Piano Sonata No. 14 (Beethoven)

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 Giulietta Guicciardi.[b] The popular name Moonlight Sonata goes back to a critic's remark after Beethoven's death.

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[a]
Other nameMoonlight Sonata
KeyC minor
Opus27, No. 2
StyleClassical period
FormPiano sonata
DedicationCountess Giulietta Guicciardi

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, 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]

The name Moonlight Sonata comes from remarks made by the German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab. In 1832, five years after Beethoven's death, Rellstab likened the effect of the first movement to that of moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne.[5] Within ten years, the name "Moonlight Sonata" ("Mondscheinsonate" in German) was being used in German[6] and English[7] publications. Later in the nineteenth century, the sonata was universally known by that name.[8]

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"[9] and "absurd".[10] Other critics have approved of the sobriquet, finding it evocative[11] or in line with their own interpretation of the work.[12] 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."[13]


Although no direct testimony exists as to the specific reasons why Beethoven decided to title both the Op. 27 works as Sonata quasi una fantasia, it may be significant that the layout of the present work does not follow the traditional movement arrangement in the Classical period of fast–slow–[fast]–fast. Instead, the sonata possesses an end-weighted trajectory, with the rapid music held off until the third movement. In his analysis, German critic Paul Bekker states: "The opening sonata-allegro movement gave the work a definite character from the beginning... which succeeding movements could supplement but not change. Beethoven rebelled against this determinative quality in the first movement. He wanted a prelude, an introduction, not a proposition".[14]

The sonata consists of three movements:

  1. Adagio sostenuto
  2. Allegretto
  3. Presto agitato

I. Adagio sostenutoEdit


The first movement,[15] in C minor, is written in modified sonata-allegro form.[16] The movement opens with an octave in the left hand and a triplet figuration in the right. A melody that Hector Berlioz called a "lamentation",[citation needed] mostly by the left hand, is played against an accompanying ostinato triplet rhythm, simultaneously played by the right hand. The movement is played pianissimo or "very quietly", and the loudest it gets is piano or "quietly".

The adagio sostenuto has made a powerful impression on many listeners; for instance, Berlioz said of it that it "is one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify".[17] Beethoven's student Carl Czerny called it "a nocturnal scene, in which a mournful ghostly voice sounds from the distance".[1] The movement was very popular in Beethoven's day, to the point of exasperating the composer himself, who remarked to Czerny, "Surely I've written better things".[18][19]

In his book Beethoven's pianoforte sonatas [20] the renowned pianist Edwin Fischer suggests that this movement of this sonata is based on Mozart's "Ah Soccorso! Son Tradito" of his opera Don Giovanni, which comes just after the Commendatore’s murder. He claims to have found, in the archives of Wiener Musikverein, a sketch in Beethoven's handwriting of a few lines of Mozart's music (which bears the same characteristic triplet figuration) transposed to C minor, the key of the sonata. "In any case, there is no romantic moon-light in this movement: it is rather a solemn dirge", writes Fischer.

II. AllegrettoEdit


The second movement is a relatively conventional scherzo and trio with the first section of the Scherzo not repeated. It is a seeming moment of relative calm written in D major, the more easily notated enharmonic equivalent of C major, the parallel major of the first movement's key, C minor. Franz Liszt is said to have described the second movement as "a flower between two chasms".[21] The slight majority of the movement is in piano, but a handful of sforzandos and forte-pianos helps to maintain the movement's cheerful disposition.

III. Presto agitatoEdit


The stormy final movement (C minor), 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), namely, placement of the most important movement of the sonata last. The writing has many fast arpeggios/broken chords, strongly accented notes, and fast alberti bass sequences that fall both into the right and left hands at various times. An effective performance of this movement demands lively and skillful playing, great stamina, and is significantly more demanding technically than the 1st and 2nd movements.

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".[17]

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 predominance of piano markings throughout.

Autograph score; the first page has evidently been lost

Beethoven's pedal markEdit

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]"[22]). 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.

  • One option is simply to change the sustain pedal periodically where necessary to avoid excessive dissonance. This is seen, for instance, in the editorially supplied pedal marks in the Ricordi edition of the sonata.[23]
  • Half pedaling—a technique involving a partial depression of the pedal—is also often used to simulate the shorter sustain of the early nineteenth century pedal. Charles Rosen suggested either half-pedaling or releasing the pedal a fraction of a second late.[17]
  • Joseph Banowetz suggests using the sostenuto pedal: the pianist should pedal cleanly while allowing sympathetic vibration of the low bass strings to provide the desired "blur". This is accomplished by silently depressing the piano's lowest bass notes before beginning the movement, then using the sostenuto pedal to hold these dampers up for the duration of the movement.[24]


The C minor sonata, particularly the third movement, is held to have been the inspiration for Frédéric Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu, and that the Fantaisie-Impromptu was actually a tribute to Beethoven.[25] 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."[26]

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.[27]

Notes and referencesEdit


  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 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.


  1. ^ a b c 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. ^ See. e.g., Allgemeiner musikalischer Anzeiger. Vol. 9, No. 11, Tobias Haslinger, Vienna, 1837, p. 41.
  7. ^ See, e.g., Ignaz Moscheles, ed. The Life of Beethoven. Henry Colburn pub., vol. II, 1841, p. 109.
  8. ^ Aunt Judy's Christmas Volume. H. K. F. Gatty, ed., George Bell & Sons, London, 1879, p. 60.
  9. ^ Kennedy, Michael. "Moonlight Sonata", from Oxford Dictionary of Music 2nd edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006 rev., p. 589.
  10. ^ "Moonlight Sonata", from Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. J.A. Fuller Maitland, ed., Macmillan and Co., London, 1900, p. 360.
  11. ^ Dubal, David. The Art of the Piano. Amadeus Press, 2004, p. 411.
  12. ^ See, e.g., Wilkinson, Charles W. Well-known Piano Solos: How to Play Them. Theo. Presser Co., Philadelphia, 1915, p. 31.
  13. ^ Mackenzie, Compton. "The Beethoven Piano Sonatas", from The Gramophone, Aug. 1940, p. 5.
  14. ^ Maynard Solomon, Beethoven (New York: Schirmer Books, 1998), p. 139
  15. ^ Note that Beethoven wrote "senza sordino"; see #Beethoven's pedal mark above.
  16. ^ Harding, Henry Alfred (1901). Analysis of form in Beethoven's sonatas. Borough Green: Novello. pp. 28–29.
  17. ^ a b c Rosen, Charles (2002). Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion. Yale University Press. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-300-09070-3.
  18. ^ Life of Beethoven, Alexander Wheelock Thayer, ed. Elliot Forbes, Princeton 1967
  19. ^ Fishko, Sara. "Why do we love the 'Moonlight' Sonata?". NPR. Retrieved 10 May 2011.
  20. ^ Fischer, Edwin (1959). Beethoven's pianoforte sonatas: a guide for students & amateurs. Faber. p. 62.
  21. ^ Brendel, Alfred (2001). Alfred Brendel on music. A Capella Books. p. 71. ISBN 1-55652-408-0.
  22. ^ Translation from Rosenblum 1988, p. 136
  23. ^ William and Gayle Cook Music Library, Indiana University School of Music Beethoven, Sonate per pianoforte, Vol. 1 (N. 1–16), Ricordi
  24. ^ Banowetz, J. (1985). The Pianist’s Guide to Pedaling, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 168.
  25. ^ Oster 1983.
  26. ^ Oster 1983, p. 207.
  27. ^ IMSLP Carl Bohm, "Meditation"


  • Rosenblum, Sandra P. (1988). Performance Practices in Classic Piano Music: Their Principles and Applications. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Oster, Ernst (1983). "The Fantaisie-Impromptu: A Tribute to Beethoven". In David Beach (ed.). Aspects of Schenkerian Analysis. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300028003.
  • Siepmann, Jeremy (1998). The Piano: The Complete Illustrated Guide to the World's Most Popular Musical Instrument.

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