In our look at the musical content of this sonata we follow the pattern indicated in our introductory comments on music criticism offered here. This pattern offers you comments in the following sequence:
MUSCIOLOGISTS AND BEETHOVEN RESEARCHERS
ACTIVE MUSIC CRITICS
ACTIVE, PERFORMING ARTISTS
Each category can be directly accessed by clicking on the above links. Therefore, if you prefer one kind of comment(s) over another, you can make your own selection.
MUSCOLOGISTS AND BEETHOVEN RESEARCHERS
Here, we want to again feature Maynard Solomon's music criticism on these sonatas, while leaving out his references to the 13th sonata:
"The Sonata, op. 26, initiates this development with its opening Andante con variazioni movement, but fails thereafter to pursue its architectural implications; it remained for the opus 27 Sonatas to bring it to fruition. Each work begins with a slow introductory movement which has the character of a dreamlike improvisation, followed by a scherzo interlude . . . and each closes with a climactic fast movement" (S. 105-106).
Also Barry Cooper discusses the role of these two sonatas, and here, we concentrate on his remarks with respect to Op. 27/2:
"In his next two sonatas, Op. 27, Beethoven moved even further from the conventional sonata pattern--so far, in fact, that he labelled each of them 'Sonata quasi una Fantasia'. . . .
The second of the two sonatas is the so-called 'Moonlight', although this nickname, coined after Beethoven's death, is scarcely appropriate. The popularity of the first movement can easily distract from its remarkable originality. It was rare but not unprecedented to begin a sonata with a slow movement; the sonority and texture, however, were highly novel for a sonata. The movement resembles a Romantic cavatina, with its emphasis on an aria-like melody, accompanied by patterned figuration, all swathed in a misty background caused by the absence of dampers throughout (it is marked 'sempre pianissimo senza sordino'). The beginning has surprisingly much in common with the 'Funeral March' in the Sonata, Op. 26: dotted rhythms, repeated notes on the dominant, a melodic descent to a cadence in the relative major, and immediate substitution of the minor mode of this key. Again there is the feeling of profound tragedy, intensified at times (as in Op. 26) by the use of the flattened supertonic. The second movement provides a sharp contrast of mood, but its cheerful nature might be taken to imply past rather than present happiness, and it is only a brief interlude before the angry and agitated finale. Here the triplets of the first movement are expanded into surging arpeggios that cover almost the whole keyboard, in a sonata-form movement that carries the main weight of the work. Beethoven's persistent desire to create unity, continuity, and forward thrust throughout a whole work finds a new manner of realization in this sonata" (S. 107-108).
ACTIVE MUSIC CRITICS
This time, we can only follow Joachim Kaiser through his introductory remarks on this sonata, since in his general discussion, he immediately turns to the interpretations of this work by various pianists, so that general comments are difficult to separate from these references:
"Die >>Mondschein-Sonate<<. Wagt Hochspannung bis zur Überspannung. >>Durchgebrannt ist alle Mitte.<< Extreme Stille und extreme Wildheit verschränken sich zum bedrohlichen und bedrohten Organismus des Exzentrischen. Auch der mittlere Satz, ein Allegretto, kann weder Mittelpunkt noch harmonischer Ausgleich sein, sondern nur ein kurz retardierendes Moment, das den extremen Haltungen der Ecksätze zarte Phrasierungsunterschiede entgegenält.
Erster Satz: Radikal einfaches Material, organisiert zum rätselvoll dreistimmigen Adagio. >>Quasi una Fantasia<< überschrieben wie Opus 27 Nr. 1, verbietet die cis-Moll-Sonate sich zunächst alle Lagenwechsel, alle Offenheit für improvisatorische Spontaneität. Ein leises, tiefsinnig objektiviertes Nachtstück entfaltet und begräbt seine Klage in streng geordneter Zeit.
Den spielerischen Kontrast zwischen empfindsamem legato und kapriziöserem staccato trägt das Allegretto aus -- sogar in seinem Trio. Das Preso agitato schließlich zwingt rückhaltlose Ausdrucksekstase in einen durchkomponierten Vorgang. Affekte solcher Gewalt mochte sich Klaviermusik bislang noch nicht zutrauen, zumuten.
Wir haben uns mittlerweile gewöhnt an die Ungewöhnlichkeit der Sonate, als wäre es nicht doch ein Wunder, daß die starren und explodierenden Inständigkeiten dieses cis-Moll-Alptraums eine so klare, sinnfällige Form fanden, ohne irgend etwas von ihrer rhapsodischen Direktheit einzubüßen. Dergleichen komponiert selbst ein Beethoven kein zweites Mal. Kein Wunder, dass >>der Meister<< sich in späteren Jahren sogar abfällig über diesen exhibitionistischen Ausbruch äußerte...
Unaustilgbar lebendig, wie die Sonate selbst, bleibt auch ihr Beiname >>Mondschein-Sonate<<. Und fast so unaustilgbar scheint die immer wieder verägert vorgetragene Polemik gegen diese Bezeichnung. Aber der Streit um den Namen wirkt müßig. Denn eindeutig und provozierend falsch könnte die Mondschein-Assoziation doch nur dann sein, wenn >>Mondschein<< irgend ettwas Bestimmtes bedeutete, für irgendeine klarumrissene Haltung oder Stimmung einstünde. Das aber ist nicht der Fall: die Mondschein-Assoziation kann ebenso idyllische Sentimentalität meinen wie bleiche Verzweiflung, Wandern, Wahnsinn und Tod. Hier seien, statt zahlloser Belege für diese einigermaßen banale Behauptung, nur zwei Goethezitate angeführt. Das erste stammt aus dem >Faust I< und ist Beethoven mit Sicherheit bekannt gewesen, denn 1822 erörterte er ja mit Friedrich Rochlitz eine >>Faust<<-Komposition, ähnlich der >>Egmont<<-Musik. Kurz vor seinem Selbstmordversuch sagt Faust in der Studierstube: >>O sähst du, voller Mondenschein, / Zum letztenmal auf meine Pein.<< Da verbinden sich Mondschein-Assoziation und Selbstmordwunsch. Einen anderen, die Fülle möglicher Mondschein Assoziationen andeutenden Mondsatz richtete Goethe am 10.4.1800 an Schiller. Er schickte dem Freund ein Teleskop und bemerkte: >>Es war eine Zeit, wo man den Mond nur empfinden wollte, jetzt will man ihn sehen.<< Goethe spricht da vom Mond als von einem allmählich aus der Mode gekommenen Empfindsamkeitssymbol.
Der viebespöttelte Name >>Mondschein-Sonate<< signalisiert also nichts eigentlich Bestimmtes, sondern nur das Durchaus Besondere des Werkes. Beethoven hat in Opus 27 Nr. 2 einen exzentrischen Punkt seines Komponierens erreicht" (Kaiser: 253 - 254;--
-- The >>Moonlight Sonata<<, begins Joachim Kaiser and states that it dares to carry >>high voltage<< to the point of >>too much high voltage<< and that >>any possible center has been burnt through<<, that extreme silence and extreme wildness unite to form a threatening organism of the eccentric so that also the middle movement, an Allegretto, can neither be considered a center nor a harmonic balance, but only a brief, delaying moment, contrasting the extreme statements of the outer movements with tender phrasing nuances.
Of the first movement, Kaiser writes that it contains radically simple material that is organized into a mysterious Adagio, and that this Sonata, also, like Op. 27, No. 1, described as >>Quasi una Fantasia<<, at first, refuses all changes in position, all openness for improvising spontaneity, so that a quiet, profound nocturnal piece unfolds and buries its mourning in strictly ordered time.
The playful contrast between sensitive legato and capricious staccato, continues Kaiser, is carried out by the Allegretto, and that even in its trio, while the Presto agitato forces vehement expressive ecstasy into a through-composed process, and that expressiveness of this kind has not been dared, before.
Meanwhile, states Kaiser, we have become used to the unusual character of this sonata, as if it was not a miracle that the stiff and exploding intensity of this c-sharp-minor nightmare found such an evidently clear form without losing any of its rhapsodic directness, and that even a Beethoven would not compose something like this, a second time, so that it is no wonder that the >>master<<, in later years, even criticized this exhibitionistic outburst....
Indestructibly alive, as the sonata itself, continues Kaiser, remains also its nickname, >>Moonlight Sonata<<, and almost as indestructible are the polemics of its criticism. However, argues Kaiser, the discussion of this name appears a moot point, and that the >>moonlight<< association could only be provokingly wrong if >>moonlight<< would mean something specific and would stand for a clearly defined attitude or mood, which is not the case, as the moonlight association could either refer to idyllic sentimentality or to pale despair, wandering and death. Here, continues Kaiser, he wants to offer two examples in form of quotes from Goethe's works, of which the first is from >Faust I< and must certainly have been known to Beethoven, since in 1822, he discussed his possible composition of >>Faust<< with Friedrich Rochlitz, a work that was supposed to be similar to the >>Egmont<< music. Shortly before his suicide attempt, Faust says in his study, >>O sähst du, voller Mondenschein, / Zum letztenmal auf meine Pein.<< (Oh would you, full moonlight, look at my pain one last time). Here, argues Kaiser, moonlight association and suicide attempt are combined. Then he refers to another comment by Goethe which he made in his letter to Schiller of April 10, 1800, when he sent him a telescope, >>Es war eine Zeit, wo man den Mond nur empfinden wollte, jetzt will man ihn sehen.<< (There was a time when one only wanted to feel the moon, and now one wants to see it). Here, states Kaiser, Goethes speaks of the moon as a symbol for sensitivity that had gone out of fashion.
Therefore, concludes Kaiser, the much-jested nickname >>Moonlight Sonata<< actually does not signal anything specific, but only the special character of the work, and that in Op. 27, No. 2, Beethoven had reached an eccentric point in his composing).
After this description of Kaiser's introductory comment to this sonata, we were able to isolate one further reference to it from his general discussion, and it refers to our quote from Grossheim's letter to Beethoven from the year 1819, to which Kaiser still comments as follows:
"Daß Beethovens Adagio von einer Totenklage inspiriert oder gar selber Totenklage sei, läßt sich aber nicht nur aus anderen biographischen Details, sondern weit plausibler aus einigen Skizzen erschließen. Beethoven hat sich -- seit Georges de Saint Fox den Sachverhalt entdeckte, schreibt ihn ein Kommentator vom anderen ab, warum sollen wir nun gerade hier eine Ausnahme machen? -- aus Mozarts >>Don Giovanni<< die Musik zum Tode des Komturs notiert. Das Orchester spielt da an entscheidender Stelle der >>Don Giovanni<<-Partitur genau jene traurigen Achtel-Triolen, denen wir -- transponiert -- in Beethovens Mondschein-Sonate begegnen. . . . " (Kaiser: 257; --
-- Kaiser argues here that Beethoven's Adagio being inspired by mourning or even representing mourning can not only be derived from other biographical details, but even more plausibly from some of his sketches to this work. Kaiser refers to the much-reported fact that Beethoven has noted down for himself from Mozart's >>Don Giovanni<< score the music on the death of Komtur, in which the orchestra, at the relevant section of the score, plays precisely those sad triplets of eights that we encounter in a transposed manner in Beethoven's >>Moonlight<< Sonata. . . . ).
ACTIVE, PERFORMING ARTISTS
Anton Kuerti's overview, in addition to a brief discussion of the "popularity" of this sonata, contains many helpful hints that arise out of his special insight as an active pianist:
Of course, Kuerti also asks him self as to why this so-called >>Moonlight<< Sonata has become so >>notorious<<, although it, as one of Beethoven's most abstract works, gains its strength from its texture and from its subtle, yet effective harmonic sequences and, due to this, can hardly be considered a work of which one should expect that it turns out to be a hit, and he attributes this turn of events, at least in part, to its >>popular<< nickname.
However, continues Kuerti, this sonata is actually one of Beethoven's most original and inventive works that addresses a broad emotional range, with its hypnotic, solemn first movement, and with the tragic, powerful passion of the last movement. Particularly its fame and its commercial exploitation has, as Kuerti states, undermined its rightful place in the concert hall, since it has been played too often and since it has been exploited by the extreme agitators of the so-called >>Muzak<< mood >>music<<. Moreover, argues Kuerti (note of this Beethoven friend: very rightfully!!!), these vandals present this sonata very often in a form that is hardly recognizable, any more, in either presenting it over-dramatically or over-romantically, which leads to the situation that the artist who interprets this work authentically, is accused of understatement. Kuerti holds that this sonata is best rendered when it is played very subtly and reserved. Beethoven, writes Kuerti, had even instructed that "die ganze Sonate mit der äußersten Feinfühligkeit gespielt" (the entire sonata should be played with the utmost sensitivity) and that, in the score, he often had left his pp instruction. For the mood, writes Kuerti, the accompaniment is important, the soft yet unavoidable triplet sequence of which touches us until it dissipates shortly before the final chords.
In Kuerti's opinion, most players over-emphasize the rhythm of the theme, which lends it a too precise effect, for which reason he prefers to play it as Beethoven has instructed. (Kuerti: 29-30)
Kuerti describes the second movement as a short, graceful and tender minuet. Its effect is still heightened by its position between the prominent outer movements, so that Liszt described this movement as "Blume zwischen zwei Abgründen" (flower between two abysses). However, states Kuerti, we are dealing here with a very refined flower, in spite of its apparent simplicity. . . . (Kuerti: 30).
Kuerti writes that this finale represents one of Beethoven's most powerful, temperamental outbursts, full of merciless upheavals, droning sonorities and pleading melodies, and that the main theme begins with the same three notes with which the first movement begins, which means that they are obviously derived from it. He describes this movement as having been composed in sonata form and when we imagine it as a Rondo, we can understand the necessity of the insertion of such >>angry<< content.
The breathleass second theme, continues Kuerti, dominates the development and its effect it still heightened by the fact that it moves from the tremolo to the bass. A trace of minor mood moves through the movement and is only interrupted once, continues Kuerti, when the second theme, for a moment, is moving to the Major key, while an impressive cadenza highlights the character of the entire work, once more, and concludes it majestically. (Kuerti: 30).
Here, we offer you a chance to listen to a midi file of this sonata, via the following link:
Kunst der Fuge: Beethoven-Sonatas
We wish you a great deal of listening enjoyment!
For those of you who want to explore this topic further in a serious manner, we can offer you a link to the Beethoven Bibliography Data Base of the Ira Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies in San Jose, California:
Opus 27/2 - Search