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Beethoven's Piano Sonata in C Sharp Major

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Beethoven's Piano Sonata in C Sharp Major

Kody Woodson

Music 256-01

Dr. Jordan


Beethoven's Piano Sonata in C Sharp Major

In this listener's/writer's opinion, Beethoven's sonata in C# is one of his best works. The name "Moonlight Sonata" was coined by a German music critic by the name of Ludwig Rellstab after Beethoven's death, comparing the piece to moonlight reflecting off Lake Lucerne . The Sonata is in three movements: I. Adagio sostenuto, II. Allegretto and III. Presto, with the first movement being the iconic piece that is so widely known. Beethoven wrote the sonata and dedicated it to his seventeen year old pupil Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, whom Beethoven was, or had been, in love with. Beethoven's sonata doesn't follow the usual fast-slow-fast style like most sonatas do. Instead it has a building feeling to it, with the first movement being slow and mysterious sounding, going into a light upbeat feeling, then ending with a fast explosion into the final movement. As a whole, this writer feels that this is a love song. The composer wrote it with the utmost passion to convey his feelings for his love. I feel that music is one of the purest of all the arts, being as how it comes from raw creativity and pure emotion. Thus, I feel that a song dedicated to someone out of love is one of the most genuine actions of love.

The Sonata opens up with first movement: Adagio sostenuto. It's played pianissimo, and only getting as loud as about mezzo forte. The famous eerie triplet note figure at the beginning instantly sets the tone of the piece. It's accompanied by a descending bass line that feels very heavy, giving a sense of loss or emptiness. The melody then comes in, calling out in the mix of heavy bass line and triplet turmoil. The melody's famous triplet rhythm was copied from Mozart's score from ‘Don Giovanni' . To me, the melody is more sad and depressed than a love melody. There is something hidden beneath the tonal C# melody, as if Beethoven had implied a sense of humanity within it. Beethoven could have been reaching out to someone, to tell someone how he was suffering. There are brief moments where the melody sounds like it goes to major, implying a lighter mood or happier tone. This could relate to many times Beethoven struggled and when all hope seemed gone, there was always a shimmering light of hope that renewed Beethoven's strength and brought him out of the darkness. However, towards the end of the movement, the melody goes back to its depressed nature, as though it has lost that sense of hope, and ultimately giving in to the darkness.

The second movement is in complete contrast to its prior. It is a basic scherzo and trio, and relatively calm, opening up with a light, bouncing melody. To me this movement sounds dance like, as if Beethoven were playing this at a party of some sort. It is more open and upbeat than its predecessor. This movement could represent the high times in Beethoven's life, when he was playing for the aristocrats or composing for orchestras. However, coming after a movement that was so heavily filled with negative emotions, one could say that the happiness felt within the piece was not real happiness. The contrast is so clear, a complete one-eighty. There is no real transition between the two to tell the listener how the sad melody cam to be happy all of a sudden. It is as if that happiness is just a face that is being put on over the suffering, mournful tone of the first movement. This could imply that even when Beethoven was at parties, playing for the wealthy aristocrats and seemed to be having a great time, that in actuality he was still suffering beneath the happy face he had put on for everyone.

The third and final movement of the Moonlight brings another shift in character. It explodes right off the bat with high energy and vigor. Coming right after the second movement, it feels that with this third movement comes a snap back to the real world. The phony happiness from the second movement has not been able to hold up long enough and it is now time to face the real world again. But unlike the first movement, where it seemed hope was all but gone and giving up was imminent, this piece feels as though it wants to fight back the darkness that is closing in.

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