The Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven

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The listening system linked up to his piano used to help, but Beethoven notices the sounds of the acoustic cornet are also fading away.  Suicide is the only solution to, “…the unfairness of life: that he, a musician, could become deaf was something he did not want to live through” (1).  Beethoven did not commit suicide.  Instead he threw himself into his music and proceeded to earn a reputation for being completely untamed emotionally and a fornicator with his students.  Truly a celebrity of his day, Beethoven would have fit in perfectly with the musicians of today.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in 1770 and died 1827.  His grandfather was a Flemish musician and his son, Beethoven’s father, was also a musician who taught piano and violin lessons.  At an early age, Beethoven showed attentiveness for music, which didn’t go unnoticed. His father had limited musical and teaching talents, but spent his downtime instructing his son.  Beethoven’s first formal training in composition and philosophy came from Gottlob Neefe and before he experienced puberty, he was giving public performances and publishing music, “If he continues like this, he will be, without a doubt, the new Mozart” (2), Neefe once bragged.  At age 14, Beethoven became the appointed organist of the court of Maximillian Franz, the Elector of Cologne.  Becoming financially stable, he assumed the role as provider for his family, moved to Vienna and studied music arrangements with composer Joseph Haydyn.  Beethoven’s life flourished in Vienna.  He studied, taught, composed and published music, becoming the world’s first independent composer.  At age 26, Beethoven experienced turmoil in dealing with tinnitus, a ringing in his ears that created hearing loss.  To aid in his disability, he utilized a piano listening system called acoustic cornets and the metronome to indicate preferred tempo in his music.  In the end, he didn’t cope with his deafness and withdrew from his friends and public life.

Personal standards and government behavior were shifting in this era, creating a rise in the middle class.  People had expendable income and wanted access to music performances in their leisure time.  Catering to demand, Beethoven began to arrange public concerts that transformed music lovers into his biggest supporters, “…at the time certain listeners found the symphony strange, overly extravagant, and even risqué.  This genius, Beethoven, who was still a young, new composer, was already pushing the established boundaries of music” (1).  One of Beethoven’s piano sonatas is The Moonlight Sonata, composed in 1801 in Hungary and published in 1802.  It was dedicated to one of his pupils Countess Giulietta Gucciardi.  It has been suggested that the composition is written about Beethoven’s passion and unshared love with Giulietta.  This composition consists of three unique musical movements.  The first called adagio sostenuto, defined as play slowly, but faster than slow tempo and sustain right foot pedal.  Beethoven instructs performers to play the music with delicacy and without dampers.  This movement opens with a prominent sequence of straight beats that can be easily counted as 1, 2, 3, over again.  This comes together with emphasis placed a certain notes, creating an introspective and foreboding atmosphere.  The second called allegretto, defined as a fairly quick tempo and is short in length.  It has been suggested that it is only a connection between the first and third parts.  The bulk of this movement thins and the atmosphere gradually fades away.  The third is called presto agitato, defined as immediate quickness with an element of magic and excited manner.  It is twice in length as the first two movements and has two themes that are interlaced.  The first theme is turbulent that is built on rapid succession and strong emphasis notes.  Distinctively, the second theme is wildly enthusiastic.

I find it alluring that Beethoven did not follow the traditional classical outline of a sonata in The Moonlight Sonata.  Fast-slow-fast is customary, but slow-fast-fast is a better fit that describes the movement character.  The first introduction to this piece of music approaches my ears softly and methodically, like a slow approaching fog.  Before I know it, my mind is consumed with grumbling ghostlike sound suggesting a dark presence may be approaching.  As my body tenses and braces for impact, the notes transition to a happy and optimistic nature that is unexpected.  I let my guard down and again I am transitioned to ferocity of strong accented notes that force unbridled emotion deep in my bones.  The majority of the composers’ effort and emphasis appear to be saved for the last movement.  Skillful piano playing and a demand for changing emotion appear to be necessary for a musician to recreate this piece.  I find the unaccompanied piano music and transitions within the piece exquisite and I am surprised by Beethoven’s assessment of his work, “They are always talking about the C# minor sonata surely I’ve written better things” (3).  Apparently, an artist is his own worst critic.

Work citation:

1-http://www.lvbeethoven.com/Bio/BiographyLudwig.html

2-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_van_Beethoven

3-http://theuniversallanguageofmusicic.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/sonata-quasi-una-fantasia-better-known-as-the-moonlight-sonata/

4-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Nepomuk_Maelzel

5-http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16283109 (tinnitus)

Listen to The Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQVeaIHWWck&feature=em-share_video_user]

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9 responses »

  1. Ah, the perfect brain massage. I enjoyed reading your well written blog. Your comment about the unusual arrangement of the sonata (slow, fast, slow) was enlightening – I had never noticed it before. I wonder if that was one of the reasons for it’s popularity during Beethoven’s time and also today – I saw it is one of the most downloaded classical pieces. The fast part never really gets fast though does it? More like, not quite so slow. That would allow the listener to remain in somewhat the same vicinity of emotion they are placed in from the beginning. It is a very satisfying piece to listen to.
    In looking through your referenced websites I noted with interest about his relation to the metronome – the bane of all eight year old piano students. Did you notice that the monument in the video was in the shape of a metranome? Although the neoclassical influence in architecture is probaby the true reason for it’s monolithic shape, it still brought the methodically ticking box to mind when I saw it! Thanks for choosing this piece!

  2. Wow you really nailed all of the factual information and linked the middle class to this assignment stating that the middle class had more income to enjoy music. I really like how you explored his background and how he thought about committing suicide because of his hearing loss – I never knew that I never knew he was a perv with his students either. very factual and well donee thanks.

  3. You are a very good blog writer. You gave amazing information on this subject. I agree with Beethoven would fit in with todays musicians. It is sad that one with so much talent withdrew from what he did so well do to his hearing loss.

  4. You did an excellent job on your blog. I enjoyed reading the background on Beethoven and an even better job explaining what the music made you feel. I agree that artists are there own worst critics. I thought it was great that Beethoven dared to be different than others, the best artists always are.

  5. Wonderful job once again. I still have yet to find something wrong with your work. You presented all the information necessary, and a little bit more. You had good flow and organization, which is always nice in writing. Personally, I also enjoy how Beethoven mixed up the traditional sonata organization to add another fast section. I find it also catches me by surprise and the piece is better for it.

  6. Wow. That is a LOT of factual information; your blog post reads like a Wikipedia entry! With clear connections between “Moonlight Sonata” and the rise of the middle class, the history behind the music, and the history of the composer, I don’t think you left a stone unturned in your analysis.

    The one thing I think you could have added is the actual work; you might have posted that in your blog entry, or posted a link to it. Still, given the rest of the information and analysis, I don’t think it’s a big deal.

  7. You did an excellent job in your research and the personality in which you stated your facts was fantastic. It was very thorough and well thought out, great job.

  8. I am impressed by how well you linked this to the rise of the middle class, and the change in social perceptions at the time. You also described Moonlight Sonata very well, really giving those who have never listened to this musical piece some idea of what it is. You’re own personal reaction to the music was interesting too. I always like to see what other people think of these classic works. You even touched on the history of Moonlight Sonata, giving us a glimpse into where it came from. I wonder how this piece of music compares to some of Beethoven’s other works—is it representative of classic Beethoven, or is unique to his other work in some way? Nice Job!

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