Beethoven and the Aesthetic of the Pathetic

Faculty Sponsor

Katharina Uhde


Arts and Sciences


Music Department

Presentation Type

Poster Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 3-16-2016


From 1795 to 1822, Ludwig van Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas. These sonatas were influenced by the impact of Haydn and Mozart. The sonata genre saw major changes during Beethoven’s life, some of which can be understood autobiographically. Beethoven’s Grande Piano Sonata in C Minor, Op. 13 “Pathetique” (1798-99), in three movements, was dedicated to Prince Carl von Lichnowsky and was the culminating work of Beethoven’s early compositional period. The Sturm und Drang – or “Storm and Stress” - is an 18th-century aesthetic movement with literary origins; Goethe and Friedrich Schiller were two of its main representatives. In post – 1750s Austro- Germanic music, the Sturm und Drang aesthetic was manifested in musical depictions of violent, dramatic, and emotional changes, as well as increased reliance on the minor mode. In the hands of composers this aesthetic led to formal innovations, demanded by the heightened intensity, subjectivity, and focus on self-expression.

This research paper asks how form and aesthetic of the “Pathetique” can be understood as an expression – although somewhat removed – of the Sturm und Drang aesthetic and rhetoric, which had taken hold of Austro-Germanic literary and musical landscape a few decades earlier. Drawing on scholarship about Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas and the Sturm und Drang period, I investigate the aesthetic of the “Pathetique” as a musical response in an age that was still touched by the impact of the Sturm und Drang, despite the political upheavals that had taken center stage in the course of the French Revolution.

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