An Essay on Ludwig van Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (First Movement)

Where does one begin, when describing the legendary sound of the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Piano Sonata No. 14, or Sonata quasi una fantasia? Surely one of the most recognizable pieces of Classical music, it’s transcended generations, ages and critics to remain one of the foremost beautiful, universally recognized pieces of music.

From the mighty blow of the first chord of the first movement, the journey begins on a troubling, nerve-wracking note, building and twisting. At times it tricks me as though it’s letting go, but it’s an illusion. The winding arpeggios suck me in, the supporting chords hammering away at my brain through the air, filling every nerve ending, overpowering the senses.

Many cry listening to the Moonlight Sonata, I can only imagine because of the depth to which it pierces the soul with builds which peak, leaving me thirsting for more, but then bring me back down to earth. I listen to this piece quite often when in a somber mood, it just happens naturally. Grey skies, the rain, wind blowing across a field at night, a chilly beach without swimmers, a lonely leaf spinning to the ground as it streaks across the autumn sky. For me, the Moonlight Sonata is a sobering reminder of the ups and downs of life, and that everything is finite, with a beginning and an end.

At times, within the six or so minute period from beginning to end, it can become difficult or easy to breathe, the chest feels heavy then light, thoughts rush through the brain at magnificent speeds.

When the heart aches, I turn to the Moonlight Sonata for the somber comfort. The piece grounds me, helps me deconstruct complex issues into smaller, manageable ones, with each stroke of the keys. The melody carries me into the future, leaving behind moments of regret and pain, infusing them into the way I perceive this piece, over time. And thus, over time it becomes increasingly difficult to sit through this piece, parts of my life attached to every measure. But, at the same time, I am drawn to it, as if it is my favorite release. Sometimes I listen to it over and over again, hanging on every note, every progression, sometimes I listen to it as I fall asleep, and sometimes it’s playing in my head when I wake up in the morning.

The Moonlight Sonata, to me, often serves as a reminder of something constant, everpresent in a constantly changing world where every day is different, people and places come and go, but in the Sonata I can always find an escape into a place inside or myself which never changes. Just like putting down words on paper, it sometimes just feels good to hear that familiar sound which is organic to my mind.

If you’re somehow not yet overly familiar with the piece in question, you may listen to it on YouTube.

At one point I even attempted to re-imagine it, but fell far short of my own expectations, the monstrosity of that result lies here, on my Soundcloud; an endlessly ongoing project, which perhaps I will have enough skill and finesse to finish one day.

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