In the domain of classical music, it seems that nameless music is always favored over those bearing a name partly because “words make it cheesy” and music should be “beyond words.”
In the case of the famous
MoonlightSonata , I am still fascinated by the beautiful story of Beethoven meeting a blind girl playing the piano under the moonlight that I read about while I was in elementary school. Since then, the melody has been closely associated with the calm atmosphere of a moonlit night in my mind, and, in particular, I am deeply impressed by the first movement, which is smooth and fathomless against the blue sky, echoing the same tone as one Chinese poem’s: “A bright moon rises over the sea, from far away you share the moment with me.”
Then one day, a Soviet war film named Chapaev , which was released in China in the early 1950s, shattered my previous image of the sonata. In one scene, the little brother of a veteran orderly in the White Army violated the military code and was sentenced to death by the commanding officer. The docile orderly had always been loyal to the officer, but his brother’s death sentence had given birth to a desire for revenge. In that moment, the officer was playing the first movement of Moonlight
Sonata . The orderly, standing behind the officer, stepped in time with the music. With a dagger in his hand, he hesitated for a moment, and then the black rage rose in his heart and fell with the piano’s melody. As his murderous intent reached its climax, the orchestral music and the instrumental ensemble in the film together created a horrific atmosphere, as the music cycled through its crescendo like waves crashing on the shore. I was stunned, and the music had done its job.
I have never thought that the first movement of Moonlight
Sonata could be harmoniously employed to create a scene of murder. Perhaps it was a kind of ironic effect, and I marveled about the talented Soviet artist that had come up with such an idea. This, in turn, best indicates that our understanding of music is an entirely subjective matter, and it is impossible to curb our imagination according to its name. This film scene has left a deep impression on my mind, and it has forever changed how I interpret a musical piece.
(From ThereIsaPiano , Beijing Publishing House. Translation: Zhu Yaguang)