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Why Do We Love the 'Moonlight' Sonata?

Why Do We Love the 'Moonlight' Sonata?

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Moonlight

Beethoven finished his Piano Sonata No. 14, nicknamed the "Moonlight," in 1801. Tom Hahn/iStockPhoto hide caption

toggle caption Tom Hahn/iStockPhoto

It has been recorded by everyone from Geza Anda to Dieter Zechlin. Forward-looking, iconoclastic modern pianists record it; so do classicists, and big-name stars give it a try. With more than 80 available recordings, pianists continue to return to Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata.

"Surely I've written better things," Beethoven said of his Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Opus 27, No. 2. So why does everybody play the "Moonlight"?

Beethoven specified that the piece's famous first movement should be played "Quasi una fantasia" — almost a fantasy — and it has certainly inspired many a fantasy, passion, and parody. But maybe the answer lies somewhere in the 13 different versions heard here.

Note: This essay was first broadcast in 2000.

Five 'Moonlights,' 1st Mvt.

Cover for Beethoven: Piano Sonatas
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor ("Moonlight"), Op. 27/2
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Artur Schnabel

  • Song: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor ("Moonlight"), Op. 27/2
  • from Beethoven: Piano Sonatas

Artur Schnabel's recordings of Beethoven sonatas still remain definitive; his brisk "Moonlight" was waxed in 1934.

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Cover for Annie Fischer
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor ("Moonlight"), Op. 27/2
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Annie Fischer

  • Song: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor ("Moonlight"), Op. 27/2

The Hungarian pianist Annie Fischer recorded this enduring version in late 1958 and early 1959.

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Annie Fischer
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Annie Fischer
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Annie Fischer
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EMI
Released
1996

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Cover for Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. Pathétique, Mondschein, Appassionata
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor ("Moonlight"), Op. 27/2
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Emil Grigoryevich Gilels

  • Song: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor ("Moonlight"), Op. 27/2
  • from Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. Pathétique, Mondschein, Appassionata

Originally from the Ukraine, Emil Gilels performed this slower interpretation live in Moscow in 1968.

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Cover for Beethoven: Favourite Piano Sonatas
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor ("Moonlight"), Op. 27/2
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Vladimir Ashkenazy

  • Song: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor ("Moonlight"), Op. 27/2
  • from Beethoven: Favourite Piano Sonatas

Before Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy branched out into conducting, he cut this classic 1978 study.

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Beethoven: Favourite Piano Sonatas
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Vladimir Ashkenazy
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London
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1997

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Cover for Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 13, 14, 17, 21
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor ("Moonlight"), Op. 27/2
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Maurizio Pollini

  • Song: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor ("Moonlight"), Op. 27/2
  • from Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 13, 14, 17, 21

The Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini ventured this version of Beethoven's Opus 27, No. 2 in 1991.

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Artist
Maurizio Pollini
Label
Deutsche Grammophon
Released
2001

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