When you think of Moonlight Sonata, you probably think of this peaceful relaxing piano piece that you can listen to after a long day and unwind with a cup of tea. And you would have the right idea. But it’s more than that. That is only the first five minutes of it.
“Moonlight” is a nickname for Beethoven’s 14th piano sonata or Piano Sonata Op. 27 No. 2. The Op. (or Opus) gives you an idea of when it was published. The higher the number, the later it was published. Beethoven has stuff from Opus 111, which is from later in his life. So, this sonata being Op. 27, it was written earlier.
And now you may be asking, “Why is it called a piano sonata?” A piano sonata is a work for solo piano that consists of movements (separate pieces) which together make up the whole work. These movements can be different in character/mood and tempo. In the “Moonlight Sonata”, it starts with a slow movement, then has a faster second movement, and a really fast last movement. So the most popular movement, which you may know already, is the first of three movements, the slowest movement.
Now a little about Beethoven and his music. Beethoven is the composer who went deaf in his later years. That is not something you want to happen, especially as a musician. But yet he composed some of his best works (IMO) while being almost entirely or completely deaf. That is talent right there. He wrote 32 piano sonatas (also 32 variations) and they just kept getting better and better as he got deafer and deafer (we will look at some more in the future). He composed in the late Classical era (or early Romantic) so he was the composer who helped transition into the Romantic era (see Classical Era and Romantic Era pages for more info about these styles of music). His early music sounds very much like something in the Classical era, but his later compositions are more Romantic-era sounding, setting the stage for the early Romantic era composers.
Now let’s compare the movements of this sonata:
00:00- 1st Movement: This is the part you know. You may notice this movement sounding sad, that’s because it’s in a minor key. Notice how often the music gets softer or louder (this is called dynamics), it doesn’t stay the same volume throughout the entire sonata, which helps bring out the emotions of the piece.
05:25- 2nd Movement: A faster movement that is a little shorter and is happier in mood, which means in a major key.
07:43- 3rd Movement: Everyone is awake now, and we’re back to the minor key. This is just one of many epic Beethoven Piano Sonata finales. 🙂
So next time you hear someone say they love Moonlight Sonata, ask them how they like the last movement, and you may discover they don’t know the last movement. Chances are they don’t know it if they’re not a music nerd. Try it.