Beethoven - Adagio (Sonata in C WoO 51)


Beethoven is recognized, amongst pianists, for the astonishing wealth of music emanating from his 32 piano sonatas, or 35 sonatas if his early set of 3 sonatas (WoO 47 - written in 1783) are included, as in the latest ABRSM publication.

Among his most popularly quoted themes are the motif of the 1st movement of his 5th Symphony, the 1st movement of piano sonata Op 27 No 2 ('Moonlight'), and the posthumously published bagatelle in A minor (WoO 59), commonly known as "fur Elise".

Pupil Match & Suitability

Pupils (and teachers sometimes) may be swayed into choosing a piece on account of its length. Comparable pieces at this level are shorter, but this does not necessarily mean that they are easier.

Consider the benefits of choosing to learn this piece:

(i) It is a lovely lyrical piece which lies under the hands nicely

(ii) It is uncomplicated, texturally

(iii) Pedalling can be taught at different levels, depending on the capability of the student

(iv) It is by Beethoven !

At this level, it is insufficient to merely play the notes. Musical understanding is essential. Otherwise not only is motivation often lost, but the performance will be dull.

This piece is likely to suit the musical temperament of a more serious musician, perhaps a student who enjoys the challenge of expressing themselves with soulfulness and tenderness.

Style & Tempo

The young Beethoven already demonstrates a serious style of writing in this movement. The harmonic structure is relatively simple.

If one were to compare this with the middle movement (Andante con moto) of the much later Appassionata sonata (Op 57) the same musical serenity prevails, although latterly in a much more mature form.

The melodic line is fairly simple, often relying upon embellishment for subtle and effective decoration – e.g. bars 7 and 24 (see attached pdf).

Beethoven WoO 51 ST Bars 7_24.pdf

Phrasing & Articulation

Length of line is always important.

Whatever detail is placed the longer phrase shape should be readily distinguished. It should feel, for example, as if the first four bars have been sung in one well controlled breath.

The phrase structure is simple and clear, falling into eight bar lengths, subdivided into two four bar phrases as far as the main F major theme is concerned.

Tone & Texture

The two part texture (melody and accompaniment) is fairly obvious. However the accompanying part – sometimes in the left hand, sometimes in the right hand – has a certain shape and beauty of its own and should not be lifeless.

Cantabile tone is needed throughout to colour the melodic line. Remember that the cantabile does not only apply to longer value notes, but that it extends throughout the phrase and through all quicker value notes, too.


There is nothing physically demanding by way of technique. The challenge here lies in achieving subtlety of tone and balance between the hands.

The hardest point, texturally, comes near the end, bars 35 – 38.


Principles of fingering apply here inasmuch as chord patterns sit comfortably within the usual fingerings for such passages.

Careful fingering should be adopted for quicker turns.

Much is logical and a consequence of the chordal nature of the writing.


The written out notation gives away many clues to what we might do with the actual ornamentation.

Embellishment of the line is a natural part of the compositional process. Sometimes the composer writes it out and sometimes refers to it by way of a kind of shorthand: the ornament itself.

See the following examples of embellishment:

Beethoven WoO 51 O Bar 35.pdf


Pianos in the 1790s had a variety of different pedal devices, some often built into the piano to suit the buyer, and by 1793 Broadwood had patented both dampening and damper pedals.

To play this movement on a modern day instrument without any pedal will sound wrong and dry. Whilst you might get away with the use of finger pedaling (i.e. over holding notes LH) in the opening section, the middle minor section passages would sound rather bare.

If you want a rule to follow, then it would be to pedal longer lyrical notes mainly.

Certain passages are easier to pedal than others. The harmonic movement between bars 9 – 15 is simpler compared to the more chromatic movement and embellishment in bars 1 – 8.

Teaching Strategies

Always consider the bigger picture, the end result. Never be rushed into teaching a piece by opening the book at the first page and starting to teach from the top.

By considering what strategies you can employ, and to what effect, not only will your teaching become more holistic, but it is likely to become more motivational and encourage the student to become a more independent learner.

Practice Tips

Make it simple. Make it achievable !

At this level you should expect students to do a number of things:

(i) Have a level of independence in their learning

(ii) Know how to go about using their practice time effectively

(iii) Be working on musical qualities as well as basic note learning

These points are briefly explored in the follow on tabs:


Areas likely to cause concern will be:

(i) Timing difficulties

(ii) Musical difficulties

If significant problems are experienced with learning the notes and putting hand stogether, then you should reconsider teaching them at this level, as it is most likely that their true skills will be at a much lower grade level.

See more detail below:

Final Performance

An excellent performance will display poise. The textures will be musically refined and the ornamentation eloquent. Use of pedal will be subtle and the mood will be gracious, but with stronger, more masculine sections, too.

A good performance will have an expressive range of tone and dynamics with plenty of shading and authority about it. Some of the finer points of detail may yet be lacking but use of pedal should show a fairly clear harmonic grasp. There will be a good grasp of the elements of timing.

A sound performance will show a basic grasp of the timing elements so that different note values are consistently integrated into the whole. The line will have expressive elements to it and show a broad understanding of the mood although it is likely to lack the consistency of tonal control needed to display a refined and supple balance of tone between the hands.

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