In Defense of Moonlight
by Sarah Clemmens Waltz
The mystery of the moon occupies the same primacy in the imagery of Romanticism
that the searching light of the sun does in that of the Enlightenment.
Moonlight's Romanticism was espoused by Jean Paul, who wrote: "moonlight
[is] at once romantic image and example." Perhaps moonlight is Romantic
because it is essentially sublime, as aesthetic thinkers from Kant to
Schopenhauer agreed. Kant's assertion that "night is sublime, day is beautiful"
rests on the presence of a moon that speaks to him "of friendship, of
disdain for the world, of eternity." Schopenhauer's moon was "an object
of contemplation, never of the will. Further, it is sublime; that is,
it inclines us to sublimity, because it goes along without any regard
to us, forever alien to earthly activities, and sees all, but takes part
in none." This sublimity is most strongly evident in the paintings of
Caspar David Friedrich, whose Moonrise Over the Sea (1822) and
Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon (1824) display the moon
not only as a ruling element in Romantic landscape but also as the guiding
eye of the infinite, and as a primary object of human contemplation. That
those two very paintings were chosen to grace the covers of the two-volume
Dover edition of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas is perhaps out of regard for
the Piano Sonata, op.27, no.2, subtly indicating that its "Moonlight"
title may be "an apt symbol for the Romantic tendency to evoke the sublime
in relation to Beethoven's instrumental music," as Timothy Jones has remarked.