Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 is also called the Moonlight Sonata. The first movement is smooth, like the moonlight in a quiet and clear night; the second movement is vivid, just similar to the moonlight in a night with few clouds and gentle breezes; The last movement, in contrast, is quite strong and violent, it is more like thunders in a stormy night, rather than moonlight.

So I'm a bit confused.

  1. Is the 3rd movement really a component of the Moonlight Sonata?

  2. Why it is so strong?

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    When it comes to interpretation, anything goes. With that said, this is Beethoven, so there may be some relevant history and analysis of this subject that would be appropriate here. With that as the goal, I'm going to protect this question immediately to prevent every new user who comes across this from sharing a random opinion :P
    – user28
    May 30, 2013 at 15:39
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    According to Wikipedia: "The name 'Moonlight Sonata' has its origins in remarks by the German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab. In 1832, five years after Beethoven's death, Rellstab likened the effect of the first movement to that of moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne." That is, there isn't actually any historical connection between the "moonlight" nickname and the third movement, so you shouldn't be surprised by its non-lunar qualities.
    – Micah
    May 30, 2013 at 15:52
  • If you listen to Valentina Lisitsa's version you might(!) get the connection everytime. By itself it doesn't mean too much but when it is connected to the previous build-up it kind of makes sense to me a lot. However, contrary to what classical music people claim it's a personal thing. If you don't feel anything it is what it is. Nothing more nothing less. But I tend to link those pieces conceptually even though there might be or might not be any connections.
    – user1306
    May 30, 2013 at 21:18
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    I prefer to tell people that it's cause Beethoven wrote it during a second job, hence "moonlighting." :-) May 31, 2013 at 13:26
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    Nicknames after the fact: Mendelssohn's "Scottish" symphony was reviewed contemporaneously, favourably, as lavishly depicting the moors and glens and cairns and lochs and whatnot. But, after the review had gone to print, it turned out that what they'd performed was actually what we now call his "Italian." Aug 19, 2019 at 4:47

2 Answers 2


As is the case with many classical pieces of absolute music, the subtitle of this piano sonata was not attributed by the composer. (See also the Chopin preludes and etudes -- he saw his music expressly as non-programmatic, but many of these pieces have gained "nicknames" such as "Revolutionary", "Winter Wind" from performers and listeners over the years.)

The full title of this piece of music is Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27, No. 2. As @Micah has noted in his comment, the name "Moonlight Sonata" was attributed by the music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab years after Beethoven's death, and simply caught on because it was catchy and popular, not because it was an accurate representation of the music within the sonata.

  • Agreed! Many of Beethoven's works (and other composers) have works with nicknames not associated with the composer. For example, Beethoven's "Eroica" and "Pastorale" symphonies, Mozart's "Dissonance" quartet, and many, many of Haydn's symphonies. May 30, 2013 at 17:42
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    @jjmusicnotes Eroica was actually named Eroica by Beethoven. See under “History”, subheading “Dedication”: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._3_(Beethoven)
    – 11684
    Sep 23, 2018 at 9:09
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    @jjmusicnotes The German Wikipedia says the pastorale was also titled by Beethoven (unfortunately, the English article doesn’t detail the origins of the title). Under “Entstehung”: de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/6._Sinfonie_(Beethoven). Additionally, the whole thing is programmatic, with each movement having a subtitle describing a pastoral scene.
    – 11684
    Sep 23, 2018 at 9:18
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    @AndyBonner I certainly approve of the intent of this edit, but not entirely sure how kosher it is... maybe a topic to bring up on Meta? In either case we appreciate the effort to clean up the site!
    – user45266
    Nov 15, 2021 at 20:34
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    I think link corrections and minor enhancements to factual data are completely kosher. Thanks!
    – NReilingh
    Nov 16, 2021 at 0:51

Short answer: It doesn't have to do with moonlight at all.

Long answer: The original name Beethoven gave it was Sonata Quasi una Fantasia. Moonlight Sonata was a name that somebody else gave to it. Beethoven didn't like that name but it became popular anyway. The only movement that has any real connection to moonlight is the first movement with the slow and quiet triplets. Beethoven actually thought of death when he was composing this sonata. You can see quite a few parallels between the music and death.

The tempo being presto agitato in the third movement gives you a sense that death is just hours away and it is devastating. The fact that most of the 3rd movement is quiet gives you a feeling that whoever is with the dying person is not letting their emotion out. Being forte near the repeat in a sense gives a feeling of release because it makes you feel as though the stress that was kept in is finally coming out. The tempo changing to Adagio near the end of the sonata makes you feel as though death just happened. The tempo change back to presto agitato gives that devastating feeling that was in the beginning of the 3rd movement.

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    Can you bring up any historical quotes where Beethoven describes the third movement of the "Moonlight" Sonata as depicting death?
    – Dekkadeci
    Sep 23, 2018 at 6:19
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    No, the OP can't. That's not in B's letters, post-deaf conversation notepads, or anywhere else. As close as we'll get to death is the blast radius of Gargamel's fury. Aug 19, 2019 at 4:52
  • Interestingly, Daniel Barenboim described in his Youtube channel the first movement as a funeral march.
    – Divide1918
    Oct 17, 2021 at 10:04

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