leaning towards Serkin. It’s interesting for me to hear from several posters that they prefer it this way too but I have only heard one performance this way - Serkin. I will look in to Rosen’s books. Thanks for the info.
Posted By: FrankieC

Re: Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/23/19 09:25 PM

@JoBert - Thanks! I did a search and found exactly what I was looking for. I was very surprised to see that many others like Serkin’s approach as well yet I have only heard one performance like it- Serkin. I wish more would perform it this way but that’s just my opinion 😊
Posted By: Sidokar

Re: Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/23/19 11:12 PM

Originally Posted by FrankieC
I am starting to work on this sonata again because I would like to play it at my next recital. It has been years since I have played it and I have always had two question that I never asked about it so I thought I would post it here to see what insight other may have to provide.

1. The repeat of the first e con brio section: Rudolf Serkin goes all the way back to the opening Grave section. Artur Rubinstein on the other hand, like all the rest of the pianists I have listened to goes back to the start of the first e con brio section. I prefer the way Serkin does it because I feel that the contrast is needed. I like it so much that if I don't do it, I would prefer not to repeat the first e con brio section at all. I can't believe Serkin did this by mistake while recording it and decided to leave it that way. He was way too good for that IMHO. I am more apt to think that he did his research and decided to specifically play it this way. I would love to hear how others feel about this.

2. The mordents in the e con brio sections: Beethoven specifically wrote them as mordents - not triplets or any other type of ornament for that matter. He wrote them that way on purpose and I want to honor his work by following what he has written. However, when playing at the tempo that I feel the e con brio sections should be played at, I feel it is humanly impossible to play the mordents as written. Serkin takes the e con brio at a tempo that I would expect the e con brio to be played at but IMHO, his execution of the mordents are more like triplets. Rubinstein on the other hand, takes the e con brio at a slightly slower tempo but his execution of the mordents are IMHO as mordents should be played.

Thanks for any guidance/input!

All my best,
FrankieC


The first edition and the other edition made during Beethoven life both go back to the allegro and not the grave. Some editions in the XIXth century mistakenly put the repeat sign at the beginning . It is probably not the reason though why Serkin repeated it, this section is not just an intro as it is used elsewhere in the piece. Whatever is your choice, i do think it is important to repeat the allegro in terms of the overall balance of the piece.

For the ornament, the sign used was a short trill; because of the descending stepwise line of the melody it was usual to start on the main note cutting the trill to a 3 note thus making it a triplet. During the 19th century this sign evolved to stand for an upper mordent. This is for example how Czerny mistakenly show it in Bach inventions when it should be a trill. This sonata being composed in c. 1798 Beethoven was still using the classic notation. I believe Tovey was still showing as an upper mordent and Rubinstein being still old school would follow 19th century notation. But playing it as a triplet is more in line with the meaning of the ornament.
Posted By: FrankieC

Re: Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/25/19 06:43 PM

@Sidokar - Thank you! Very helpful! Thanks!
Posted By: FrankieC

Re: Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/25/19 06:45 PM

@MikeN provided this gem on a thread on this very same topic. I think after reading all of the posts thus far and listening to this lecture, I have decided to repeat the Grave and thanks to @Sidokar's comments above (and others as well), I will execute the mordents as triplets.

https://youtu.be/s1tB9tbTQEg
Posted By: BruceD

Re: Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique - 04/25/19 07:58 PM

Originally Posted by FrankieC
@MikeN provided this gem on a thread on this very same topic. I think after reading all of the posts thus far and listening to this lecture, I have decided to repeat the Grave and thanks to @Sidokar's comments above (and others as well), I will execute the mordents as triplets.



Schnabel, in his edition, gives a choice to the performer: either a triplet of eighth-notes or two sixteenth-notes plus an eighth-note.

Regards,
© 2019 Piano World Piano & Digital Piano Forums