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Author Topic: Moonlight Sonata 1st Movement - Personal Preference?  (Read 14384 times)
teenagepiano
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« on: October 27, 2012, 05:23:28 PM »

I'm learning the Moonlight Sonata 1st Movement. I'm about half way through at Bar 30 and I'm beginning to refine the performance as I learn more.

My favourite performance of the Moonlight Sonata is by Wilhelm Kempff and he plays the first movement in 5:44, and I'm curious as to what tempo is best.

I'm currently playing with an finish time of about 6 minutes and I think that tempo is good as it won't bore any people listening and gives plenty of time to add more depth to my playing. What temp do you think is best?

In addition to this, I'm learning on a 61 key-keyboard and so I can't play everything precisely as what the sheet music asks, I'm also playing one octave higher but I'm a bit frustrated with the parts such as Bar 5,6,11,etc because I can't replicate the sound like I see in professional perforamances. Can you give me any tips on how to play this correctly?

I mean that part 0:24 in this video for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6txOvK-mAk

Thanks. All help is appreciated.
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piano sheet music of Sonata 14 (Moonlight)
virtuoso80
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« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2012, 08:34:53 PM »

Tempo for this movement is a complicated question. The current thinking is that Beethoven probably intended a faster tempo than is typically performed nowadays, and I believe one authority even suggested it should have an alla breve (cut time) feel to it. But I prefer to play it a hair slower than the Kempff performance you linked. What is correct? I am of the view that if it works musically, then it's not 'wrong', so if you think it sounds good at the Kempff tempo, I don't think you can be faulted for playing it like that, especially since you seem to desire to being out a lot of detail.

Unfortunately, I am also of the opinion that it is impossible to truly learn how to play the piano on a 61-note keyboard. It's not just about the number of notes, it's about the feel and infinite variation of the keys, which nothing but a real analog instrument can teach you. You remark on the sound of the Kempff performance, and learning how to control and balance the sound of the different keys and voices is a huge part of piano playing. When I have my students practice this piece, I usually ask them to try different balances: Melodic line slightly louder than the triplets, melodic line prominently louder than the triplets, left hand moderately balanced, left hand very quiet, etc. Controlling the balance of two voices in the same hand is NOT EASY, but is essential to learning the piano properly, which is why I always challenge my students to do it.

Please note that I'm NOT trying to discourage you from practicing of your keyboard! By all means, keep playing, just realize that there are some limitations. If I were limited like that, I'd probably concentrate on piano music originally written for harpsichord - Bach, Scarlatti, etc. - which more closely approximates the attack of an electronic keyboard. As far as the range limitation goes, I'd probably just fake the bottom pinky notes in the Moonlight, instead of playing one octave higher.

Hope that helps.
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teenagepiano
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« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2012, 09:15:36 PM »

Tempo for this movement is a complicated question. The current thinking is that Beethoven probably intended a faster tempo than is typically performed nowadays, and I believe one authority even suggested it should have an alla breve (cut time) feel to it. But I prefer to play it a hair slower than the Kempff performance you linked. What is correct? I am of the view that if it works musically, then it's not 'wrong', so if you think it sounds good at the Kempff tempo, I don't think you can be faulted for playing it like that, especially since you seem to desire to being out a lot of detail.

Unfortunately, I am also of the opinion that it is impossible to truly learn how to play the piano on a 61-note keyboard. It's not just about the number of notes, it's about the feel and infinite variation of the keys, which nothing but a real analog instrument can teach you. You remark on the sound of the Kempff performance, and learning how to control and balance the sound of the different keys and voices is a huge part of piano playing. When I have my students practice this piece, I usually ask them to try different balances: Melodic line slightly louder than the triplets, melodic line prominently louder than the triplets, left hand moderately balanced, left hand very quiet, etc. Controlling the balance of two voices in the same hand is NOT EASY, but is essential to learning the piano properly, which is why I always challenge my students to do it.

Please note that I'm NOT trying to discourage you from practicing of your keyboard! By all means, keep playing, just realize that there are some limitations. If I were limited like that, I'd probably concentrate on piano music originally written for harpsichord - Bach, Scarlatti, etc. - which more closely approximates the attack of an electronic keyboard. As far as the range limitation goes, I'd probably just fake the bottom pinky notes in the Moonlight, instead of playing one octave higher.

Hope that helps.


Thanks for the reply. With regards to the issue of the keyboard, when I started playing only 9 months ago I wasn't sure if I was serious about playing the Piano, so it was suggested to me to get a cheaper keyboard and then see how it goes. Luckily it turns out that I love playing the Piano and preferably from how I feel now would like to be playing for the rest of my life. It is also a cost issue and keyboards are relatively cheap. I think if I can find a upright piano for under £1000 I'll get it, even if it is second hand, but I'm financially restricted at the moment. Until then I'll use my keyboard, and I practice on an upright whenever I can find one free.

Back to the piece; I have been experimenting a lot with the piece. I even tried playing everything backwards, and it still sounds amazingly good.

One more question I have, is that I've heard somewhere(can't remember where) that when playing the octaves on the left hand, the 2nd octave(the note lower down than the one you are playing ie if play C4 and C5, I mean C5) is meant to be played louder/harder than the other note while still maintaing the "piano" dynamic. Is this correct? Because it is certainly very hard to do while playing!
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virtuoso80
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« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2012, 10:06:05 PM »

Thanks for the reply. With regards to the issue of the keyboard, when I started playing only 9 months ago I wasn't sure if I was serious about playing the Piano, so it was suggested to me to get a cheaper keyboard and then see how it goes. Luckily it turns out that I love playing the Piano and preferably from how I feel now would like to be playing for the rest of my life. It is also a cost issue and keyboards are relatively cheap. I think if I can find a upright piano for under £1000 I'll get it, even if it is second hand, but I'm financially restricted at the moment. Until then I'll use my keyboard, and I practice on an upright whenever I can find one free.

Back to the piece; I have been experimenting a lot with the piece. I even tried playing everything backwards, and it still sounds amazingly good.

One more question I have, is that I've heard somewhere(can't remember where) that when playing the octaves on the left hand, the 2nd octave(the note lower down than the one you are playing ie if play C4 and C5, I mean C5) is meant to be played louder/harder than the other note while still maintaing the "piano" dynamic. Is this correct? Because it is certainly very hard to do while playing!

You've got your C4 and C5 reversed. Higher the number, higher up on the keyboard. You mean C#2 and C#3 at the beginning, and you think C#2 should be louder.

Well, in general, I don't do that, unless I want a thicker/muddier sound. That's the effect of emphasizing the lower bass. The more 'natural' sound is to hear the lower bass as reinforcing the upper bass, which is the main bass line. Think about a cello/string bass combination, and how that balances. Really thickening up your contrabass register give a dark and murky effect, which I tend not to enjoy and only use on occasion. For now, I wouldn't worry too much about trying anything fancy with the left hand anyway. Far more important is trying to make the melody line sound like a separate voice from the triplets, and that doesn't happen overnight, so be patient.


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j_menz
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« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2012, 10:40:32 PM »

The spped at which you appear to be playing something, particularly slow movements, is not just a factor of how fast you actally play. The tonal qualities of the piano, what you do with them, and the acoustic properties of the room/hall you play in all come in to play. You should never aim for a strict "I do this in 5 minutes" or I play at 88 bpm. The effect will vary.

Play it so that it sounds right to you. If that is Kempff pace, aim for it to feel about that pace.
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"What the world needs is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left" -- Oscar Levant
indianajo
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« Reply #5 on: October 27, 2012, 11:01:54 PM »

First Movement of Moonlight is one of the early pieces where you can show some emotion by varying tempo occasionally.  Do try some of that.  I was a JS Bach specialist at twelve and really liked to show off how steady I could keep the beat. Great for JSB, not so for Beethoven.
There is a lot you can do to express emotion with this piece.  I took my first lesson in 45 years last year, to attempt to see if I could get through the last movement of Moonlight error free in front of somebody.  The teacher lady  stopped my play of the the first movement and wanted me to accent triplets, One, two, three, One two three. I see the two enamored young lovers sculling in a gondola on a shadowy moonlit lake. That is a slow one two movement. She perhaps saw a long married couple sitting at a table on the deck on a steam powered paddle boat.   Not alone at all.  
See where your emotions take you.  
Where I live, there are lot of competent home used console pianos for $100-$200 plus the cost of moving and tuning.  There were hundreds of good consoles made between 1945 and 1970.  Now they are in the way of the big screen TV.  Look around, the good ones even show up at charity resale shops occasionally.  Don't worry about tuning, but do worry about worn hammer and damper felts in the middle, felt or leather eaten by mice,  or a cracked back.  You can do a speed check also, by repeating one note over and over with different fingers.  The better pianos respond faster.  I picked up a 1941 Steinway console in 2010 for $1000 plus moving, then I tuned it myself seven times, to get it right.   
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teenagepiano
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« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2012, 11:16:51 PM »

First Movement of Moonlight is one of the early pieces where you can show some emotion by varying tempo occasionally.  Do try some of that.  I was a JS Bach specialist at twelve and really liked to show off how steady I could keep the beat. Great for JSB, not so for Beethoven.
There is a lot you can do to express emotion with this piece.  I took my first lesson in 45 years last year, to attempt to see if I could get through the last movement of Moonlight error free in front of somebody.  The teacher lady  stopped my play of the the first movement and wanted me to accent triplets, One, two, three, One two three. I see the two enamored young lovers sculling in a gondola on a shadowy moonlit lake. That is a slow one two movement. She perhaps saw a long married couple sitting at a table on the deck on a steam powered paddle boat.   Not alone at all.  
See where your emotions take you.  
Where I live, there are lot of competent home used console pianos for $100-$200 plus the cost of moving and tuning.  There were hundreds of good consoles made between 1945 and 1970.  Now they are in the way of the big screen TV.  Look around, the good ones even show up at charity resale shops occasionally.  Don't worry about tuning, but do worry about worn hammer and damper felts in the middle, felt or leather eaten by mice,  or a cracked back.  You can do a speed check also, by repeating one note over and over with different fingers.  The better pianos respond faster.  I picked up a 1941 Steinway console in 2010 for $1000 plus moving, then I tuned it myself seven times, to get it right.   
Thanks for the advice, and J_Menz as well. I think its interesting what people envision when they play music. When I play Moonlight Sonata 1st Movement, I think of the moon slowly rising over a lake, then I think of the isolation of the moon, and finally I think of the moon slowly going down over the horizon leaving the lake completely tranquil and calm.

Perhaps its better as a visual image Smiley

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werq34ac
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« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2012, 08:35:25 PM »

Just some trivia, Beethoven was exasperated with it's popularity remarking that he had "surely written better things!"

Anyway, tempo. I personally like it on the faster side. Apparently the literal translation of adagio is something like "at ease" rather than slow. So I like to play the 1st mvt of the Moonlight Sonata at ease.

I don't know about varying tempo.. I find it a more steady piece than most (not metronomically so, but definitely needs a strong pulse). Varying the tempo, it has to be natural. Don't force it otherwise it sounds awful.


And yes you need a new keyboard. 61 keys isn't enough in order to hear the colors Beethoven wanted. He wrote the piece with those notes for a reason and omitting notes makes the piece lose something. If you take out a bass note or play an octave higher, it loses the dark quality.


As for the issue of playing certain notes louder than others, The rule of thumb is that you bring out the melody and anything else you feel is important. As for the left hand octaves, I would play the lower note louder than the thumb. This makes the sound "darker." But remember that the melody should always shine through. It's not easy balancing this out and it's near impossible on an electric where notes are pretty much on/off switches. You need an acoustic as well as pianistic experience in controlling dynamics. It's one of the hardest thing about playing piano: playing certain notes softer or louder than others.
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Brahms 118/2
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teenagepiano
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« Reply #8 on: October 30, 2012, 06:27:15 PM »

Just some trivia, Beethoven was exasperated with it's popularity remarking that he had "surely written better things!"

Anyway, tempo. I personally like it on the faster side. Apparently the literal translation of adagio is something like "at ease" rather than slow. So I like to play the 1st mvt of the Moonlight Sonata at ease.

I don't know about varying tempo.. I find it a more steady piece than most (not metronomically so, but definitely needs a strong pulse). Varying the tempo, it has to be natural. Don't force it otherwise it sounds awful.


And yes you need a new keyboard. 61 keys isn't enough in order to hear the colors Beethoven wanted. He wrote the piece with those notes for a reason and omitting notes makes the piece lose something. If you take out a bass note or play an octave higher, it loses the dark quality.


As for the issue of playing certain notes louder than others, The rule of thumb is that you bring out the melody and anything else you feel is important. As for the left hand octaves, I would play the lower note louder than the thumb. This makes the sound "darker." But remember that the melody should always shine through. It's not easy balancing this out and it's near impossible on an electric where notes are pretty much on/off switches. You need an acoustic as well as pianistic experience in controlling dynamics. It's one of the hardest thing about playing piano: playing certain notes softer or louder than others.

The keyboard I'm using does have dynamic control, although it isn't weighted like a proper piano which makes the transition from practising on a keyboard to upright awkward for the first few bars but it hasn't posed a huge problem so far.

However I can't afford a new upright piano and I'm not even sure if I have enough space for it. So I've looked on a few websites and I've found this:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Axus-D2-Digital-Piano-Bench/dp/B005V3807Q/ref=sr_1_4?s=musical-instruments&ie=UTF8&qid=1351544231&sr=1-4

Here is how it sounds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xf5FCC-vR8A&feature=related

Please can you give me your honest opinion about this keyboard?

Edit: I'll also make a quick thread in the instrument forum to get more replies.
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werq34ac
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« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2012, 01:44:21 AM »

The keyboard I'm using does have dynamic control, although it isn't weighted like a proper piano which makes the transition from practising on a keyboard to upright awkward for the first few bars but it hasn't posed a huge problem so far.

However I can't afford a new upright piano and I'm not even sure if I have enough space for it. So I've looked on a few websites and I've found this:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Axus-D2-Digital-Piano-Bench/dp/B005V3807Q/ref=sr_1_4?s=musical-instruments&ie=UTF8&qid=1351544231&sr=1-4

Here is how it sounds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xf5FCC-vR8A&feature=related

Please can you give me your honest opinion about this keyboard?

Edit: I'll also make a quick thread in the instrument forum to get more replies.

I find that electric pianos in general have dynamics that are too artificial. It's impossible to do a real crescendo or diminuendo as opposed to just playing notes softer and softer.

And then there's the pedal. The pedal on an electric is literally an on/off switch. The pedal is far more than an on/off switch. Electrics aren't designed to play classical music, they're designed to be able to play sounds other than piano sounds. A $200 piano bought off ebay is better than a $500 dollar keyboard.
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Ravel Jeux D'eau
Brahms 118/2
Liszt Concerto 1
Rachmaninoff/Kreisler Liebesleid
etayluz
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« Reply #10 on: November 24, 2013, 09:27:49 PM »

I've created a free tool at http://watchandrepeat.com/ that allows you to change the tempo and learn at your own rate. You can experiment with it and find the tempo that works for you. You'll love it Smiley
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