For this week’s listening assignment, you will be listening to the Sonata Op. 27 No. 2 composed by Beethoven or as it is more commonly known – The Moonlight Sonata. This wonderful music was written by Beethoven in 1801 (he was 31 yrs. old) and he gave it the title of Sonata quasi una Fantasia and he dedicated it to one of his students, Countess Julietta Guicciardi. The title “Moonlight Sonata” was given five years after Beethoven’s death and people have argued about it’s merit ever since, but the name has stuck.
The traditional practice in the Classical Era (1750-1820) for Sonatas was to have the first movement of the Sonata be fast, the second movement, slow and the third movement again, fast. In the Moonlight Sonata Beethoven experiments with that formula and writes the first movement, Adagio sostenuto- or slowly and sustained. The second movement is marked Allegretto- fairly fast, and the third movement is marked Presto agitato- or very fast and agitated. So rather than following the fast-slow-fast tradition Beethoven wrote this Sonata with the tempos building up in speed to the last movement.
Nearly everyone is familiar with the haunting first movement. It has well-deserved popularity. But try to listen to it this time a little differently. Try playing just the melody without the accompaniment and notice how very simple it is. What pitch of the C# minor scale does the melody begin on? What is the last pitch of the first movement? Are there any measures in the first movement that do not have the triplet figure in them? Why do you think he wrote it that way?
But now rather than just being satisfied with listening to only the first movement, listen now to the second and the third movements. Only hearing the first, is like listening to only part of a story and not finding out what happens in the end. I would like for you to give me three adjectives to describe each movement; that is three words that describe the character/mood/energy of each movement. Here is what a famous musician- pianist and historian and author- Charles Rosen said about the third movement of the Moonlight Sonata:
“It is the most unbridled in its representation of emotion. Even today, 200 years later, the ferocity is astonishing.” Charles Rosen
Sonata Op. 27 No. 2 Adagio Sostenuto / composer Ludwig van Beethoven/ performed by Wilhelm Kempff
Sonata Op. 27 No. 2 Allegretto / composer Ludwig van Beethoven/ performed by Rudolph Buchbinder
Sonata Op. 27 No.2 Presto Agitato / composer Ludwig van Beethoven/ performed by Murrah Perahaia