7 greatest-ever versions of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

16 September 2021, 16:54

Best versions of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata
Best versions of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Picture: Alamy/Marcin/Mari Samuelsen/Rousseau/YouTube

By Rosie Pentreath

From solo guitar to virtuosic violin, here are some of the most innovative takes on Beethoven’s iconic piano sonata.

In 1801, great composer Ludwig van Beethoven sat down to pen another great piano sonata.

This one, the Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, would become known as the ‘Moonlight’ sonata and go on to be one of the most enduringly popular piano sonatas ever written.

The name ‘Moonlight Sonata’ was leant to the piece by a music critic who likened its opening to the mood of moonlight on the waters of Lake Lucerne after the composer’s death (Beethoven never called it that), and the composer dedicated it to one of his pupils, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, who it’s believed Beethoven was in love with.

Originally for solo piano, the magnificent piece has been interpreted countless times – in its original instrumentation, but also through innovative performances giving it a spin in new versions for different instruments. Here are some of the very best.

Read more: Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata: discover the 1801 piano masterpiece

  1. Moonlight Sonata for solo guitar

    For us, the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata played on the acoustic or classical guitar gives it the most strong association with that moonlight on a lake image of any version.

    The soft guitar tones make it feel distant, like it’s coming from some faraway place somehow. Stay with this version long enough to watch guitarist, Marcin, go into a virtuosic rendition of the sonata’s fast movements too. Powerful stuff.

    Marcin - Moonlight Sonata on One Guitar (Official Video)

  2. Moonlight Sonata for violin and string orchestra

    The ‘Moonlight’ works beautifully played by a team of soft strings accompanying a violin soloist. Violinist Mari Samuelsen took the well-known piece and performed it in this sublime version for her debut album on Deutsche Grammophon.

    Mari Samuelsen – Moonlight

  3. Moonlight Sonata with beautiful piano visualisation

    YouTuber Rousseau performs piano covers of classical and pop songs and posts them with a digital reactive visualiser, and his version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is truly hypnotising. The visualisations are addictive to watch and, coupled with the wonderful Beethoven, are guaranteed to take you off to another place entirely.

    Read more: Study finds Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata most popular music to fall asleep to

    Pianist creates mesmerising visualisation of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

  4. Moonlight sonata in jazz and waltz versions

    Try Beethoven’s masterpiece in a jaunty jazz version and reworked as a waltz in this offering from a Lord Vinheteiro (the jury’s out on whether that’s his real name).

    Vinheteiro takes the familiar opening of the piece and presents it in different styles, something that somehow never takes away from the piece’s meditative melody and poignant chord progressions. Also, enjoy the moment he plays the original version upside down.

    Lord Vinheteiro - Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (jazz and waltz)

  5. Moonlight Sonata accompanied by its own YouTube comments

    This one’s fun. Over a beautiful performance of the work, these guys acted out real YouTube comments posted on actual performances of the pieces by some of the true piano greats.

    “The following are dramatisations of ACTUAL text comments posted on YouTube in response to performances from Horowitz, Rubinstein, Kissin, Kempff, Argerich and other legendary pianists,” the performers Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe of the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo write in the video’s introduction. You’re going to want to listen to the end – the comments are bonkers.

    YouTube Moonlight comments, a dramatic sonata by Anderson & Roe Piano Duo

  6. Moonlight Sonata performed on only one note

    In 2018, the Android marketing team decided to tune all 88 keys of a piano to exactly the same note, to explore the notion of a piano with no uniqueness in any of its keys.

    Pianist Ji was invited to perform the third movement of Beethoven’s great ‘Moonlight’ Sonata on the monotone piano, and help communicate the message of humanity ‘being together’, so in harmony and unison, while ‘being different’ and appreciating that we’re not all the same. Amen to that.

    Watch the new Android commercial piano play Moon Light Sonata 3rd Movement

  7. Moonlight Sonata with the pop power of Annie Lennox

    Pop legend Annie Lennox of Eurythmics fame had a go at performing Beethoven’s masterpiece in 2021 when forced to stay at home during coronavirus lockdown.

    Posting on Instagram, the modest Lennox sat at her living room piano and originally wrote, “Well, I’ve wanted to play the Moonlight Sonata perfectly for quite a long time. I’ve been practising a great deal because it doesn’t seem that I’ve ever managed to play it perfectly… But I’m going to try!” It’s a lovely performance. Thank you for the music, Annie. Thank you for the music, Ludwig.

    Annie Lennox plays Beethoven

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