Piano Sonata No. 14 (Beethoven)

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Title page of the first edition of the score, published in 1802 in Vienna by Gio. Cappi e Comp.[1]

The Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27, No. 2, popularly known as the Moonlight Sonata, is a piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven. Completed in 1801 and dedicated in 1802 to his pupil, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi,[2] it is one of Beethoven's most popular compositions for the piano.

Names[edit]

The first edition of the score is headed Sonata quasi una fantasia, a title this work shares with its companion piece, Op. 27, No. 1.[3] Grove Music Online translates the Italian title as "sonata in the manner of a fantasy".[4] Translated more literally, this is "sonata almost a fantasy".

The name "Moonlight Sonata" comes from remarks made by the German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab. In 1832, five years after Beethoven's death, Rellstab likened the effect of the first movement to that of moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne.[5] Within ten years, the name "Moonlight Sonata" ("Mondscheinsonate" in German) was being used in German[6] and English[7] publications. Later in the nineteenth century, the sonata was universally known by that name.[8]

Many 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"[9] and "absurd".[10] Other critics have approved of the sobriquet, finding it evocative[11] or in line with their own interpretation of the work.[12] Gramophone founder Compton Mackenzie found the title "harmless", remarking that "it is silly for austere critics to work themselves up into a state of almost hysterical rage with poor Rellstab", and adding, "what these austere critics fail to grasp is that unless the general public had responded to the suggestion of moonlight in this music Rellstab's remark would long ago have been forgotten."[13]

Form[edit]



All performed by Paul Pitman, from Musopen

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Although no direct testimony exists as to the specific reasons why Beethoven decided to title both the Op. 27 works as Sonata quasi una fantasia, it may be significant that the layout of the present work does not follow the traditional movement arrangement in the Classical period of fast–slow–[fast]–fast. Instead, the sonata possesses an end-weighted trajectory, with the rapid music held off until the third movement. In his analysis, German critic Paul Bekker states that "The opening sonata-allegro movement gave the work a definite character from the beginning... which succeeding movements could supplement but not change. Beethoven rebelled against this determinative quality in the first movement. He wanted a prelude, an introduction, not a proposition.”[14]

The sonata consists of three movements:

  1. Adagio sostenuto
  2. Allegretto
  3. Presto agitato

Adagio sostenuto[edit]

Beethoven piano sonata 14 mvmt 1 bar 1-4.svg

The first movement,[15] in C minor, is written in an approximate truncated sonata form. The movement opens with an octave in the left hand and a triplet figuration in the right. A melody that Hector Berlioz called a "lamentation", mostly by the right hand, is played against an accompanying ostinato triplet rhythm, simultaneously played by the right hand. The movement is played pianissimo or "very quietly", and the loudest it gets is mezzo forte or "moderately loud". The adagio sostenuto has made a powerful impression on many listeners; for instance, Berlioz said of it that it "is one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify".[16] Beethoven's student Carl Czerny called it "a nocturnal scene, in which a mournful ghostly voice sounds from the distance".[17] The movement was very popular in Beethoven's day, to the point of exasperating the composer himself, who remarked to Czerny, "Surely I've written better things."[18][19]

Allegretto[edit]

Beethoven piano sonata 14 mvmt 2 bar 1-8.svg

The second movement is a relatively conventional scherzo and trio, a moment of relative calm written in D-flat major, the more easily-notated enharmonic equivalent of C major, the parallel major of the first movement's key, C minor. Franz Liszt is said to have described the second movement as "a flower between two chasms".[20] The slight majority of the movement is in piano, but a handful of sforzandos and forte-pianos helps to maintain the movement's cheerful disposition.

Presto agitato[edit]

Beethoven piano sonata 14 mvmt 3 bar 1-3.svg

The stormy final movement (C minor), in sonata form, is the weightiest of the three, reflecting an experiment of Beethoven's (also carried out in the companion sonata, Opus 27, No. 1 and later on in Opus 101) placement of the most important movement of the sonata last. The writing has many fast arpeggios and strongly accented notes, and an effective performance demands lively and skillful playing.

Of the final movement, Charles Rosen has written "it is the most unbridled in its representation of emotion. Even today, two hundred years later, its ferocity is astonishing."[16]

Beethoven's heavy use of sforzando notes, together with just a few strategically located fortissimo passages, creates the sense of a very powerful sound in spite of the predominance of piano markings throughout.

Beethoven's pedal mark[edit]

At the opening of the work, Beethoven included the following direction in Italian: "Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordino" ("This whole piece ought to be played with the utmost delicacy and without damper[s]."[21]). Some pianists interpret this instruction literally, believing that the sustain pedal should be depressed for the entire duration of the first movement. A more conservative interpretation is simply that this movement should be played with pedal, allowing for the customary practice of changing the pedal together with the harmony.

The modern piano has a much longer sustain time than the instruments of Beethoven's day. Therefore, the literal interpretation cannot be followed by pianists playing modern instruments (and some argue historical pianos as well) without creating an unpleasantly dissonant sound.

One option for dealing with this problem is to perform the work on an original, restored or replicated piano of the kind Beethoven knew. Proponents of historically informed performance using such pianos sometimes play this movement with the sustain pedal fully depressed.

For performance on the modern piano, some performers today try to achieve a similar effect by using pedal changes only where necessary to avoid excessive dissonance. For instance, Casa Ricordi has a publication of the score that includes pedal marks throughout the first movement.[22]

Half pedaling—a technique involving a partial depression of the damper pedal—is also often used to simulate the shorter sustain of the early nineteenth century pedal. Charles Rosen suggests both half-pedaling and releasing the pedal a fraction of a second late.[16]

Banowetz offers a further suggestion: to pedal cleanly while allowing sympathetic vibration of the low bass strings to provide the desired "blur". This is accomplished before beginning the movement by silently depressing the piano's lowest bass notes and then holding these dampers up with the sostenuto pedal for the duration of the movement.[23]

Influences[edit]

The C-sharp minor sonata, particularly the third movement, is held to have been the inspiration for Frédéric Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu, and that the Fantaisie-Impromptu was actually a tribute to Beethoven.[24] It manifests the key relationships of the sonata's three movements, chord structures, and even shares some passages. Ernst Oster writes: "... With the aid of the Fantaisie-Impromptu we can at least recognize what particular features of the C minor Sonata struck fire in Chopin. We can actually regard Chopin as our teacher as he points to the coda and says, 'Look here, this is great. Take heed of this example!' ... The Fantaisie-Impromptu is perhaps the only instance where one genius discloses to us — if only by means of a composition of his own — what he actually hears in the work of another genius."[25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ The title page is in Italian, and reads SONATA quasi una FANTASIA per il Clavicembalo o Piano=forte composta e dedicata alla Damigella Contessa Giulietta Guicciardi da Luigi van Beethoven Opera 27 No. 2. In Vienna presso Gio. Cappi Sulla Piazza di St. Michele No. 5. (In English, "Sonata, almost a fantasia for harpsichord or pianoforte. Composed, and dedicated to Mademoiselle Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, by Ludwig van Beethoven. Opus 27 No. 2. Published in Vienna by Giovanni Cappi, Michaelerplatz No. 5.") The suggestion that the work could be performed on the harpsichord reflected a common marketing practice of music publishers in the early 19th century (Siepmann 1998, 60).
  2. ^ This 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 circumstances required that this be dedicated to Countess Lichnowsky. So he cast around at the last moment for a piece to dedicate to Guicciardi. See Thayer, Alexander Wheelock (1921). Elliot, Forbes, ed. Thayer's Life of Beethoven (revised ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press (published 1967). p. 291 and p. 297. ISBN 0-691-02702-1. 
  3. ^ "Ludwig van Beethoven, Sonate für Klavier (cis-Moll) op. 27, 2 (Sonata quasi una fantasia), Cappi, 879". Beethovenhaus. Retrieved January 12, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Quasi". Grove Music Online (Oxford Music Online). Retrieved January 7, 2012. 
  5. ^ Beethoven, Ludwig van (2004). Beethoven: The Man and the Artist, as Revealed in His Own Words. 1st World Publishing. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-59540-149-6. 
  6. ^ See. e.g., Allgemeiner musikalischer Anzeiger. Vol. 9, No. 11, Tobias Haslinger, Vienna, 1837, p. 41.
  7. ^ See, e.g., Ignace Moscheles, ed. The Life of Beethoven. Henry Colburn pub., vol. II, 1841, p. 109.
  8. ^ Aunt Judy's Christmas Volume. H.K.F. Gatty, ed., George Bell & Sons, London, 1879, p. 60.
  9. ^ Kennedy, Michael. "Moonlight Sonata", from Oxford Dictionary of Music 2nd edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006 rev., p. 589.
  10. ^ "Moonlight Sonata", from Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. J.A. Fuller Maitland, ed., Macmillan and Co., London, 1907, p. 256.
  11. ^ Dubal, David. The Art of the Piano. Amadeus Press, 2004, p. 411.
  12. ^ See, e.g., Wilkinson, Charles W. Well-known Piano Solos: How to Play Them. Theo. Presser Co., Philadelphia, 1915, p. 31.
  13. ^ Mackenzie, Compton. "The Beethoven Piano Sonatas", from The Gramophone, Aug. 1940, p. 5.
  14. ^ Maynard Solomon, Beethoven (New York: Schirmer Books, 1998), p. 139
  15. ^ Note that Beethoven wrote "senza sordino"; see #Beethoven's pedal mark above.
  16. ^ a b c Charles Rosen (2002). Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-09070-3. 
  17. ^ Jones, Timothy. Beethoven, the Moonlight and other sonatas, op. 27 and op. 31. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 43.
  18. ^ Life of Beethoven, Alexander Wheelock Thayer, ed. Elliot Forbes, Princeton 1967
  19. ^ Fishko, Sara. "Why do we love the 'Moonlight' Sonata?". NPR. Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  20. ^ Brendel, Alfred (2001). Alfred Brendel on music. A Capella Books. p. 71. ISBN 1-55652-408-0.
  21. ^ Translation from Rosenblum (1988, 136)
  22. ^ William and Gayle Cook Music Library, Indiana University School of Music Beethoven, Sonate per pianoforte, Vol. 1 (N. 1–16), Ricordi
  23. ^ Banowetz, J. (1985). The Pianist’s Guide to Pedaling, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 168.
  24. ^ Oster, Ernst,"The Fantaisie-Impromptu A Tribute to Beethoven", Aspects of Schenkerian Analysis, David Beach, ed. Yale University Press, 1983 ISBN 0-300-02800-8
  25. ^ Oster p. 207

Sources

  • Rosenblum, Sandra P. (1988) Performance Practices in Classic Piano Music: Their Principles and Applications. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Siepmann, Jeremy (1998) The Piano: The Complete Illustrated Guide to the World's Most Popular Musical Instrument.

External links[edit]

Scores[edit]