So how to follow the brooding darkness of the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ sonata? Transpose the final RH chord up an octave, transpose it into a major key – D flat major – change the metre to a graceful 3-in-a-bar, add some staccato to let light and air in, and compose a short, breezy movement in ternary form, full of humour, sudden syncopations in the middle section and sly, chromatically descending chords in the LH which wrong-foot the tonality – for a moment.
There’s no time to draw breath before Beethoven plunges us into the turbulent third movement. All calm is pushed aside by stormy violence; a crisp LH staccato bass beneath RH ascending broken chords which traverse the keyboard, broken octaves, an electric Alberti bass in the second subject and development. The recapitulation moves to a shattering climax poised on two diminished 7ths, before the coda builds to a highly dramatic conclusion.
This Sonata presents a tightly unified whole; note how the first three notes of movement one provide the first three notes of Movement 3 an octave lower – and they are then extended. Tovey writes of this movement: ‘… It is vital to the colour of the main theme here that the arpeggios should be without pedal and that the staccato bass should make its dramatic menace without disguise.’ Absolutely.
Here is Brendel’s performance of the entire Sonata –