The Moonlight Sonata

In the late 1800s, at the aristocratic home of the Brunsvik family, where he taught piano to sisters Therese and Josephine, Beethoven met their cousin, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, who had just arrived from Italy. He became Guicciardi’s piano teacher, and apparently became infatuated with her in November 1801, the composer wrote to his friend Franz Gerhard Wegeler: „She loves me and i love her.” A few months later, the famous Sonata in C sharp minor opus 27 No2 was born – Sonata quasi una Fantasia, which would later became known as the Moonlight Sonata. It was dedicated to Giulietta Guicciardi, and many researchers suggest that the Countess was his „immortal Beloved,” to whom Beethoven bequeathed everything, and about whom he wrote in a mysterious letter found after his death: “…my thoughts rush to you, my immortal beloved, now and then joyfully, then again sadly, waiting to know whether Fate will hear our prayer … I can live fully only with you, otherwise it would not be life … “ that was the composer’s first deep love passion, accompanied by an equally deep disappointment. The object of his attachment, unfortunately, turned out to be completely unworthy. Shortly after their acquaintance, Giulietta Guicciardi transferred her sympathies to Count Robert von Gallenberg – a shallow person and an amateur composer – and the two got married on November 14th, 1803, after which they moved to Naples. But Beethoven’s genius, inspired by love, created a striking work that expresses the drama of his excitement and the rush of his feelings in an unusually strong and global way.

One of Beethoven’s most famous works, for its nearly 220 years of existence, the Moonlight Sonata invariably arouses the admiration of musicians and all those who love music. This sonata was especially liked and appreciated by Chopin and Liszt (the latter remains in history with its ingenious interpretation). Even Berlioz, who was generally quite indifferent to piano music, believed its first part containing poetry that cannot be expressed in human words. Sincere and captivating, Beethoven’s music reaches the hearts of the listeners directly. It is impossible not to succumb to its influence, perhaps because it expresses an immediate feeling.

Its first part – Adagio sostenuto – is written in a special form. One can notice the heartbreaking sorrow of the lonely love, which, according to Romain Rolland, resembles „unfed fire.” He also tended to interpret the first part in the spirit of melancholy, complaints and weeps. The music in it is emotionally rich, it can easily be associated with the nocturne genre. We can also find calm contemplation, sadness and heavy premonitions. All this is ingeniously expressed by Beethoven within the bounds of focused reflection. This is the beginning of every deep and binding feeling – it emits hopes, worries; trembles with vibrations in its own completens, in all the power of experiences. It’s an acknowledgment to oneself and an excited thought about what you should be and what you should do.

In the second part, Allegretto, things are being observed „from the outside”. Liszt compares this part to a „flower between two precipices.” The comparison is poetically brilliant, but still quite superficial. According to another researcher, Wilibald Nagel, this is a „Picture of real life in which beautiful images flutter around the dreamer.” But although closer to the truth, this comparison is also not sufficient to fully understand the conceptual idea of the sonata. Romain Rolland refrains from detailed description and limits himself to the words „everyone can accurately assess the desired effect achieved by this small picture, which is placed in this place in the work precisely. This playful, smiling grace inevitably causes an increase in grief – its appearance turns the soul, which at first is crying and depressed, into a passionate fury.”

The finale of the sonata – Presto agitato, evokes amazement with the irresistible energy of its emotions. A true masterpiece of passionate expressiveness, it resembles a stream of boiling lava. Instead of calming down and getting quiet, the tension and drama increase even more and the contrast of emotions is maximal. The figurative meaning of this part is in the grandiose struggle between emotions and will, in the great wrath of the soul, which fails to control its passions. There is no trace of the enthusiastic and anxious dreaminess of the first part and the deceptive illusions of the second – passion and suffering cling to the soul with unprecedented force. The final victory has not yet been achieved. Experiences, will, passion and reason are intertwined in a wild struggle. And even the coda of the sonata does not bring the expected outcome – it only confirms the continuation of the struggle…

The popular and surprisingly apt title Moonlight Sonata, established on the initiative of the poet Ludwig Rellstab, who compares the music of the first part of the sonata with a landscape of lake Firwaldstadt on a moonlit night, has repeatedly been opposed. The pianist Arthur Rubinstein stands out most fiercely among the protesters. „The moonlight,” he wrote, „requires something dreamy, melancholic, thoughtful, and generally softly radiant to be attributed to the musical image. And the first part of the sonata in C sharp minor appears tragic from the first to the last note (the minor key also hints at this) and thus depicts a clouds – covered sky – a gloomy mood. The last part is stormy and passionate, so it paints something quite the opposite of meek light. Only the miniature second part allows a minute moonlight… “ nevertheless, the denomination „moonlight” has remained unchanged to this day – it is justified by the explanation that a single poetic word can denote a work so beloved by listeners, without having to indicate opus, number and key.

The „moonlight” sonata, especially its finale, served as inspiration for Frederic Chopin in writing his Fantasie Impromptu In C Sharp Minor. This play is believed to be an expression of Chopin’s respect for the music of the great German classic. According to musicologist Ernst Oster, „This is one of the rare cases in which a musical genius reveals to us (albeit only by means of his own composition) what exactly he hears in the music of another genius.” The German pianist and composer Carl Bohm wrote a piece for violin and piano called Meditation op. 296, in which he adds a violin melody on the unchanged first part of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

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