Friday, January 10, 2014

The Moonlight Sonata: Good Taste Rides Again

There is a reason why two masterworks by Beethoven are so universally loved.  Each is, in its way, a perfect composition.  Fuer Elise is a distillation of every musical impulse within an encrytped love note to Therese (3 E's, 3 consonants) -- it sings, it dances, it tells a story.  The "Moonlight" Sonata is an unparalleled revelation of the piano sound: its reversal of customary white-key dominance displays as few other pieces do, the difference between black-key and white-key consonance.  (Beethoven's Op. 78 F# major Sonata treats the same subject.)

My young adult came in with the "Moonlight"  today.  What note is most prominent in your mind as you contemplate the piece?  He put his finger first on a G, then on a G#.  How do you spell the G in this key?  Has to be Fx, says he.  Right.  That is the point of the entire piece, witness the exposed Fx - G# measure toward the end of movement III.

We went on from there, touching on the difference between approaching complex figurations as technical problems and as fascinating interactions between touch and resonance.

We touched also on Beethoven's fascination with that most boring of figures, the Alberti figure, the subject of at least two years of his creative life (1801-2), a period put down by many musicians as not on a par with later years.  I beg to differ.  In these repeated figures lies the essence of active listening -- a repetition cannot be a repeat.

There is no composition more routinely murdered by professional pianists than the "Moonlight" Sonata.