Many of us may have heard parts of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” in our youth or in modern media, but usually not on purpose. As a person who has never studied classical music, I couldn’t even think of the tune solely from hearing the title. It’s the moment you look it up on the internet and hear those oddly familiar chords that remind you, yes, I’ve heard this before. I assume this is the reason why people have categorized this piece as a classic. Somehow, this song has stood the test of time and is still being discussed centuries after its birth.
The first notes sound like a marriage of chords and melody that progress throughout the entirety of the piece, like Beethoven’s hands are engaged in an intimate conversation. There’s a feeling of sorrow at the start with the heavy chords being encapsulated by distinct melodic notes riding up and down the scales like waves. Listening with intention, almost 23 seconds in, the melody shares its spotlight with a second melody that plays at the same time, almost as if Beethoven has three hands. The talent one must have to play these notes simultaneously is otherworldly.
Half way through, the delicate melody flutters away into nothingness, for a moment. The heavy chords that served as the calm and steady foundation really have a chance to shine, accompanied by strong mid-range key strokes, as they drag along like burdens on back. “Moonlight Sonata” returns to its trademark sound as the secondary melody pounds away at higher pitched single notes like a butterfly trying to fight the grandeur of an elephant’s chords. There is a certain beauty to behold in these melancholy tones as the piece winds down to three hauntingly resonating tones.
Upon its inception, I wonder if the common folk that listened to “Moonlight Sonata” were swept away with emotion the way I was. I can’t help but wonder if the way I feel about this piece is based on what society has taught me I should feel or if it’s driven by some magical reaction humans have to certain frequencies of sound. Is a minor chord sad because someone with influence told us it is, or is it our collective conscious divinely, deciding on our behalf? These are the questions that plague me when listening to what is labeled a masterpiece.
I can describe this work with the same words we’ve used for millennia, but also as art inspired by the Creator. I can’t help but think that the same spirit that sprung life unto earth, inspired holy books from around the world, and erected the tallest skyscrapers, was there when something considerably perfect garnered existence.
Listen to what Wallace heard here.