Blame it on the moonlight

The moon has been a source of awe and admiration since times immemorial, and the fascination of man by its mysterious nature and changing phases can be shown by the multitude of lunar deities identified in mythological accounts all around the world.

It was the same fascination that would inspire the art of Romanticism, which placed new emphasis on the intense emotions arising from the confrontation with the sublimity of the natural world. Captivating depictions of the moon can be found in several romantic works, as in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840) or the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822).

“Dovedale by Moonlight” (detail), by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797)

In music, the most popular composition associated with the moon is most probably Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, written in 1801. The composer, however, would never get to know it by this name (its original title is Sonata quasi una fantasia); the nickname ”Moonlight” only came about some five years after Beethoven’s death, thanks to a description by Ludwig Rellstab, a German poet and music critic, who referred to the composition in terms of “a vision of a boat on Lake Lucerne by moonlight.” Even though Beethoven did not necessarily share Rellstab’s vision, the sonata would be thereafter associated with moonlight and its mesmerising first movement would serve as a prototype for many nocturnes during the 19th century.

It was in 1890 that Claude Debussy started to compose his Suite Bergamasque. Its third and most famous movement was inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem Clair de Lune (French for “moonlight”) and carries the same name. Originally written for the piano, Debussy’s suite has been orchestrated by many composers including André Caplet, Lucien Cailliet (whose arrangement was used in the closing scene of Ocean’s Eleven), and Leopold Stokowski.

Stokowski’s version was actually meant to feature in Disney’s Fantasia, however the scene was eventually deleted due to length limitations.

The mystique and magical quality of moonlight have continued to inspire and fuel artistic creation up to modern times.  One of the most beautiful examples can be found in Paco de Lucía’s album Fuente y Caudal, which brought him international fame. It is the wonderful granaína Reflejo de luna (“reflection of moon”), a true gem that reveals the seemingly limitless capacity of flamenco guitar for expression and color. It is, after all, no accident that the strings of the guitar have been called the “six silver moonbeams”…

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2 Comments

Filed under Film & Music

2 responses to “Blame it on the moonlight

  1. Thanks for the link to the guitar piece. I had never heard of that one before.

    • You’re very welcome, glad you liked it. I highly recommend any of Paco’s albums, especially some of the early ones, e.g. La fabulosa guitarra de Paco de Lucía (1967) and Fantasía flamenca de Paco de Lucía (1969)

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