Analysis of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

I really enjoyed the piece, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, or the Moonlight Sonata. One of the reasons that I liked this piece is that it is very interesting to listen to: it uses a wide range of dynamics, tempos, and structures throughout, which allow each new part of the piece to be musically interesting throughout, without being repetitive. Alongside this, the progression of dynamics, tempos, and structures followed a through line, allowing me to easily follow along with the piece and understand the general path that the piece follows.

I also enjoyed this performer, Claudio Arrau, and his performance of this piece, because his performance of the piece is, in addition to through the piano, through his body as well. He clearly was able to enjoy performing this piece, which increased my own enjoyment as well. The piece starts out feeling very structured: a slow and steady pace, with a familiar structure and melodic line throughout the movement. As the second movement begins, the piece becomes more surprising. The addition of staccato chords into the piece, as well as a wider range of dynamics and note lengths is surprising, and begins to create the sense that the structure from the first movement is crumbling.

Although it is the shortest of the movements, it serves as a vital transition into the third and final movement. At this point, the feeling of structure from the first movement has completely degenerated, and we are left with a wide range of dynamics, a faster tempo than we have heard thus far, and quick transitions between different phrases. What is most striking about this movement is the sudden dynamic changes, as well as the sudden shifts, from one musical phrase to the next. This completes the devolution of the structure of the music, from calm and structured to frantic and disorganized.

Beethoven wrote Moonlight Sonata in 1801, at the age of 30 years old. This piece was written shortly after he had lost his hearing from a freak accident, which could be possibly a reason we see the degeneration of structure in this piece, as he had seen a similar degeneration in his own life, through the loss of his hearing. As Beethoven himself said, “I must confess that I am living a miserable life. For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf. If I had any other profession it would be easier, but in my profession it is a terrible handicap.” The degeneration in the music may have, then been inspired by the degeneration of his hearing in his own life.

Something that we talked in class about on Tuesday was dynamics, and the differences in dynamics, as well as the concept of legato. These two concepts are very important in this piece, as the legato sections and constant dynamics provide the sense of stability, and the staccato sections and sudden dynamic shifts provide the sense of franticness that we find in the second and third movements.

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