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Sarah Strausser
English 101:11
12 December 2014
The Artwork of Beethovens Moonlight Sonata
The rest of the auditorium is dark except for the bright spotlight focused solely on me. I
feel the heat of the spotlight and over a thousand pairs of eyes almost burning through my skin.
The auditorium is completely silent except for the clicks of my high heels on the wooden stage
as I walk up to the piano bench. I sit down, wipe my sweaty, shaky palms on my dress, and take
a deep breath. As soon as my fingers touch the keys, I no longer notice any of the audience or
cameras focused on me. I am in my own world, and notice only the sensation of my fingers
gliding across the keys and my foot smoothly controlling the damper pedal. I feel an
indescribable sense of emotion as I pour my years of practice and refinement into one final
fifteen-minute performance. As I play the final chord, I feel a great sense of emotions ranging
from serenity, to euphoria, to relief, and have no doubt that my final performance of Beethovens
Moonlight Sonata is a grand work of art.
Art consists of more than mere paintings and drawings. Art is an expression of skill and
imagination that produces works to be appreciated for their beauty and emotional power (Art).
Art is not constrained by a strict set of rules, as the rules of certain artworks may be bent or
broken to create new and unique artwork. The Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor Quasi una
Fantasia, Op. 27, No. 2, or commonly known as Beethovens Moonlight Sonata, is a powerful
work of art that breaks some of the rules of classical music, defines the rules for the Romantic
Era, and allows each pianist to stylistically define his or her own performance through the art of

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rule-breaking. By either following or breaking certain rules, each pianist creates their own form
of art expression, which makes each performance of the Moonlight Sonata a unique work of art.
Beethovens Moonlight Sonata breaks some of the rules of traditional classical music, yet
still remains an expression of skill and imagination that is appreciated for its beauty and
emotional power. Classical music fluctuates in mood and may change gradually to express the
emotions of the composer (Characteristics). Beethovens Moonlight Sonata follows this rule,
as the mood continually fluctuates throughout the piece to express different types of emotions.
Characteristically, classical music is balanced, symmetrical, and highly structured
(Characteristics). Artists during the classical period expressed their feelings through the use of
many crescendos and diminuendos (increase and decrease in the volume, respectively).
Beethovens Moonlight Sonata breaks these rules as the piece is much more flexible and conveys
vastly different emotions between the three movements. The first movement is very quiet and
somber, while the second movement shifts to a very fast and light pace. The final movement
features heavy, accented notes and is played very loudly compared to the first two movements.
The vast differences in tempo and expression convey different emotions in each movement. The
Moonlight Sonata is a very emotional and contemplative artwork, and therefore it is important to
avoid abrupt dynamic changes unlike the classical style (Symphony).
The traditional sonata form consists of tempo changes to express different emotions
throughout the piece and the tempo progresses as fast, slow, fast, fast (Characteristics).
Beethoven breaks some of the rules of traditional classical music, yet does so in a very skillful
and imaginative manner. For example, Moonlight Sonata is written in C# minor, a key that is
very rarely used in classical music, and does not follow standard sonata form. Instead, the tempo
progresses from slow, to moderate, to extremely fast (Green). The art of rule breaking within the

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piece creates an unprecedented style of music. While Beethoven breaks the rules of the classical
era, the stylistic changes and skills used in the Moonlight Sonata are very fitting to the emotions
conveyed in the piece. Despite straying from the rules of the classical era, Moonlight Sonata
remains a work of art, as it is a matchless expression of skill and imagination that is appreciated
for its emotional power.
Although Beethoven broke the rules of classical music, he pioneered the Romantic Era by
defining and following the newly created rules for the new musical time period. By creating new
works of art, Beethoven bridged the highly structured classical era to the rule-breaking Romantic
Era (Sherrane). The Romantic Era is stylistically defined by more interpretive freedom, long
melodies, irregular phrases, frequent changes in tempo, and the expression of intense emotion
(Miller). The first movement of Moonlight Sonata, called adagio sostenuto, is played very
quietly and expresses somber emotion (Beethoven). In fact, the first movement evokes so much
emotion that Hector Berlioz, a composer of the Romantic Period, stated that, The Adagio is one
of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify (Rosen 156). While difficult
to describe in words, the sound of the triplet played by the right hand and the bass octave played
by the left hand is almost immediately recognizable to anyone who has heard the piece before.
The first movement is so vastly expressive and deviates so greatly from any general sonata that
German critic Paul Bekker stated, The opening sonata-allegro movement gave the work a
definite character from the beginning which succeeding movements could supplement but not
change. Beethoven rebelled against this determinative quality in the first movement. He wanted a
prelude, an introduction, not a proposition (Sonata No. 14). The Moonlight Sonata is
considered so memorable and expressive because Beethoven broke the rules of the standard
sonata form, yet still created a powerful work of art and defined new rules for the Romantic Era.

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The second movement, called allegretto, is the form of a scherzo, a comic composition
that is fast moving and used in the place of a minuet and trio, which was popularized by
Beethoven (Green). The second movement is written in D flat major, a light and playful key, as
opposed to the first and third movements, which are written in C# minor, a very somber key
(Beethoven). The key change from minor to major affects the mood of the piece and expresses
new feelings as a work of art. Key changes from a minor key to a major key rarely occur in
classical music. Beethoven broke this rule, which led to common key changes in the Romantic
style, thus allowing composers of the period to express multiple emotions in one piece and add
unique artistic flourishes.
The third movement, called presto agitato, is the heaviest of the three movements and is
defined by heavily accented notes and rapid progressions between phases (Green). This
movement is very heavy because of the dominating bass notes that overshadow the rapid treble
notes. The third movement is played fortissimo (very loudly) as opposed to the first movement,
which is played pianissimo (very quietly). Beethoven defined the vast difference between each
movement through creative imagination and skill, thus rendering the Moonlight Sonata a great
work of art. The third movement conveys such great emotion that Charles Rosen, an
accomplished American pianist, stated, it is the most unbridled in its representation of emotion.
Even today, two hundred years later, its ferocity is astonishing (Beethovens). Beethovens
rule-breaking and eccentric use of tempo and dynamic change to convey intense emotion
validates the Moonlight Sonata as artwork.
Beethovens Moonlight Sonata is art because each pianist who plays the piece will add
his or her imagination and skill to the performance. For example, each pianist may experience
different emotions and choose to emphasize different notes, tempos, and chords to stylistically

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define the piece with their own imagination, skill, and emotion. The manner in which I perform
The Moonlight Sonata may differ greatly from the manner in which Beethoven performed it, yet
both performances still remain works of art. Just as each painter uses different techniques to
create artwork, each pianist also uses different techniques to create artwork. No two
performances are exactly the same, and each pianist can choose to break/bend the rules of
Beethovens Moonlight Sonata to make it their own work of art.
Piano playing is undoubtedly a great expression of artwork to be appreciated for its
beauty and emotional power. David Lanz, a Grammy-nominated pianist, says of piano playing,
The piano is a divinely inspired instrument, a mirror held up to a players soul that captures the
light and shadow of the performer and reflects them back to the listener (Bradley Joseph). In
order to convey emotion, sometimes it is necessary to break the rules of the piece. There is often
an indescribable sensation that a pianist feels when he or she becomes emotionally involved in
their performance. These sensations may include emotions such as joy, pride, euphoria, relief,
and even sadness. The emotional aspects of the piece contribute to the Moonlight Sonata as a
work of art. These emotions, along with aspects of rule breaking and expressions of skill and
imagination, define Beethovens Moonlight Sonata as a fine example of artwork.

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Works Cited
"Art." Def. 1. Art: Definition of Art in Oxford Dictionary (American English) (US). Oxford
Dictionaries, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Beethoven, Ludwig van. Moonlight Sonata. Vienna: Giovanni Cappi Michaelerplatz, 1802.
"Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
"Bradley Joseph "Stray" - Rapture/Narada Grand Piano." Piano Tutorials Online. N.p., n.d. Web.
20 Oct. 2014.
"Characteristics of Classical Music." Fine Music 102.5. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Green, Aaron. "Here's What You Need to Know About Beethoven's 'Moonlight
Sonata.'" Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.
Miller, Carole. "The Romantic Period." All about Romantic Music and Its Features. N.p., 5 Dec.
2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Rosen, Charles. Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion. New Haven: Yale UP, 2002.
Print.
Sherrane, Robert. "The Romantic Era." Music History 102. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
"Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, Op 27, No 2 Moonlight. HD Classical Music. N.p., n.d. Web.
20 Oct. 2014.
"Symphony with Final Chorus on Schiller's Ode to Joy." Classical Net Beethoven. N.p., n.d.
Web. 20 Oct. 2014.