Beethoven’s pi­ano mas­ter­piece

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

It’s one of the most beau­ti­ful and recog­nis­able pieces ever writ­ten. And it trans­fers bril­liantly from pi­ano to gui­tar, as Brid­get demon­strates.

This clas­si­cal piece is one of Lud­wig van Beethoven’s most well-known pi­ano so­los. In fact it’s one of the most fa­mil­iar of all clas­si­cal pieces, and is recog­nised by al­most ev­ery­one whether they know what it’s called or not: the moody and evoca­tive Moon­light Sonata. The piece was orig­i­nally called Quasi Una Fan­ta­sia, mean­ing ‘al­most a fan­tasy’ and the ti­tle Moon­light Sonata only came af­ter Beethoven’s death, when mu­sic critic and poet Lud­wig Rell­stab com­pared the ef­fect of tune to that of moon­light shin­ing on Lake Lucerne.

The usual for­mat for a Sonata is three move­ments, the tem­pos of which are nor­mally fast, slow, fast. But this piece breaks that mould with a slow and ex­tremely melan­choly first move­ment. Trag­i­cally, Beethoven lost his hear­ing to­wards the end of his life and the Moon­light Sonata was writ­ten in the early stages of his deaf­ness. The piece was ded­i­cated to Beethoven’s pupil, 17-yearold Count­ess Gi­uli­etta Guic­cia­rdi to whom the com­poser had pro­posed a mar­riage. The mar­riage - to this ob­vi­ously much older man - was for­bid­den by the par­ents of the Count­ess and the piece’s tragic qual­ity has made a strong im­pres­sion on many lis­ten­ers. In­deed, John Len­non is said to have loosely based his song Be­cause from The Bea­tles’ Abbey Road al­bum on it, in or­der to cap­ture the same sad mood.

The French ro­man­tic com­poser Hec­tor Ber­lioz is quoted to have said, “It is one of those po­ems that hu­man lan­guage does not know how to qual­ify”. Beethoven him­self, how­ever, be­came ex­as­per­ated by the pop­u­lar­ity of the piece say­ing, “Surely I’ve writ­ten bet­ter things!”

Pi­ano mu­sic ar­ranged for solo gui­tar is al­ways compromised by the fact that we cannot play as many notes simultaneously as a pi­anist is able to. So some edit­ing is nec­es­sary to make it phys­i­cally playable, while striv­ing to main­tain the har­mony, voic­ing and spirit of the piece.

Also, in or­der to play it ef­fec­tively on gui­tar it has been trans­posed from the orig­i­nal key of C#m to the far more gui­tar-friendly Am. This not only makes it eas­ier to play, it ac­tu­ally makes it sound bet­ter on the gui­tar, as it uses the nat­u­ral res­o­nance of the in­stru­ment in that reg­is­ter - and of course some open strings - to good ef­fect. Purists might balk at such down­right blas­phemy, but we’ll risk their wrath this time in the knowl­edge that Lud­wig him­self would have prob­a­bly loved the idea.

If you en­joy play­ing this piece try ar­rang­ing other fa­mous clas­si­cal tunes by Bach, Mozart and Schu­bert for the gui­tar. Many of them trans­late re­ally well and it’s most ed­u­ca­tional, a re­ally worth­while chal­lenge and also a lot of fun. And of course you can also trans­pose pieces to more fa­mil­iar keys should the op­por­tu­nity present it­self.

Any­way, I’m sure we’ll be re­turn­ing to this idea in the months to come so, as al­ways, your sug­ges­tions are most wel­come.


NEXT MONTH Brid­get ar­ranges the Oboe Con­certo in Dm by Alessan­dro Mar­cello

Beethoven: his Moon­light Sonata, a tale of un­re­quited love

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