Writing about Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor – is that a good idea? Probably not. All has been said about the sonata commonly known as the “Pathétique”, one of the most performed works of music history. You most likely know this work, you most certainly like it and you probably have your own ideas about it. What possibly could I tell you that would be of any relevance? Nothing. Unless…
If I had to leave for a desolate island and if I could take with me only a limited number of recordings, Alfred Brendel’s interpretation of the “Pathétique” would be among them. It would give me something to enjoy and to think about when I would be most miserable. If I were to suffer from an incurable illness and if I were in the terminal stage of that illness, barely conscious, unable to speak, to eat or drink, I would like someone to put earplugs in my ears and to play the “Pathétique” for me over and over again. My subconscience would register it and connect it to pleasant emotions.
A long time ago I stood at the seashore looking onto the Baltic Sea. I felt cold and miserable. From one second to the next loneliness hit me like hammer. I was surrounded by people in the midst of a buzzing city but I felt totally isolated, removed from what was going on around me, disconnected from time and space. And I could not explain what had triggered this awful moment. But I knew how to counter it. The “Pathétique”.
I will not say a single word about the piece’s structure, but it’s a strange piece that Beethoven composed in 1798. In each movement I found a melody that embraced my sadness, shared it with me for some time and then led me to Beauty. To Joy. To Life. To Hope. Like an elder brother who would wrap his arm around my shoulder, look with me at the grey sea for a moment or two and then say: “It’s okay to be sad. But joy will come back. Life is full of nasty and beautiful moments and this one will pass. The sea and the sky will turn blue again. And you will be happy again.”
I never had such a brother.
© Charles Thibo