30 Day Song Challenge – Day 22

Posted: July 2, 2011 in Meme, Music, Personal

Day 22 – A Song That You Listen To When You’re Sad – Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata I, II & III

There are many songs that convey emotion to me, as I have discussed a few times in previous posts. Some songs put a smile on my face, some put a lump in my throat. This is usually due to the fact that I link certain songs with certain events. When I hear a particular song, it can sometimes bring the memories from the associated event to come flooding back.

Of all the songs that make me feel sad, and one that I usually listen to when I am feeling a bit down, I would choose “Ludwig Van Beethoven – Piano Sonata No. 14 (aka “Moonlight Sonata”)

When I hear a Beethoven Sonata being played (and played well), it makes me think of my Nan. When Nan was a young lady, she had studied piano, being taught by the local nuns from her primary school. Her father made some sacrifices to give Nan (the eldest of 7 children to survive past infancy) the music training she wanted. This was at a time just after World War 1, rationing and shortages of many things. Once he knew she was going to stick with music, he saved and managed to buy her an upright piano from a friend, so that she could continue her practice at home.

Nan went on to sit her music exams at the London College of Music (exams sat at Melbourne University) at the age of 13-14. She was to sit the exam on a Grand Piano (her first time sitting at a Grand) and the piece chosen and practised by my Nan was a Beethoven Sonata (I forget the exact one, at this time). Nan often told me that when she first started playing on the Grand, the piece required her to press the dampener pedal, but a Grand has 3 pedals, and her upright only had 2. she discovered mid-piece that the 3rd pedal moved the keys sideways along the manual, raising the pitch (I think?) but she spotted it early, so managed to save herself from any embarrassment.

Anyway, back to the reason of this post. Knowing all of the above info, and how much her family sacrificed for her to learn music, study and sit her exams, even gathering the money together to purchase her music book (which I still have here; a hardback cloth bound book of Beethoven Sonatas, with bonus pencil notes written in by the nuns teaching her), knowing that my Nan and her siblings shares a single room at times, all on mattresses on the floor. This particular song makes me sad, as I know that it was one of Nan’s favourite Sonatas of Beethoven, I have forever linked this song with my memory of her, and the stories of hardship she would tell me of her upbringing.

As Nan had tried to teach me piano when I was younger, and at the time, I did not appreciate it as much as I now wish that I had, It saddens me to think that she may have offered to teach me this song at some point, if I had stuck with it. Later in her life, in 2009, Nan was moved into a Nursing Home, as she was simply unable to live at home anymore, suffering from early onset dementia. I decided to record this song for her as a Christmas Present, learning it on piano, bar by painstaking bar, learning by ear, as I could not read the music very well. After 6 months of late nights, winter days at the keyboard and many hours of post-production editing, I managed to finish the First Movement. It’s play time is about 7 minutes. I was so proud of myself for finally learning a little bit of piano (nice piece to start with, huh?) and I was certain that Nan would be over the moon when she heard it.

I took the CD into the Nursing Home, put it into the CD player with Nan sitting right next to the speaker (Nan’s hearing was not the best at this point) and played it. I told her that I had recorded it for her for Christmas because I love her so much. Nan sat in silence and listened to it. A tear rolled down her cheek, as if she was remembering all of the hours she had spent learning Beethoven as a child. I could almost see the memories flooding back to her, as they do with me when I hear a particular piece of music. A single tear told me so much. It told me that she was still in there somewhere, even though she was unable to communicate as well as she used to. It told me that no matter what, her music was always a part of her. Nothing could take it away from her, not even Dementia. It brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat, knowing that she was in there, but was also a lost little girl, wanting to learn Beethoven again. Nan didn’t hear the whole piece, as she sat there with the tear rolling down her cheek, and me sitting next to her trying to remain composed and holding onto her aged hand, she simply fell asleep.

I have never played it for her again, I don’t think I could hold myself together again, but perhaps one day I can play it for her, and she will hear the ending. I only hope she doesn’t ask me to record the other two movements!

Ludwig Van Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata (Performed by Wilhelm Kempff)

Ludwig Van Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata (Performed by Patrick Walsh…Me)

There are no lyrics to this piece, as it is a classical composition, however I have grabbed some interesting info about the composition from the internet to share here.

The Piano Sonata No. 14 in C♯ minor “Quasi una fantasia”, Op. 27, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven, popularly known as the Moonlight Sonata (Mondscheinsonate in German), was composed in 1801. Beethoven dedicated the sonata to his pupil, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, with whom it was rumoured Beethoven had been in love. To this day, it is one of Beethoven’s most popular and well-known piano sonatas, as well as one of his most famous compositions for the piano.

Beethoven included the phrase “Quasi una fantasia” (Italian translation: Almost a fantasy) in the title partly because the sonata does not follow the traditional movement arrangement of fast-slow-fast. Instead, the Moonlight sonata possesses an end-weighted trajectory; with the rapid music held off until the third movement (slow-slow-fast) In his analysis of the Moonlight sonata, German critic Paul Bekker writes that “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.”

The name “Moonlight” Sonata derives from an 1832 description of the first movement by music critic Ludwig Rellstab, who compared it to real moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne.


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