How do you play the trill in measure 29 of Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata?

Beethoven Op. 27 No. 2 m. 29


There is a general consensus that the trill should start on the principle note (A#) with finger 4 and consist of 5 total notes, including the trill ending. Beyond that, there is little agreement. There are dissenters in all aspects, especially with regard to fingering.

Here is a table reflecting the choices of various editors.

    Editor         Note        Rhythm        Fingering
    Lebert/v.B.    A#          3+2 or 2+3    ---
    Schultze       A#          5             4..34
    Casella        A#          5             4....
    Weiner         A#          5             45323
    Schnabel       A#          ---           45.24
    Schenker       A#          ---           35...
    Reimann        B           ---           ---
    Cooper         B           6             ---

Basis for the table

Lebert/von Bülow1

Lebert trill

Lebert explanation


Schultze edition


Casella trill

Casella explanation


Weiner edition


Schenker edition


Schnabel edition


Riemann’s [1885] editorial decision to begin his trills on the upper note upsets the sentiment that nineteenth century pianists would always start their trills on the main note. (p. 76)

Trills and turns had two primary functions during the nineteenth century. Those located at the beginning of a strong beat served as accenting ornaments. Contrariwise, those assigned to weak beats would act as connecting embellishments. The number of notes within a trill, the rhythm of the shaking notes, and the trill endings depended on the taste of individual performers. Tracing back from the eighteenth-century convention, pianists during the early nineteenth century usually began trills with the upper note on the strong beat. Later, an increasing number of pianists preferred to start on the main note. (p. 22)


Cooper edition


1Sigmund Lebert and Hans von Bülow: https://imslp.org/wiki/Piano_Sonata_No.14%2C_Op.27_No.2_(Beethoven%2C_Ludwig_van)
2Clemens Schultze: Ibid.
3Alfredo Casella: Ibid.
4Leó Weiner: Ibid.
5Heinrich Schenker: Ibid.
6Artur Schnabel: Ibid.
7Hugo Reimann: King Yue Li, 2020, "Nineteenth-century Performance and Editorial Practice: A Study of Beethoven's Sonata in C-sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2", Ph.D. diss, Arizona State University, https://repository.asu.edu/attachments/227327/content/Li_asu_0010E_19894.pdf
8Barry Cooper: Barry Cooper, 2007, Beethoven: The 35 Piano Sonatas Volume 2 (The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music).

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I would play it like this (the image came out kind of big...): trill

You can play the lower A# quite short to avoid tension (if it suits your interpretation, of course). For me the most natural fingering is 4-5-4-3-4-5 in the upper voice, although 3-5-3-2-3 works, too, and might be easier if your hand is big and/or 4th finger weak.

There's a similar trill a couple bars later, which I find much harder. The fingering 4-5-4-3-4-5 works there, too, or you may try 5-3-5-3-5-4 or something similar. In both cases it helps to play the first note of the trill a bit longer and stronger than the others, and it works musically, too.

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  • Thanks! This sounds good to me.. I noted that there are 16th notes in the bass, so I got a 4 on 5 situation.. but I guess its played so fast (presto) that it does not matter.. – Håkon Hægland Mar 21 '13 at 21:27

Beethoven always started his trills on the upper note (documented here), unlike modern practice. This would come out more fluent coming onto the G#. Although Nonpop's example could work, it's not normal to start and end on the same note. A better interpretation would be B A# B A# G# A#. As far as fingering, without context, it is hard to say what would work best, but 4-3-4-3-2-3 should work. As far as timing, whatever goes with your interpretation is fine. I've shown two alternate timings below.

enter image description here

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  • 1
    The thing is, trills in Beethoven aren't so black and white. In fact, here is a document which concludes that Beethoven most likely preferred to start on the main note (starting on page 5). I'll probably go to the library today, so I might as well see if I can find anything there, too. – nonpop Mar 22 '13 at 7:40

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