Better known as Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven himself seemed to despair of this piece's popularity, famously saying 'surely I have written better things' to the Austrian pianist Carl Czerny who I hope was equally confused by Ludwig's puzzlement. He almost certainly did write better things than this, but why did he view this as little more than a piece of fluff? Maybe he wasn't the best person to judge his own music - this has now become a likely contender for the most recognisable piece of music written for the piano.
Written in a hot Hungarian summer just as his deafness was starting, Ludwig composed this piece for his young student Countess Giulietta Guicciardi to whom he later proposed marriage. Her parents forbade the idea and Beethoven lived the rest of his life as a bachelor. Stories abound about this piece being played for a blind girl to describe the moonlight, but the reality is that it was never known by this name until the poet Rellstab realised that it described the moonlight reflected on Lake Lucerne in the 1830s. The name stuck.
Readers who can play the piano are encouraged not to listen to what I have recorded. For reasons I cannot quite fathom, this is a piece of music that is actually better to play than to listen to. I can't quite pin down the reason for this, but it's a tune for the musician rather than the audience. It certainly seems appropriate, as Beethoven was a real muso's muso, being a fair old bag of firecrackers himself. He drank like a fish, was probably bipolar, suffered from progressive lead poisoning administered by his doctors, had a thing for married women, was notoriously unkempt in his later life, had a nature so irascible that his intended adoptive son attempted to shoot himself in the head to escape his temper, and eventually became something close to sociopathic. He'd storm out of parties if asked to play something, and on the occasions that he was performing he would stop if the audience started talking among themselves and invite them to shut up and listen. Best of all, he had no concept of social rank or status and treated everyone much the same, a concept that Ode to Joy seems to echo in its words promising fraternity and equality, though perhaps not quite as Schiller intended. Eventually, a worn-out Archduke Rudolph let it be known that the mores of court etiquette didn't have to be applied to Ludwig any more as it was utterly pointless to even try.
What a guy.
This is also available on YouTube.
Instrumentation: Mellotron M400 Playing