On a midsummer’s evening in 1801, Ludwig van Beethoven is seated at his piano with the moonlight streaming over his shoulders giving illumination to his pensive face. As if in a trance, he begins playing the keys as the music which later becomes known as The Moonlight Sonata comes pouring out of his fingers.
True? Not even close! Beethoven worked hard at his composing and we have the record of many manuscripts that he wrote, scratched over and then started again, and again, and again. The saying, “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” is very applicable in considering the compositions of Beethoven. The Moonlight Sonata was given that name several years after Beethoven’s death by Ludwig Rellstab who commented that the music reminded him of moonlight reflected on the water. Apparently others agreed with him and so the name stuck. Beethoven called the work Sonata- quasi una fantasia; that is to say a sonata but not in the sonata allegro form but in a freer structure more like a fantasy. As you listen to the first movement notice how the theme isn’t treated in the same way as many of his other sonatas, but rather seems to be more static and circular. Another difference with this sonata is that the tempi of the movements is slow- medium- fast in contrast to typical sonatas which are fast- slow-fast. The last movement of Op. 27 is particularly fast and furious and the gentle, calmness of the first movement is completely transformed. Listen this week to all three movements of this magnificent work and imagine yourself playing it someday. What is the form of the second movement? How would you describe its character? What is the mood/character of the third movement?