Piano Sonata No. 14 (Beethoven)

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Piano Sonata No. 14
Sonata quasi una fantasia
by Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven Piano Sonata 14 - title page 1802.jpg
Title page of the first edition of the score, published on 2 August 1802 in Vienna by Giovanni Cappi e Comp [lower-alpha 1]
Other nameMoonlight Sonata
Key C minor, D major (second movement)
Opus 27/2
Style Classical period
Form Piano sonata
DedicationCountess Giulietta Guicciardi
PublisherGiovanni Cappi

The Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, marked Quasi una fantasia, Op. 27, No. 2, is a piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven. It was completed in 1801 and dedicated in 1802 to his pupil Countess Julie "Giulietta" Guicciardi. [lower-alpha 2] The popular name Moonlight Sonata goes back to a critic's remark after Beethoven's death. The verbatim translation would actually be "Moonshine Sonata".


The piece is one of Beethoven's most popular compositions for the piano, and it was a popular favourite even in his own day. [1] Beethoven wrote the Moonlight Sonata in his early thirties, after he had finished with some commissioned work; there is no evidence that he was commissioned to write this sonata. [1]


The first edition of the score is headed Sonata quasi una fantasia ("sonata almost a fantasy"), the same title as that of its companion piece, Op. 27, No. 1. [2] Grove Music Online translates the Italian title as "sonata in the manner of a fantasy". [3] "The subtitle reminds listeners that the piece, although technically a sonata, is suggestive of a free-flowing, improvised fantasia." [4]

Many sources say that the nickname Moonlight Sonata arose after the German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab likened the effect of the first movement to that of moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne. [5] [6] This comes from the musicologist Wilhelm Lenz, who wrote in 1852: "Rellstab compares this work to a boat, visiting, by moonlight, the remote parts of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. The soubriquet Mondscheinsonate, which twenty years ago made connoisseurs cry out in Germany, has no other origin." [7] Taken literally, "twenty years" would mean the nickname had to have started after Beethoven's death. In fact Rellstab made his comment about the sonata's first movement in a story called Theodor that he published in 1824: "The lake reposes in twilit moon-shimmer [Mondenschimmer], muffled waves strike the dark shore; gloomy wooded mountains rise and close off the holy place from the world; ghostly swans glide with whispering rustles on the tide, and an Aeolian harp sends down mysterious tones of lovelorn yearning from the ruins." [8] Rellstab made no mention of Lake Lucerne, which seems to have been Lenz's own addition. Rellstab met Beethoven in 1825 [9] , making it theoretically possible for Beethoven to have known of the moonlight comparison, though the nickname may not have arisen until later.

By the late 1830s, the name "Mondscheinsonate" was being used in German publications [10] and "Moonlight Sonata" in English [11] publications. Later in the nineteenth century, the sonata was universally known by that name. [12]

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" [13] and "absurd". [14] Other critics have approved of the sobriquet, finding it evocative [15] or in line with their own interpretation of the work. [16] 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." [17] Donald Francis Tovey thought the title of Moonlight was appropriate for the first movement but not for the other two. [18]

Carl Czerny, Beethoven's pupil, described the first movement as "a ghost scene, where out of the far distance a plaintive ghostly voice sounds". [19]

Liszt described the second movement as "a flower between two abysses". [20]


Beethoven's pedal mark

At the opening of the first movement, 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]" [28] ). The way this is accomplished (both on today's pianos and on those of Beethoven's day) is to depress the sustain pedal throughout the movement – or at least to make use of the pedal throughout, but re-applying it as the harmony changes.

The modern piano has a much longer sustain time than the instruments of Beethoven's time, so that a steady application of the sustain pedal creates a dissonant sound. In contrast, performers who employ a historically based instrument (either a restored old piano or a modern instrument built on historical principles) are more able to follow Beethoven's direction literally.

For performance on the modern piano, several options have been put forth.


The C minor sonata, particularly the third movement, is held to have been the inspiration for Frédéric Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu , and the Fantaisie-Impromptu to have been in fact a tribute to Beethoven. [31] 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." [32]

Carl Bohm composed a piece for violin and piano called "Meditation", Op. 296, in which he adds a violin melody over the unaltered first movement of Beethoven's sonata. [33]

Modern popular music pianists have included core motifs of the piece in their adaptations. Examples include George Shearing, in his 'Moonlight Becomes You,' on his White Satin album and Alicia Keys's 'Remixed & Unplugged' version of her Songs in A Minor album.

Notes and references


  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 Julie "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, p. 60).
  2. This dedication was not Beethoven's original intention, and he did not have Guicciardi in mind when writing the 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 297. ISBN   0-691-02702-1.
  3. Note that Beethoven wrote "senza sordino"; see #Beethoven's pedal mark below.


  1. 1 2 3 Jones, Timothy. Beethoven, the Moonlight and other sonatas, op. 27 and op. 31. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 19, 43 and back cover.
  2. "Ludwig van Beethoven, Sonate für Klavier (cis-Moll) op. 27, 2 (Sonata quasi una fantasia), Cappi, 879". Beethovenhaus . Retrieved January 12, 2012.
  3. "Quasi". Grove Music Online . Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  4. Schwarm, Betsy. "Moonlight Sonata". Encyclopædia Britannica . Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  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. Lenz, Wilhelm von (1852). Beethoven et ses trois styles (in French). Vol. 1. St Petersburg. p. 225.
  7. https://crumey.co.uk/beethoven.html#moonlight
  8. https://crumey.co.uk/beethoven.html#moonlight
  9. https://www.completebeethoven.com/day344.html
  10. See. e.g., Allgemeiner musikalischer Anzeiger. Vol. 9, No. 11, Tobias Haslinger, Vienna, 1837, p. 41.
  11. See, e.g., Ignaz Moscheles, ed. The Life of Beethoven. Henry Colburn pub., vol. II, 1841, p. 109.
  12. Aunt Judy's Christmas Volume. H. K. F. Gatty, ed., George Bell & Sons, London, 1879, p. 60.
  13. Kennedy, Michael. "Moonlight Sonata", from Oxford Dictionary of Music 2nd edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006 rev., p. 589.
  14. "Moonlight Sonata", from Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. J.A. Fuller Maitland, ed., Macmillan and Co., London, 1900, p. 360.
  15. Dubal, David. The Art of the Piano. Amadeus Press, 2004, p. 411.
  16. See, e.g., Wilkinson, Charles W. Well-known Piano Solos: How to Play Them. Theo. Presser Co., Philadelphia, 1915, p. 31.
  17. Mackenzie, Compton. "The Beethoven Piano Sonatas", from The Gramophone, Aug. 1940, p. 5.
  18. 1 2 Beethoven, Ludwig van (1932). Tovey, Donald Francis; Craxton, Harold (eds.). Complete Pianoforte Sonatas, Volume II (Revised ed.). London: Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. p. 50. ISBN   978-1-85472-054-2. OCLC   53258888.
  19. Beethoven, Ludwig van (2015). Del Mar, Jonathan; Donat, Misha (eds.). Sonata quasi una Fantasia für Pianoforte (in English and German). Translated by Schütz, Gudula. Kassel: Bärenreiter. p. iii. ISMN  979-0-006-55799-8.
  20. https://crumey.co.uk/beethoven.html#moonlight
  21. Maynard Solomon, Beethoven (New York: Schirmer Books, 1998), p. 139
  22. Harding, Henry Alfred (1901). Analysis of form in Beethoven's sonatas. Borough Green: Novello. pp.  28–29.
  23. 1 2 3 Rosen, Charles (2002). Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion. Yale University Press. p. 157. ISBN   978-0-300-09070-3.
  24. Life of Beethoven, Alexander Wheelock Thayer, ed. Elliot Forbes, Princeton 1967
  25. Fishko, Sara. "Why do we love the 'Moonlight' Sonata?". NPR.org. NPR. Retrieved 10 May 2011.
  26. Fischer, Edwin (1959). Beethoven's pianoforte sonatas: a guide for students & amateurs. Faber. p. 62.
  27. Brendel, Alfred (2001). Alfred Brendel on music. A Capella Books. p. 71. ISBN   1-55652-408-0.
  28. Translation from Rosenblum 1988 , p. 136
  29. William and Gayle Cook Music Library, Indiana University School of Music Beethoven, Sonate per pianoforte, Vol. 1 (N. 1–16), Ricordi
  30. Banowetz, J. (1985). The Pianist’s Guide to Pedaling, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 168.
  31. Oster 1983.
  32. Oster 1983, p. 207.
  33. IMSLP Carl Bohm, "Meditation"



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