Voicing in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

Beethoven’s Sonata in C# Minor (Sonata quasi una fantasia), Op. 27 No. 2, is surely one of the most famous pieces of music of all time. Completed in 1801, it was dedicated to his student, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi.

The name “Moonlight Sonata” was not given by Beethoven but comes from German poet and music critic Ludwig Rellstab who, five years after Beethoven’s death, compared the effect of the first movement to moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne.

Title page for Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata first edition
Title page for the first edition (1802)

Given the popularity of the first movement, I decided to make my own series of video walkthroughs that guide you through the piece step-by-step. You will find advice on style, tempo, pedalling, fingering, practice method and technique, especially how to avoid tension in the right hand as it is called upon to play both the soft triplet accompaniment and to project the melodic line on top.

Excerpt from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

Voicing the Right Hand

How do we set about voicing the right hand when the main theme comes in? Despite the pp dynamic marking, the upper voice needs to be projected with a firmer tone than the misty triplets underneath. It is helpful to think of two dynamic levels: mp (top voice) and pp (triplets).

The following exercises will help with the voicing. The process involves first playing the upper voice at the stronger dynamic, then afterwards the thumb note at the softer dynamic. Gradually allow these two events to happen closer together until you find you can synchronise them: Another practice suggestion that works wonders is to play the upper stave using two hands. Thus the right hand plays the melodic line, and the left hand the accompaniment triplets. Achieving the right sound this way is of course much easier. Once you have the ideal sound in your ear, see if you can reproduce it using only your right hand. Alternate between the two-handed and the single-handed version until they both sound the same!


Video Series & Annotated Study Edition

The complete collection of resources is available with an annual subscription to the Online Academy, in addition to our growing library of hundreds of videos, articles, eBooks and downloads for £119.99 per year.

Please click here to view if you are already a subscriber or click here if you’d like to to subscribe.

Alternatively, the video-walkthroughs and study edition can be purchased from our store for £11.99 as a stand-alone product.


A Mozart Fantasy, New Pieces and Voicing a Melody

In this month’s practice clinic, Graham Fitch answered questions on tips for practising a passage from Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor (K475), starting a new piece with Tchaikovsky’s Sweet Dreams used as a demonstration and bringing out the melody in an excerpt from Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu.

practice clinic screenshot

Practice clinic questions

  • WA Mozart – Fantasy in C minor, K475 – I’m wondering the best way to learn and practice the Piu Allegro section is as I have no idea really how to go about it properly without making a mess of it!
  • Learning a New Piece (Tchaikovsky Sweet Dreams from Album for the Young) – Your books are my first exposure to any type of practice or even the fact that there was a way one can practice other than sight reading and then playing the piece over and over! Can you suggest how I go about learning a new piece from scratch, including planning practice sessions and selecting which practice tools to use?
  • Chopin – Fantasie-Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 66 – I watched your walkthrough of this piece again and while your advice helps a lot, I am missing one detail concerning bars 17-21: what kind of movement and what kind of exercises do you recommend for bringing out the melody with the fifth finger? I have no problem bringing it out with the thumb, but 17-21 do not work well. Furthermore: in some bars of this section (16, 22-24) there is no melody (according to Henle), do you make these parts sound very different? And if so, how?

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