Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata is one of the musical genius’ most famous and most loved works. However, Beethoven himself never really liked the piece, once commenting that its popularity perplexed him. But the piece is not only loved by regular fans. Many sources say that Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu was inspired by the moonlight sonata.

The Moonlight sonata serving as an inspiration for Chopin’s piece is not a surprise as Beethoven’s original title for the piece was Sonata quasi una fantasia, or a sonata in the style of a Fantasia. A Fantasia is a piece that has no set form and places more emphasis on improvisation.

In fact, Beethoven seems to have improvised a bit with the form of his sonata. Typically a sonata has 3-4 sections. The moonlight sonata has 3 parts, and when that happens the rhythm of each section usually follows a pattern. The first and last sections are slow while the middle one has a quicker tempo. The moonlight sonata has a slow first section, speeds up in the middle, and becomes even louder and faster in the final section.

Many people have provided detailed analyses of each section of the Moonlight sonata, and I’m not even remotely as talented as half of them. But there has always been one flawed interpretation of the moonlight sonata that appealed to me. The concept is that each section of the sonata represents an emotion associated with moonlight.

The Moonlight Interpretation

The sonata begins with a slow and sombre first movement with the instructions Adagio sostenuto, denoting that the performance must be slow and sustained. The composer Hector Berlioz claimed this movement sounded like a lamentation. This movement is supposed to invoke a sense of melancholy that one might get while staring at the moon after their love goes unrequited.

Next follows the second movement Allegretto. It is a cheerful little piece and is the shortest movement in the sonata. The great pianist Franz Liszt said this part was like a flower between two chasms, meaning it did not match up to the depth of the first and last movements but had a unique beauty of its own. This movement makes you feel the sense of childish joy one may get by staring up at the night sky and seeing a beautiful full moon.

The third and final movement, Presto agitato, is in my opinion the best part of the moonlight sonata. It is delightfully fast, violent and hectic. And what emotion does the moon invoke that can match the third movement? The answer is madness. I can tell from experience that attempting to play this movement is enough to drive anyone but the most talented pianists mad.

Alas, Beethoven did not have these 3 emotions in mind when he composed the Moonlight sonata. It got its name from a German writer named Ludwig Rellstab shortly after Beethoven’s death. Rellstab compared the first movement to the reflection of moonlight on Lake Lucerne. And as you may have guessed by now, the name has stuck ever since.