My performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata released worldwide on January 26, 2021. Sample and stream on Spotify above, or any music service including Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Pandora, or listen directly below.
I hope you enjoy my thoughts down below as I share a little about the history of this timeless classic, my experience with the music, and how these inspired my version…
This popular Ludwig van Beethoven composition for piano was composed in 1801 in Vienna, Austria. Moonlight Sonata became part of my life at age fourteen. Its full name is Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (Sonata Quasi Una Fantasia). When the first movement, Adagio sostenuto, entered my story this classical piece became one of my favorites in high school as I learned and memorized it to play in some recitals and as part of a program to be judged and critiqued. J.S. Bach is my all-time favorite composer, but I also enjoyed playing famous pieces by Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, and more.
Over the years, every now and then, I would get out my original, classical piano book with tattered pages and play through Moonlight Sonata just for fun. The idea of recording my performance was in the back of my mind for a while, and came to the forefront in the early fall of 2020. In November I was ready to take this project on, and now the world gets to hear the result.
I had forgotten Beethoven composed this in Vienna. My family and I took our first overseas trip together in December 2014. Our favorite movie is The Sound of Music, so we wanted to visit Salzburg and tour several of the filming locations. We landed in Vienna on Christmas Eve, and attended a standing room only Christmas Eve service at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the heart of the city. Even though the speaking was in German, we could feel the miracle and hope of Christ’s birth in the air. The symphony, choir, and organ music was breathtaking to hear as we soaked in the moment. The favorite photo I captured inside the cathedral became the above artwork for this new single.
At the opening of Moonlight Sonata’s first movement, Beethoven included the following direction in Italian: “Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordino” (“This whole piece ought to be played with the utmost delicacy and without dampers”). The way this is accomplished (both on today’s pianos and on those of Beethoven’s day) is to depress the sustain pedal throughout the movement, or at least to make use of the pedal throughout, but re-applying it as the harmony changes. The modern piano has a much longer sustain time than the instruments of Beethoven’s time, so that a steady application of the sustain pedal creates a dissonant sound, and can overdo what he intended. Also, later in the 19th century the grand piano sounded even better than in 1801.
My unforgettable Christmas Eve inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Beethoven’s directions for the performance of this piece converged into the idea to play and record the piece as though I was all alone at concert grand piano in the center of this historic cathedral (construction began in the 12th century, with towers and spires added over the centuries). In my studio I was able to combine a 1951 Steinway D concert grand piano with gentle hints of an old upright piano to recreate an “older” grand piano sound. I wanted the piece to sound like what Beethoven might have heard as he composed this in 1801 in Vienna (he did not fully lose his hearing until later). He would have frequently seen the cathedral in all its grandeur, and I imagined him playing inside. His directions inspired me to be generous in using the sustain pedal, and to use a cathedral sized reverb, which would further provide and enhance the “blur” effect which he intended for the piece.
Emotionally, the music is very sad, yet it is also hauntingly beautiful at the same time. Beethoven’s genius in creating this fantasy world in the key of C-sharp minor has and never will be duplicated. It is magnificent, and for me symbolizes God’s beauty and hope in my life even when I am sad, or going through a difficult time. I pray you are touched and moved in a meaningful way as you listen to my version of Moonlight Sonata.