Piano Sonata No. 14 (Beethoven)
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The Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven, is popularly known as the "Moonlight" Sonata. The work was completed in 1801 and dedicated to his pupil, 17-year-old Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, with whom Beethoven was, or had been in love. The name "Moonlight" Sonata derives from a 1832 description of the first movement by poet Ludwig Rellstab, who compared it to moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne.
Beethoven included the phrase "Quasi una fantasia" (Italian: Like a fantasy) in the title because the sonata does not follow the traditional sonata pattern where the first movement is in regular sonata form and where the movements are arranged in a fast-slow-fast sequence.
The sonata has three movements:
- Adagio sostenuto
- Presto agitato
The first movement is written in a kind of truncated sonata form. A melody that Hector Berlioz called a "lamentation" is played (mostly by the right hand) against an accompanying ostinato triplet rhythm. The movement is also played pianissimo or "very quietly", and the loudest it gets is mezzo-forte or "moderately loud". The movement has made a powerful impression on many listeners; for instance, Berlioz wrote that it "is one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify." The work was very popular in Beethoven's day, to the point of exasperating the composer, who remarked to Czerny "Surely I've written better things."
The second movement is a relatively conventional minuet and trio; a moment of relative calm written in D-flat major. This key signature is enharmonically equivalent to C-sharp major, that is, the tonic major for the work as a whole. The slightly odd sound of the first eight bars seems to be the result of the minuet starting in the "wrong" key; i.e. the dominant key of A-flat major. The music settles into D-flat only in the second phrase, bars 5-10.
The stormy final movement, 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 flamboyant 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."
The musical dynamic that predominates in the third movement is in fact piano. It seems that 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 overall dynamic.
 Beethoven's pedal mark
At the opening of the work, Beethoven included a written direction that the sustain pedal should be depressed for the entire duration of the first movement. The Italian reads: "Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordino" ("The entire piece [meaning movement] must be played as delicately as possible and without dampers."). The modern piano has a much longer sustain time than the instruments of Beethoven's day. Therefore, his instruction cannot be followed by pianists playing modern instruments without creating an unpleasantly dissonant sound. See also piano history and musical performance, and Mute (music) for discussion of the associated terminology in notation, and details of the mechanisms involved.
One option for dealing with this problem is to perform the work on a restored or replicated piano of the kind Beethoven knew. Proponents of historically informed performance using such pianos have found it feasible to perform the work respecting Beethoven's original direction.
For performance on the modern piano, most performers today try to achieve an effect similar to what Beethoven asked for using pedal changes only where necessary to avoid excessive dissonance. For instance, the Ricordi edition of the score posted at the external link given below does include pedal marks throughout the first movement. These are the work of a 20th century editor, meant to facilitate performance on a modern instrument. "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 (reference below) suggests both half-pedaling and changing the pedal a fraction of a second late.
 Audio samples
- ^ a b (1988) Album notes for Piano Sonatas Nos. 8, 14 and 23 by Jenő Jandó. Naxos Records (8550045).
- ^ Matthews, Max Wade (2002). The encyclopedia of Music, 335.
- ^ Morris, Edmund (2005). Beethoven: The Universal Composer. HarperCollins, 93-94. ISBN 0060759747.
- ^ Beethoven, Ludwig van (2004). Beethoven: The Man and the Artist, as Revealed in His Own Words. 1st World Publishing, 47. ISBN 1595401490.
- ^ Life of Beethoven, Thayer, ed. Elliot Forbes, Princeton 1967
- Charles Rosen (2002). Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion. Yale University Press. 0300090706.
 External links
- Piano Sonata No. 14 was available at the International Music Score Library Project.
- Score of the "Moonlight" Sonata, typeset and placed in the public domain by Chris Sawer, is part of the Mutopia project. Available at .
- The Mutopia project has information about the composition Sonata No. 14 available here
- The William and Gayle Cook Music Library at the Indiana University School of Music has posted a scan of the score (Ricordi edition).