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Music by Moonlight May 25, 2012

Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.

By Alex Sawit

25 May 2012



Adagio – a tempo marking indicating that the music should be played slowly.

Dolce – meaning “sweet” in Italian; as a mood marking, it indicates that
the music should be played with a warm, gentle feeling.



If you’ve been hanging out at the wine shop long enough to share in the things I’m passionate about, then you know how much I love gazing at the full moon. Chances are you’ve also attended one of our shop’s happy little “Moonlight & Wine” picnics at some time or another. So if I’ve succeeded in getting you moonstruck, cheers to you. You know what magic is.

I have a confession to make, though.

In all the years that I have been gazing at the moon, I had always told myself to watch surrounded only by the hush that comes with the night. I had thought that the only sounds meant for a moonlit sky were the rustling of the evening breeze through the trees, the howl of the night wind in my face, the faint echo of a sleepless songbird…nothing much more than that.

Now that I reflect on it, however, I feel very foolish. A few weeks ago, you see, I found out how wonderful it can be to watch the moon…sigh, while listening to music.

How stupid of me. As someone who is accustomed to pairing wine with food, I should have realized intuitively that pairing music with moonlight could make for just as delicious an experience. To think that men and women have been associating music with the moon for as long as anyone can remember. Popular culture alone gives us a long list of song classics…Blue Moon, How High the Moon, Moon River, Moonlight Serenade, Paper Moon…and so on.

For me, it is the music of the great composers that truly imbues the moon with profoundly romantic significance. That you may understand how I feel, consider the two pieces most famously associated with our lunar companion: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Debussy’s Clair de Lune.

Clair de Lune (meaning “moonlight” in French) is one of the most soothing melodies ever written for the piano. In its unhurried play and relaxed openness, I can imagine moonlight as a “sea of tranquility” upon which to drift effortlessly, aimlessly and, above all, blissfully. On the other hand, the first movement of Moonlight Sonata evokes exquisite loneliness in me, not unlike how it can feel when dimness and shadow under the moon conspire to cast a different kind of stillness on the landscape. In this eerily beautiful, otherworldly solitude, I hear only my beating heart telling me to be resolved…just like Beethoven’s music for piano, in which he seems to say, “I accept my pain” (it is said that this music is a window into the composer’s anguish and struggle, written when he was coming to terms with the knowledge that he would soon be completely deaf).

Such is the breadth and depth that two very different piano pieces can bestow on the same subject. Yet neither came to my mind when the moon greeted me outside my window, fully rounded and gleaming in the very palest gold, well past midnight a few weeks ago. Rather, I found myself called by something I hadn’t been listening to for a while, though it is my most favorite piece of music in the whole world.

With my lovely visitor waiting, I found Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, cued the second movement – the Adagio sostenuto – and let it play. Easing back at the foot of the bed, I caught the moonlight full on the face as it flooded through my window. The music, in reply, shimmered around the room like a late afternoon glittering on the sea.

And it was…magical.

Ever since I was very young, I have loved the music of Rachmaninoff. The last of the great Romantic composers and maybe the greatest pianist who ever lived, Rachmaninoff was resolute about how his music should feel: Russian. That’s what I thought even at a young age (at least as I understood it from movies and television), that it sounded so emotively, proudly “Russian.”

“The brooding, sometimes savage, frequently emotional expression often identified with the Russian soul,” a music critic once wrote, “flowed through Sergei Rachmaninoff’s music in a powerful stream.” For me to hear Rachmaninoff, then, is to hear the untamed heart and know it as my own.

The Adagio of the concerto starts like a gentle dream. Soft chords from the orchestra float in like deep breaths before giving way to the piano, which quiets you with a slow, simple rhythm; the piano’s delicacy holds you under its spell and is the heartbeat that awakens the main theme. The theme is phrased by a flute, then clarinet, until it mellows fully in the piano’s ripe, passionate voice. The mood climbs with dramatic tension, twice, leading to a short but maddening cadenza of desire until everything is calm again. With piano and orchestra embraced, the dreamy tenderness of the main theme is returned, to be concluded with what is perhaps the most loving passage of music that has ever been written.

Bellissima,” I should have said, savoring what I was hearing as the moon began to dip behind the outline of a tall, willowy tree.

The wine lover in me couldn’t help musing. Paired with the moon, the Adagio was like a supple red wine, bringing out a more indulgent appreciation of the meal with every sip.

When the moon sank completely, its radiance filtered through the veil of tree branches and bade me go to sleep. Only then did the music melt away as the piano, playing to the last, dispersed itself like a glimmering surface fading in the distance.

I shut down the media player and retired to bed. Yet having sipped unforgettably of something slow and sweet in the company of la bella luna, my untamed heart only yearned for more.

But I only want more of what I like. And I know what I like. Hence, I shall now call all music that I love under the moonlight by this new name, using two musical words:

“Adagio Dolce”

With the endearing initials of each word safely within me, I beckon the moon to return. After all, the heart wants what the heart wants.





EDITOR’S NOTE: Despite their contrasting moods, the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 or “Moonlight Sonata” and the second movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 have similar rhythms for the piano; in addition, their themes compare favorably with each other. It should further intrigue lovers of moonlight to know that both movements use the same title, “Adagio sostenuto.”

But if you’ve never heard Piano Concerto No. 2, find the recording of pianist Artur Rubinstein with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fritz Reiner. Among all recorded performances that exist of this concerto, Rubinstein’s alone rivals that of Rachmaninoff at the piano (unfortunately, Rachmaninoff’s breathtaking rendition was recorded in 1929 and, despite digital re-mastering to improve sound quality, is better appreciated with experienced ears). This is the one I was listening to under the moon. Purchase it or simply visit the wine shop to copy it for personal use.





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