The Ghost Sonata

The Ghost Sonata Study Guide

The Ghost Sonata (Swedish title: Spöksonaten) was written in 1907 and first performed on January 21st, 1908 at Strindberg’s Intimate Theater in Stockholm. The play was unpopular among theatrical critics of the time and only secured critical acclaim after director Max Reinhardt directed a 1916 run in Berlin and a 1917 run in Strindberg’s home nation of Sweden.

In the mid-1920s, the Provincetown Players—an influential theatre company under the leadership of Eugene O’Neill—brought The Ghost Sonata to New York and London. Julius Weismann composed the music for its 1930 opera adaptation. In 1962, it received a TV adaptation by BBC.

The Ghost Sonata is an early example of modernism and the avant-garde in early 20th-century theatre. The play, which was inspired by Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor (the “Gespenster Sonata”) and Piano Trio No. 4 in D major (the “Ghost Trio”), and maintains a surrealistic, fantastical mood throughout, examines the nature of betrayal, secrets, morality, spirituality, class, and the world of the dead.

The play is an example of a chamber play, a type of theatrical performance of which Strindberg and Reinhardt were pioneers. Chamber plays often consist of three acts, use minimalistic sets and costumes, and are performed by a relatively small cast.