When one hears the name “Beethoven ?, several of his more popular piano compositions come to mind. One of these masterpieces is his Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2, Quasi una Fantasia completed in the year 1801. While the literal translation of the composition’s name is “Sonata almost a Fantasy, ? it is more popularly known as “The Moonlight Sonata ?. This piano sonata was given its more popular name in 1836 by German music critic, Ludwig Rellstab, several years after the death of Beethoven.
The inspiration behind this name was when Rellstab visited Lake Balaton in Hungary and described the sonata as reminding him of the moonlight shining over the lake. 2 The composition of Op. 27, No. 2 seemed to begin a change or transformation in Beethoven’s musical pieces and the beginning of his second stylistic period. This is seen as the beginning of this change because the sonata has more a free form style and, therefore, did not follow the formal style of the classical sonata.
It was during this time, the years 1801-1802, that Beethoven also began a difficult period in his life when he realized that he was losing his hearing and a personal inner struggle began which affected his music. His compositions showed a lot of misery and sorrow, but always ended with victory winning the struggle. His music was showing that he was winning the inner struggle with his hearing loss and gaining a better inner hearing by creating some of his most dramatic pieces. Quasi una Fantasia consists of three movements: Adagio Sostenuto, Allegretto, and Presto Agitato, with the first movement being the most well-known.
With this particular composition, Beethoven does not follow the arrangement that was customary during that era of fast-slow-fast. Rather, he decided to follow an “end-weighted ? trajectory where the fast paced and rapid music is held off until the third movement, Presto Agitato. 3 The movement is also written in fast duple meter, including dynamics with fast motion and sudden accents. 4 The third movement of this piece is in the form of a sonata-allegro form, giving it an active and restless feel5. Sonata-allegro form is a musical structure consisting of three sections: exposition, development and recapitulation, and finally a coda6.
The third movement, while in sonata-allegro form, starts with the exact same notes as the first movement, Adagio Sostenuto: c-sharp, g-sharp, c-sharp and e. Beethoven also added in an agitato to the score, 1 giving the movement a fierce sound. Since Beethoven was not following the traditional form that composers used when creating compositions, he decided that he would modify the pattern of the three borrowed notes from the first movement (having the weak beat on the second note, g-sharp). Even with the transformation, he managed to keep the underlying structure the same. Beethoven has divided the single movement into two different themes or sections; an active theme and a lyrical theme. The exposition in the movement takes place from measures 1 through 64.
In the first section of this exposition, Beethoven uses arpeggios for the first eight measures within a two-bar rhythm, even though the entire movement is in common time, and uses a dominant pedal point up until the arpeggiations end, which would be measure 14. 8 For the next seven measures, Beethoven uses a mini transition passage to connect the first and second subjects; it starts in the tonic and eventually transitions into the key of G# minor9.
It remains until the last two bars where it, once again, transitions into the key of C# minor. From the key of C# minor, it modulates into the tonic (C# major) where Beethoven transitions into the development of the sonata form10. This development begins at measure 66 (which is the second ending of the exposition) and ends at measure 102. While measure 66 is a repeat of the first subject, Beethoven decided to alter the key and make this section start out higher in the key of F# minor, only to have the melody shift to the bass line. 1 The recapitulation can be found from measures 103-158. It is at this point where Beethoven decides to bring back the first theme from the exposition. However, within the recapitulation, much like the exposition, there are two themes in this change. First, Beethoven decided not to include a “mini transition passage ? connecting the two subjects, and, secondly, Beethoven brought the second subject back to the original key of C# minor. 12 To conclude, any composition in the sonata form includes a coda, a passage that brings a musical piece to an end.
Beethoven was known to change this composition style by expanding this section of the movement and giving it the same musical emphasis as the previous sections thereby producing a dramatic end. In this movement, the coda begins at measure 158. Here, Beethoven briefly brought back the first subject only to have diminished 7ths follow right after13. He then goes to bring back the second subject and decides to finally end the piece after inserting arpeggios. This gives the ending to the piece, the dramatic conclusion and the triumph of victory.
1. “Beethoven’s Not-So “Moonlight” Sonata: Example classical music analysis essay.” Free Essay Sample / Example. http://www.essaybyexample.com/free-essay-samples/essay-Beethoven-Moonlight-Sonata.php (accessed September 23, 2014).
2. “Beethoven- ˜Moonlight’ Sonata.” Classical Music Blog. http://classicalmusicblog.com/2007/09/beethoven-sonata.html#analysis (accessed September 20, 2014).
3. Drake, Kenneth. “Quasi usa Fantasia.” In The Beethoven sonatas and the creative experience, 117-121. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
4. Farlex. “Sonata-allegro form.” The Free Dictionary. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Sonata-allegro+form (accessed September 20, 2014).
5. Harding, H. A.. “Sonata No. 14.” In Analysis of form in Beethoven’s Sonatas, 28-30. London: Novello, 1901.
6. “History behind Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (Sonata No. 14, No. 2, Op. 27).” The Moonlight Sonata. http://www.moonlightsonata.co.uk/history_behind_the_moonlight_sonata/ (accessed September 20, 2014)
7. JandÃ³, JenÃ¶. Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27 No. 2, “Moonlight : III. Presto Agitato. N.d. Naxos Music Library. Web 20 September 2014
8. “Piano Sonata No. 14 “Moonlight”.” Beethoven. http://www.classiccat.net/beethoven_l_van/27-2.info.php (accessed September 20, 2014).
9. Pierre Beaudry, “The Truth About Beethoven’s So-Called “Moonlight Sonata , (May 8, 2011).
10. Rosen, Charles. “Youthful Popularity 1800-1802.” In Beethoven’s piano sonatas: a short companion, 157. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
11. “The Sonata in the Classical Era.” Chapter 25:. http://www.wwnorton.com/college/music/enjoyment-of-music11/complete/ch/25/outline.aspx (accessed September 23, 2014)