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Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

Piano Sonata no. 14, c sharp minor - Op. 27 no 2

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Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata
Rischgitz/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Background of the Moonlight Sonata

The original title of the sonata is “Quasi una fantasia” (Italian. almost a fantasy). The popular title of Moonlight Sonata actually didn’t come about until several years after Beethoven’s death. In 1836, German music critic, Ludwig Rellstab wrote that the sonata reminded him of the reflected moonlight off Lake Lucerne. Since then, Moonlight Sonata has remained the “official” unofficial title of the sonata.

Beethoven composed the famous Moonlight Sonata in 1801 and dedicated it to Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, a pupil of Beethoven. Shortly after their first few lessons, the two fell in love. After dedicating the Moonlight Sonata, it is believed that Beethoven proposed to her. Although she was willing to accept Beethoven’s proposal, she was forbidden by one of her parents which prevented her from marrying him.

Notes on the Moonlight Sonata

The Moonlight Sonata is divided into three separate parts.

  • Adagio sostenuto
  • Allegreto
  • Presto agitato

The First Movement
The first movement of the Moonlight Sonata is easily the most well known. The famous mysterious, almost haunting melody is dark and whisper like. The form of the first movement is a sort of “condensed” sonata. In other words, it plays the main melody, develops it, and then plays it again very similar to how it was originally played.

The Second Movement
The second movement of the Moonlight Sonata is in the form of a scherzo (a comic composition, usually fast-moving and used in the place of a minuet and trio during Beethoven’s time). The key of the second movement is D flat major, which is unrelated to the overall key of c# minor.

The Third Movement
The third movement is completely different from the previous two movements. Its rapid progressions from note to note are invigorating and powerful. The third movement of the Moonlight Sonata is actually marked piano, but Beethoven’s use of sforzandos and fortissimos make the piece actually sound as if the overall dynamic was fortissimo.

Moonlight Sonata Recommended Recordings

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