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Musical MeaningToward a Critical History$
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Lawrence Kramer

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780520228245

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520228245.001.0001

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Hands On, Lights Off

Hands On, Lights Off

The “Moonlight” Sonata and the Birth of Sex at the Piano

Chapter:
(p.29) 2 Hands On, Lights Off
Source:
Musical Meaning
Author(s):

Lawrence Kramer

Publisher:
University of California Press
DOI:10.1525/california/9780520228245.003.0003

This chapter discusses the romantic history of the “Moonlight” Sonata by Beethoven, in an attempt to understand it as a significant episode in both the history of musical meaning and the history of sexuality. The discussion focuses first more on how the music has been culturally situated than on the music itself, though at the same time it shows continually that this distinction is at best a convenient fiction. The “Moonlight” Sonata fulfills an aesthetic ideal important at the time, translating itself into a compelling narrative, the music traces out the stages of a spiritual progress on behalf of a passive listener who yields to it in a state of rapture. The 19th-century domestic piano became a highly charged, often transgressive locus of emotional, sexual, and psychosexual attachment. It almost seems as if the postponement of inevitable denial was the form by which Beethoven articulated his sexual desires. The potential pathology of sex, the urgent need to keep it under close watch and devise a rational technology of correction” became both the source of the bourgeois body's identity and the measure of its value.

Keywords:   Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven, Adagio, family happiness, domestic piano, sexual desire

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