Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata explained

Stephen Hough has made an interesting decision on this tour to perform the well known and yet rarely performed Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. But why is it called the Moonlight Sonata? Limelight Magazine recently looked at the background to some of Classical music’s most famous nicknames:

This sonata actually has two titles: one given by Beethoven himself, and the other by the music critic Ludwig Rellstab, five years after Beethoven’s death. Rellstab’s is by far the more poetic: he claimed that the serenity of the first movement brought to mind the calm of Lake Lucerne under a moonlit sky. Beethoven’s title is drier and more composerly, and it is hardly ever used, but it tells us a lot about what Beethoven was trying to do. He described the piece as Quasi una fantasia – almost a fantasia: this draws attention to its unusual structure. Sonatas of Beethoven’s day typically began with a fast movement which had a fixed shape: two themes were presented in full, one after the other, then broken down into smaller elements which could be transformed in various ways to move away from the original material. The movement would then end with a return home to the original themes. It’s a structure which has a very strong sense of direction, of movement towards a conclusion which seems inevitable. In this sonata, however, Beethoven was explicitly rejecting that well-worn path, setting the music free to travel or linger at its own leisure.
Natalie Shea

Stephen Hough performs in Hobart Town Hall tonight at 8pm.


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Welcome to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season blog. Here you can follow and read more about our wonderful touring artists.

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