As a pianist with around eight years of experience, I thought it was high time for me to learn one of the most timeless pieces ever written: Sonata Quasi Una Fantasia Op. 27, No. 2, otherwise known as Moonlight Sonata, by Beethoven. Aside from its raw beauty, it sounded fairly easy, it looked fairly easy, and it was only four pages, so I was expecting to finish it fairly quickly and move on to something more challenging.
“Moonlit Coastline” by Kevin Hill
When I told my teacher, he nodded sagely. “I know just the book!”
He rummaged through his shelves and produced said book with a flourish. It seemed much longer to me than four pages, but as he flipped through it, I saw a good chunk was filled with the editor’s notes. Of course.
Then my teacher arrived at the start of the piece. “See, this is pretty easy,” he commented as he flipped the page. “Similar notes undulating throughout the section, and it ends here. You should be fine.”
I nodded, all pumped up to start.
Then he got a faint glimmer in his eyes, and flipped the page. “The second movement isn’t very well-known, but I think it’s fun and that you should play it. It’s only two pages.”
Second movement…I vaguely remembered something about sonatas being made up of three movements, but since I had only heard the first one, I had always assumed…well, anyways, the notes looked even simpler than the first movement.
Then my teacher grinned and his eyes sparkled as he flipped the page. “And you’re definitely learning the third movement!”
Notice the “Presto” marking in the upper-left corner. That means “Super-duper fast” in Italian.
I stared at the notes. The notes laughed at me.
Then he flipped the page. Again. And again. And again. Until I counted a total of sixteen pages.
Gulping, I looked up at my teacher to double check, but he had already plunked the book on the music stand.
“This will be a really good recital piece for you!”
To my relief, it turned out that I didn’t have to polish and memorize the entire 22 page sonata for the upcoming Spring recital. Only the crazy fast, sixteen page third movement.
So instead of the famous, beautifully tranquil first movement, I ended up focusing on the not-as-famous, passionately angry third movement.
By passionately angry, I mean violent, fiery, and wrathful.
Curious to see the reason behind Beethoven’s consuming rage, I did what any millennial would: Google it. Turns out that Beethoven dedicated this magnificent sonata to Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, who was one of his piano students. He proposed marriage to her, but her father wouldn’t allow it, calling Beethoven a man “without rank, fortune, or permanent employment.”
But, at the very least, this clearly explained the entire sonata. The first movement is full of melancholy longing, desire for the woman he loved. The second is peppier, bringing to mind memories of happy times with her. The third is a sixteen-page rant (yes, I’m so obsessed with that number) letting out all of his anger of not being able to marry her.
By the time I was able to play that last movement the whole way through, my fingers felt like octopus tentacles by page four, my arms burned like a blistering hot summer day by page ten, and by the last page my soul felt drained and utterly spent. It didn’t help that my notes sounded smudgy and dragging.
Then one day, Micah antagonized me. I don’t remember what he did – I don’t particularly want to remember – but in any case, I was as mad as you can get from the antics of a little brother.
So mad, in fact, that I felt like punching a tree and stomping on an ant hill and tearing across the country in a wild dash.
But it just so happened that it was time for me to go practice piano.
I plopped myself down on the piano bench, threw open the lid, and started banging away, steaming and fuming as my fingers flew across the keys.
Eight pages through, when my anger was beginning to give way to exhaustion, I realized something magical. I had just played all of that perfectly. Clear notes, light fingers, loud notes, and, most importantly, a steady, presto tempo that didn’t die away.
The secret to playing this movement is to be angry.
So when the recital rolled around, I did my best to feel angry, which was actually harder to do than I thought. I’m a relatively quiet, tranquil individual, preferring to forgive and forget (to be brutally honest, I’m too lazy to stay angry for long.) And while I waited for my turn to play, I felt more nervous than angry.
Still, being angry was the secret, so for once, I made use of my hyperactive imagination. I doubled down and hunched over the piano like I was mad, and I added in a glare or two. This was the result, and I must say, despite all my groanings and moanings, I’m rather proud of it.
And yes, I totally deserve the I told you so look my teacher had on his face. He’s so patiently wonderful, and without him I couldn’t play half as well as I do. This one is for you, dear teacher!
3 thoughts on “Moonlight Sonata – Beethoven”
I know this is an old post but…*jaw drops* wow!!! That’s so amazing how you accidentally found out that the secret was to be angry, lol! This is inspiring me to try learning this piece now. XD
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Pffftt the age of the post matters not, I always love to hear your thoughts! 😀 And yes yes yes, you must learn this piece! It really comes in handy when you want to blow off steam XD Tell me how it goes if you do!
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Hahaha yes!!! I’ll definitely let you know how it goes if I learn it!!
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