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Why Do We Love the 'Moonlight' Sonata?

It has been recorded by everyone from Geza Anda to Dieter Zechlin. Forward-looking, iconoclastic modern pianists record it; so do classicists, and big-name stars give it a try. With more than 80 available recordings, pianists continue to return to Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata.

"Surely I've written better things," Beethoven said of his Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Opus 27, No. 2. So why does everybody play the "Moonlight"?

Beethoven specified that the piece's famous first movement should be played "Quasi una fantasia" — almost a fantasy — and it has certainly inspired many a fantasy, passion, and parody. But maybe the answer lies somewhere in the 13 different versions heard here.

Note: This essay was first broadcast in 2000.

Five 'Moonlights,' 1st Mvt.

Artur Schnabel

Artur Schnabel's recordings of Beethoven sonatas still remain definitive; his brisk "Moonlight" was waxed in 1934.

Annie Fischer

The Hungarian pianist Annie Fischer recorded this enduring version in late 1958 and early 1959.

Emil Grigoryevich Gilels

Originally from the Ukraine, Emil Gilels performed this slower interpretation live in Moscow in 1968.

Vladimir Ashkenazy

Before Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy branched out into conducting, he cut this classic 1978 study.

Maurizio Pollini

The Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini ventured this version of Beethoven's Opus 27, No. 2 in 1991.

Copyright 2008 WNYC

Sara Fishko