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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Beethoven's Moonopolitan Sonata

Beethoven's first movement from his Moonlight Sonata is one of the most recognizable of his works. It's lush triplet rhythm is a sweet melancholy for the listener. One aspect which makes this Piano Sonata different is Beethoven's well placed Neapolitan chords. Beethoven begins the piece softly and fluidly with smooth triplets in in the tonic c#minor. However, in measure three he catches the audience of guard and disrupts the sleepy first two measures with a Neapolitan sixth chord in the third beat of the measure. The d natural sticks out and fleshes out the texture to give the line momentum. This chord is exciting because the listener realizes right away that this isn't some beautiful lullaby it is a painful and wrenching line against a rolling accompaniment.
The poly rhythmic effect of the melody against the accompaniment helps to highlight Beethoven's harmonic choices. The performer cannot help but rise and fall with the momentum and movement of the progression. Beethoven gives instruction in his score as to how the performer should interpret his role. The translation is "the performer should play the part with great delicacy and without dampers." So, Beethoven obviously wanted a sea of sound for this piece. That is why is is so interesting that he chooses to use Neapolitan chords throughout the piece. The way the dissonances expand into the other chords is eerie in some places. For example, when the original a section is reiterated at the end of the piece Beethoven uses a Neapolitan sixth in measure fifty and then oozes into the dominant. The performer I listened to chose to crescendo a little bit through measures forty-nine and fifty to bring out this progression and then he backed away as the melody descended. This created a nice "windy" effect and gave the line itself more drive.
It would be easy to emote through this piece because it is written so well. Since the style is delicate but the sound is full and uncontrolled the piece itself seems to be expressing it's inner feelings. The piece moves quickly because it is so intense. Although it seems relaxed and easy playing, the chords are aggravated at times and the poly rhythmic quality of the melody causes the piece to feel restless. However, because Beethoven structures the entire piece around a thick texture he manages to make the simple melody very touching.
Through a rolling rhythmic structure, a unique and simple melody, and vivid harmonies like Neapolitan chords Beethoven makes his Moonlight Sonata memorable. The piece is gorgeous sounding even with all of its strange harmonies and irregular rhythm. The picture it paints is rich and complex but it is bittersweet and quaint at the same time.


Anonymous said...

This was very helpful, thankyou. It really is a lovely composition.

warriorMMA said...

great post i learn a lot from reading it i hope this will help since i am leaning how to play this piece for now just the first movement