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 theÂ 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)
It was a pleasure to hear you play and see how far you’ve developed since the last time I heard you. Wow, you’ve really done your research. I commend you for your deligence.
Your summarization of the main points are excellent and no doubt a good learning tool as well to help you solidy what you learned. I’m pleased to have been able to help.
A comment re Horowitz – pianists use “rubato” (accelerando and deccelerando) to add movement, or flow, to a section of music; it is particularly useful in that section of the Moonlight (with the ascending triadic patterns). I mentioned that Gould is known for his liberal use of rubato; I haven’t specifically listened to any Horowitz Moonlight recordings but I’m sure he used lots of rubato.
Lastly – Others may disagree, I wouldn’t call the Moonlight theme polyrythmic. While there is the dotted 8th & 16th note pattern over the triplet, the polyrhymic aspect is relatively small compared to other pieces, particularly as you get into 20th C music. And many pianists are quite loose in their interpretation of this rhythm – the main thing is to find what sounds and feels right to you so that when you play, it will come more naturally.
At this stage, I wouldn’t worry about nailing the polyrhytm – four 8ths against triplet 8ths – it’s one of those tapping your head while rubbing your stomach tricks that can take a lot of time to figure out. (If you feel like it by all means, go for it. I can show you some tricks for getting playing 4′s against 3′s, etc.).
For the time being, just listen to the how the pattern sounds in various recordings – pick one you like, and try to emulate it – just practicing with the right hand some of the time (melody alone and with the octave) until the theme is solid in your hands (i.e., your little finger) and ear, and then add the triplets.
Take heart with the pedalling – every one finds it tricky when they first start using the pedal to bring out the melody while maintaining the harmonic background (i.e., that quick up-down movement played just at the moment of or even slightly before the chord change). It’s like learning to drive standard – you’re paying attention to all kinds of other things and it’s hard to figure out & control what your feet are doing at the same time, but it will come.
[...] for me there was a lot more stretching, and the left hand moves a lot farther distances than in the Moonlight Sonata). The right hand needs to plays louder than the left hand and the pedal is absolutely [...]