The Sonata Op. 27 No. 2, known universally as the Moonlight Sonata, is one of Beethoven’s most famous piano works. Recorded countless times, it has been a staple of the recital hall since its debut in 1801. Indeed, its popularity is said to have annoyed Beethoven, who once remarked to Carl Czerny, “Surely I’ve written better things.”
The first movement is marked Adagio sostenuto, and it has been suggested that the Romantic period in music dates from this very piece. Hector Berlioz remarked insightfully that this movement was “one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify.” Indeed, how would you describe it? Is it sad, tragic even? Or is it merely solemn? Readers are invited to leave a comment with their thoughts about this familiar, yet mysterious piece.
The second movement, marked Allegretto, is very different in character from the first, yet seems to flow from it as naturally as spring follows winter. Stately yet graceful, it reminds me of a courtly dance, and gives us no hint at all of the of the approaching storm.
The final movement, Presto agitato, calls to mind Olin Downes’ characterization of Vladimir Horowitz: “a tornado unleashed from the steppes.” It is headstrong, impetuous, and unbridled. With each recurrence of the main theme, I get the sense that the music threatens to run away with the pianist.
But it never does. Valentina keeps everything under exquisite control. Her performance of this sonata is one for the ages, and we can all be grateful that it has been immortalized in a video of such outstanding quality. It was recorded in December 2009 in the Beethovensaal in Hannover, Germany.