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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.

Copyright 2008 WNYC Radio

Sara Fishko