• Dan Eady

A Journey through Hong Kong - Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

Updated: Dec 31, 2019

● Francesco Teopini braved cliffside drops, dark and rocky hiking trails and even wild boars to produce his latest music video, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata: "I really thought I was going to play, roll down the cliff and die."

● Francesco, a Hong Kong local for over 7 years, originally from Assisi, Italy, trained at London’s Royal Academy of Music, his new recording is in Beethoven’s original key, one rarely used by guitarists.

● His recording involved tuning the strings to a C sharp minor pitch and working out fingerings that stretched his left hand to its limits.

● His CD recording of J.S. Bach: Sonatas and Partitas for Classical Guitar has almost 900,000 online hits.


Hong Kong-based classical guitarist Francesco Teopini braved cliffside drops,

dark and rocky hiking trails and even wild boars to produce his latest music

video, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

"I really thought I was going to play, roll down the cliff and die." he said.

Watch Francesco play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata here:


Shot over several weekends at the height of the city's protests, Francesco said he wanted to show a Hong Kong that people rarely see. "In a sense, the whole of Hong Kong is going through a period of ‘sturm and drang’,” he said. The Romantic period in music made famous the term ‘sturm und drang’ (literally storm and stress) – an emotional rejection of the clinical rationalism of The Enlightenment. “


The Moonlight Sonata is the most iconic piece from the Romantic era; it was written by Beethoven in 1801," Francesco explained. Next year, 2020, marks the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, and while Francesco said he wanted a video that coincided with the celebrations, he couldn’t have imagined when first discussing the project that it would ever

involve any real physical danger: “I literally tore my trousers near Aberdeen for the drone shots, almost fell off a cliff for the shots near Braemar Hill and we dodged a family of wild boar too.”


Producer Peter Shadbolt said shooting the video at the height of the tension in Hong Kong added an eerie poignancy to the project. “The scenes we shot on the tram were amazing – this was at a time in Hong Kong when people were so tense that even the sound of a Coke can hitting the pavement made everyone gasp thinking it was a teargas canister,” he said. “You could see people were slightly suspicious at first – it is a strange and unusual thing hauling a classical guitarist onto a tram at a moment in the city’s life when everyone is on edge. Then, when they heard the music, the tension evaporated."


Francesco, originally from Assisi in Italy and who trained at London’s Royal Academy of Music, made a transcription in Beethoven’s original key, which is never used by guitarists.“I wanted to make a transcription of it that could be popular with classical guitarists – we generally don’t play Beethoven at all."This involved tuning the strings to a C sharp minor pitch and working out fingerings that stretched his left hand to its limits. “The original key just sounds better – it’s as simple as that,” he said. “The register of the music flows better; you can hear the lowest basses and the highest notes as they were originally written. “I wanted it to sound as close to the original as possible.”


For videographer Dan Eady the video is part of long-held desire to shoot a video that uses the physical environment of Hong Kong as a key element. He says, “I think the landscape in Hong Kong is amazing: there are just so many different areas or atmospheric places you can go to. Visually, I find it a very inspiring place”.

Francesco has been living in Hong Kong for more than seven years and recently received a PhD in musicology from the Hong Kong Baptist University, where he studied as one of the recipients of the prestigious Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme. He hopes the video – the audio for which was mixed by professional collaborators Giovanni Santini and mastered by Luca Ricci - will finally put a face to his current YouTube fame. His CD recording of J.S. Bach: Sonatas and Partitas for Classical Guitar already has almost 900,000 hits built up without any advance marketing and on the strength of his playing alone. The graphic on the YouTube posting by his recording label Brilliant Classics simply shows an extract of one of Bach’s original scores.


“Now the people that want to see me play can know that I’ve caught trams towards riots, hiked up steep hillsides in 95% humidity and tip-toed gingerly past families of wild boar to bring them the best of Beethoven,” he said. For his next video, there will be a departure from the classics, a transcription of Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters. Francesco also says, “We’re hoping that the physical environment for this next work will be slightly less demanding than Beethoven.”


- Peter Shadbolt


Moonlight Sonata. Press Release. December 2019.


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