Saturday, August 27, 2022




Hear and see it played (3 movements) by Valentina Lisitsa by clicking on:

Version by Lola and Hauser, piano and cello:

Lionel Yu, remix:


Beethoven (1770-1827) completed the Moonlight Sonata in 1801 when he was in his early thirties. It was then called Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, subtitled by Beethoven Sonata quasi una fantasia, translated as "sonata in the manner of a fantasy".

The reference to fantasy reminds listeners that the piece, although technically a sonata, is suggestive of a free-flowing, improvised fantasia, a musical composition with roots in improvisation. The fantasia, like the impromptu, seldom follows the textbook rules of any strict musical form.


Beethoven did not call his composition the Moonlight Sonata, that did not happen until after his death. The name Moonlight Sonata (“Mondscheinsonate” in German) was given by the poet Ludwig Rellstab in the 1832 when he likened the first movement to "a boat passing the wild scenery of Lake Lucerne in the moonlight."

Ludwig Rellstab

It became known by that name long after and later in the nineteenth century, the sonata was universally known by that name.

Lake Lucerne


According to Edwin Fischer, in a library in Vienna he found notes written by Beethoven, supporting the theory that the first movement was inspired by Mozart’s Don Giovanni‘s murder scene. If so, the first movement is a death scene.

Some critics have objected to the subjective, romantic nature of the title "Moonlight", which has at times been called "a misleading approach to a movement with almost the character of a funeral march" and "absurd".


Beethoven dedicated this work to his 16 years old student, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi.

Countess Giulietta Guicciardi.

Beethoven was in love with her, but their romance eventually did not come to fruition.

The dedication was not Beethoven's original intention, and he did not have Guicciardi in mind when writing the Moonlight Sonata. Thayer, in his Life of Beethoven, states that the work Beethoven originally intended to dedicate to Guicciardi was the Rondo in G, Op. 51 No. 2, but this had to be dedicated to Countess Lichnowsky. So he cast around at the last moment for a piece to dedicate to Guicciardi.

It is believed that the countess was also in love with Beethoven and that he asked her to marry him but that her father said no.


This piano sonata has a unique atmosphere, something never heard before. It has a mesmerizing and heartbroken mood, at the same time. Another interesting fact is that Beethoven prescribed to play the whole first movement with the sustain pedal down, so harmonies can overlap, fading into each other. This is something a modern piano cannot do; today it is up to the interpretation of the player.


The Moonlight Sonata has three movements.

Contrary to customs at the time, the first movement is a slow movement.

Franz Liszt said about the second movement of the Moonlight Sonata thar the second movement is a little flower between two abysses, referring to the first and last movement as two towering pieces of music.

According to Charles Rosen, the first movement is too delicate for modern instruments and the last is too massive for the contemporary. The first movement has an unspeakable mystery and tragedy, which finally results in rage and fury in the last movement.


Although this was still the classical period, this sonata is a romantic composition. So much emotional rhetoric, so contrasting movements were not typical in classical music.


Beethoven was not deaf when he composed this sonata in 1801.

He had, however, had symptoms in his ears since 1798, meaning that his hearing at this stage was not perfect either.


Beethoven considered the sonata to be inferior to many of his other works for piano, its popularity exasperated the composer, who remarked to Carl Czerny, "Surely I've written better things."


John Lennon got the idea for the Beatles track "Because," when he heard Yoko Ono playing "Moonlight Sonata" on the piano, he asked her to play it backwards and came up with "Because" based on what he heard.


A reader comment at Songfacts:

Everybody knows the famous first movement, but for me the crowning glory of the work is the “last” movement. It is this absolutely amazing, fiery, passionate storm, which practically strains the piano to the breaking point (how much more so on the early pianos that Beethoven had!). A must-hear, it is absolutely kick-ass!


Other reader comments:

I think this is the most beautiful piece of music Beethoven has ever written. This is beautiful. So much emotion and thought while listening to this. Amazing:)

Incredibly moving, notwithstanding Beethoven's own opinion of this piece.


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