“Moonlight Sonata” is a nickname given to a piece by Beethoven consisting of three movements. Typically, the term Moonlight Sonata is given to only the first movement of the piece. However, the entire Sonata functions as a cohesive whole that evokes powerful imagery of contemplative calm, followed by a serene walk and finishing with a stormy and thunderous explosion. Liszt had so much respect for this piece that he refused to let any of his students that weren’t extremely advanced even consider playing it. Beethoven helped to usher in the Romantic Period in music. His early works were virtually indistinguishable from early Classical Period pieces, but as he developed his style became more original.
The first movement of the piece is marked by eloquent chords that outline various triads. The piece begins low in the piano and ascends to a higher pitched climax. As the piece progresses an ominous motive in contrast to the triplet chords resounds in the bass. Eventually the bass motive becomes higher until falling back down towards the end of the piece. Pianists must have extreme dexterity and finger strength to bring out the lower part in relation to the highly active right hand piano part.
The second movement is in three and has a series of chords that outlines a simple melody. The movement consists of a scherzo and trio that serves as an effective and eloquent contrast to the seemingly somber and subdued first movement. The chords move in parallel motion mostly, except for the cadence points at the end of each phrase. This creates a sense of harmony that blends seemingly into a single melodic line.
The third movement is the most powerful and quick-paced movement of the piece. The pianist starts with a thunderous clash with the low pitches of the piano and then proceeds to play quickly moving sixteenth notes in an ascending fashion. Pianists that want to play this movement effectively need to have a large amount of skill and the ability to accent the correct notes in the succession of arpeggios.