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March 28, 2009

how to play the moonlight sonata

Filed under: music — sw @ 3:18 pm

I’ve been learning the piano over the last few years, off and on; probably less than 1 hour a month on average. Recently it has become a bit more and for the last month or so I’ve been practicing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I feel it is a good piece for beginners. I’m lucky to have an above average reach, so one note more than an octave is not a stretch for me.

I find it helps a lot to listen to the piece on youtube, and replay certain sections over and over. This got me quite far; but when I got to the 40th bar (of the 1st Movement) I thought it would be good to get some feedback and see what to improve and what’s ok, and if I’m on the right track in general.

So I asked my friend, Andrea, who has been playing a lot longer than me, and she agreed to meet. Because I am not totally happy with our piano, and to make it easier for her, I asked to play at her place. Our piano seems overly sensitive, so that it is not easy to play softly, and consistently so. Sometimes I even think that I hit a key, but no sound resulted (not easy to reproduce either).

What follows only covers how far I know the piece at the moment: the 1st Movement up to bar 42 (where a repetition of an earlier phrase occurs.)

Of course, the way she played it – on the same piano – was a lot better. The way it was better, was, first of all, much more consistency in the right hand: even rhythm, even volume. It was obvious to me that this is important for the piece, but it wasn’t clear to me how much more consistency is possible.

On top of that she applied the pedal almost throughout the whole piece. I had heared that the pedal is important, but not to that extent. Pushing the pedal down is the easiest of course, however, this piece is so delicate that that will not do. The trick is to push the pedal not all the way, but a little more than half-way and, to release the pedal with each chord change, and each time a melody note changes. Once you know, that makes a lot of sense, and it works. But I find that extremely difficult to do. Some scores indicate when to apply, when to release.

The third thing, and I was aware of this, was to bring out the melody notes (“the ones with the stems sticking up”) by playing them louder, compared to the other notes that are played at the same time. I find it pleasing enough to play the piece without this; I think that is also very difficult. Related, around bar 14, where there are two F# half-notes in the right-hand, I was neglecting the second one.

Around bar 28, when a new theme is introduced, she explained to me the meaning of “phrasing”, of how to control the volume, and that the  A in the right hand should be the loudest; equally bars 32 to 40 have phrasing hints; I knew I had ignored those, but now I know how to read them and what they mean. (She also explained that Horowitz manages to regulate the tempo at this part of the piece, by slowing down and speeding up, but such that the total time is still as it should be)

One of the other difficult aspects of the piece is the polyrhythmic motif. (Apparently I’m not doing that badly in that respect.) Apparently, much more advanced players take liberties with this one; this blog entry has sound showing how the author thinks is the right way to play this one.

Thanks again Andrea!

Couple of links for your convenience

Scores

Videos on Youtube

Note: I realize I refer to the idea of “the correct way to play this”, or the “proper way to play”; surely you can ignore that if you prefer.

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