The course focuses on the piano sonatas composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the most influential and revered composers in classical music history.
The course is designed to provide learners with a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of Beethoven's piano sonatas. It delves into the historical context, musical structure, and emotional depth of these remarkable works. Through a combination of video lectures, musical examples, and analysis, Jonathan Biss guides students on a journey to explore and interpret Beethoven's sonatas.
The course is divided into 12 weeks, each dedicated to a specific set of sonatas. Students learn about Beethoven's development as a composer and the evolution of his musical style throughout his career. They gain insights into the unique characteristics of individual sonatas, including their thematic material, harmonic innovations, and interpretive challenges.
Throughout the course, students are encouraged to actively engage with the music. They are provided with practical techniques and strategies for practicing and performing the sonatas. Jonathan Biss shares his own experiences and interpretations, offering valuable insights into the artistic process and the various interpretive possibilities within Beethoven's music.
By the end of the course, students should have a deepened understanding of Beethoven's piano sonatas and be equipped with tools to approach and interpret these works with confidence. They will have developed a greater appreciation for Beethoven's genius and the profound impact his music has had on the classical music tradition.
Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas is suitable for both pianists and music enthusiasts with a basic understanding of music theory. It offers a unique opportunity to delve into the world of Beethoven's piano music and gain a deeper appreciation for his artistry.
Our relationship to Beethoven is a deep and paradoxical one. For many musicians, he represents a kind of holy grail: His music has an intensity, rigor, and profundity which keep us in its thrall, and it is perhaps unequalled in the interpretive, technical, and even spiritual challenges it poses to performers. At the same time, Beethoven’s music is casually familiar to millions of people who do not attend concerts or consider themselves musically inclined. Two hundred years after his death, he is everywhere in the culture, yet still represents its summit.
This course takes an inside-out look at the 32 piano sonatas from the point of view of a performer. Each lecture will focus on one sonata and an aspect of Beethoven’s music exemplified by it. (These might include: the relationship between Beethoven the pianist and Beethoven the composer; the critical role improvisation plays in his highly structured music; his mixing of extremely refined music with rougher elements; and the often surprising ways in which the events of his life influenced his compositional process and the character of the music he was writing.) The course will feature some analysis and historical background, but its perspective is that of a player, not a musicologist. Its main aim is to explore and demystify the work of the performer, even while embracing the eternal mystery of Beethoven’s music itself.
This season's Curtis courses are sponsored by Linda Richardson in loving memory of her husband, Dr. Paul Richardson.
The Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation supports Curtis's lifelong learning initiatives.
Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas by Jonathan Biss on Coursera consists of 12 weeks, each containing several lectures, readings and quizzes:
Week 1: Welcome to Class!
Notes from the Instructor 10m
Join the Curtis Online Forum 10m
Getting to Know You 10m
Week 2: How Things Were
6 videos (Total 59 min), 3 readings, 1 quiz
Music in the Time of Haydn and Mozart 12m
Enter Beethoven 8m
Sonata Form in Theory 7m
Sonata Form in Practice 14m
…and the Form of the Sonata 8m
Lesson Notes and Resources (How Things Were) 10m
Lecture Corrections 10m
Mr. Biss Asks... 10m
How Things Were 30m
Week 3: The First Thirteen
Beethoven’s work has traditionally been divided into three or four periods. This is problematic, for various reasons, but the first 13 of the 32 sonatas do, in a sense, form a unit. This lecture will focus on Sonata No. 4, Op. 7, which is the largest and altogether one of the most impressive of the early works.
Topics will include Beethoven’s use of the piano and the use of the sonata as a “vehicle” for the pianist, the ways in which this and other early sonatas conform to the model established by Haydn and Mozart and the ways in which they do not, and the foreshadowing of the fixations of the later years, while holding, at least on the surface, to the conventions of the time. Topics will include Beethoven’s use of the piano, and the use of the sonata as a “vehicle” for the pianist, the ways in which this and other early sonatas conform to the model established by Haydn and Mozart and the ways in which they do not, and the foreshadowing of the fixations of the later years, while holding, at least on the surface, to the conventions of the time.
4 videos (Total 44 min), 3 readings, 1 quiz
Expanding the Scope of the Sonata: Op. 7, 1st Movement 15m
Early Experiments in Metaphysics: Op. 7, 2nd Movement 7m
Respecting and Disrespecting Tradition: Op. 7, 3rd and 4th Movements 11m
Lesson Notes and Resources (The First Thirteen) 10m
Mr. Biss Asks... 10m
Sonata from "The First Thirteen" 10m
The First Thirteen 30m
Week 4: New Paths
Beethoven’s conception of the sonata was perpetually in flux, but the year 1801 is a particularly experimental one. The four sonatas Op. 26 through 28 (Nos. 14 through 17, chronologically) feature the most concrete innovations among the sonatas written up to that point, and are the focus of this lecture. There will be discussion of the relationship between the movements in a classical sonata, and the radical shift it begins to undergo at this point. We will also examine the ways in which these sonatas were influential to future generations of composers, which the earlier works, great as they are, were not.
As a special feature for this lecture, a recording by a current Curtis student of the first movement of Op. 28 will be available on Curtis Performs.
5 videos (Total 59 min), 4 readings, 1 quiz
Re-shaping the Sonata: Op. 26 19m
Blurring the Lines Between Fantasy and Sonata: Op. 27, No.1 6m
Psychological Extremity in Music: Op. 27, No.2 15m
Subtlety and Innovation: Op. 28 9m
Lesson Notes and Resources (New Paths) 10m
Lecture Correction 10m
Mr. Biss Asks... 10m
Sonatas from "New Paths" 10m
New Paths 30m
Week 5: Crisis
From 1793 until 1809, Beethoven composed at a steady pace. But for the next several years, he stalled dramatically, as he dealt with the onset of his deafness, severely trying personal circumstances, and the struggle to find what would become his late style, which to a remarkable degree involved the total reinvention of his musical language. This lecture examines the intersection of these three issues, and of his life and music more generally. Works discussed come from this comparatively fallow period and will include the Fantasy, Op. 77, which exemplifies the vital role improvisation played in all of Beethoven’s music, and the Sonatas Op. 78, and 81a, the “Lebewohl.” The last of these is one of Beethoven’s only serious experiments with program music, which made it an important reference point for many 19th-century composers. Another topic will be the ways in which the works of this period seem to manipulate time, which was always one of Beethoven’s key fascinations, and becomes ever more critical moving into the late period.
5 videos (Total 56 min), 4 readings, 1 quiz
Deafness, Personal Problems, and Searching for a New Way 9m
Beethoven as Improviser: Fantasy, Op.77 9m
Serenity and Slapstick: Op.78 13m
Formal Experimentation and Musical Storytelling: Op.81a 12m
Lesson Notes and Resources (Crisis) 10m
Lecture Correction 10m
Mr. Biss Asks... 10m
Sonatas from "Crisis" 10m
Week 6: Towards Infinity
For this lecture, the focus will be on the Sonata Op. 109, the first of the final three, in which Beethoven’s decades-long grappling with the form comes to its astonishing conclusion. We will also look back at the early period—the Sonata Op. 10, No. 1 (the seventh he wrote) in particular—for the purposes of “zooming out,” and examining the evolution that took place in the interim: an evolution not just of form, but of style, of musical language, of Beethoven’s conception of the role of music. This lecture will also include a discussion of Beethoven’s legacy—specifically, of the way in which his music came to represent simultaneously the highest possible aspiration and the most insurmountable problem for generations of composers who followed him.
4 videos (Total 57 min), 3 readings, 1 quiz
Circling Back and Moving Forward: Comparing the First Movements Op. 10, No. 1, and Op.109 17m
Variations as Psychology: Op.109’s Finale 20m
Coda: The Sonata after Beethoven 10m
Lesson Notes and Resources (Towards Infinity) 10m
Mr. Biss Asks... 10m
Sonata from "Towards Infinity" 10m
Towards Infinity 30m
Week 7: Op. 2, No. 1, and Op. 10, No. 2
13 videos (Total 72 min), 2 readings, 2 quizzes
Beethoven at 24: Style and Priorities 4m
Op. 2, No. 1: Wrestling with the Past 6m
Op. 2, No. 1: 1st Mvt.: Mining his Materials 5m
Op. 2, No. 1: 1st Mvt.: Sonata Form in the Minor Mode 4m
Op. 2, No. 1: 2nd Mvt.: Borrowing from Haydn, and Himself 8m
Op. 2, No. 1: 3rd Mvt.: Adding Ambiguity to an Old Form 5m
Op. 2, No. 1: 4th mvt.: Releasing the Shackles 8m
Op. 10, No. 2: Beethoven’s Humor! 3m
1st Mvt.: Subverting Expectations 4m
1st Mvt.: Beethoven as Stubborn Child 5m
2nd Mvt.: The Menuet/Slow Movement Hybrid 6m
3rd Mvt.: The Non-fugue 5m
Lesson Notes and Resources (Op. 2, No. 1, and Op. 10, No. 2) 10m
Mr. Biss Asks... 10m
Op. 2, No.1 30m
Op. 10, No.2 30m
Week 8: Op. 57: The "Appassionata"
7 videos (Total 56 min), 2 readings, 1 quiz
1st Mvt.: Musical Economy as Noose-tightening 9m
1st Mvt.: Musical Economy and Beethoven's Resourcefulness 4m
1st Mvt.: Unprecedented Intensity, and Delayed Resolution 13m
2nd Mvt.: A Fragile Serenity 11m
3rd Mvt.: Relentless Intensity, On a Leash 6m
3rd Mvt.: …and Unleashed 5m
Lesson Notes and Resources (Op. 57) 10m
Mr. Biss Asks... 10m
Week 9: Op. 101
8 videos (Total 69 min), 2 readings, 1 quiz
1st Mvt.: Beginning in Mid-thought 6m
1st Mvt.: Harmonic Instability as a Source of Character 11m
2nd Mvt.: March! 9m
2nd Mvt.: Painting in Primary and Secondary Colors 6m
3rd Mvt.: Creating a Cyclical Form 12m
3rd Mvt.: Delayed Resolution, Delayed Gratification... 8m
3rd Mvt.: ...and Ultimate Triumph 6m
Lesson Notes and Resources (Op. 101) 10m
Mr. Biss Asks... 10m
Week 10: Learning Library
Lesson Notes and Resources 10m
Suggested Readings 10m
Listen to Sonatas (All) 10m
Week 11: Feedback, Please
Week 12: Announcements and Events
Upcoming meet-ups in your area 10m
New Lectures! 10m
October 13, 2015 Update--IMPORTANT: Improvement to course structure 10m
Concert on February 20, 2015 at Rice University in Houston, Texas 10m
New recording by Jonathan Biss released January 27, 2015 10m
Beethoven Piano Sonatas Volume 5 is now available! 10m
As a former student who has taken the course Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas by Jonathan Biss on Coursera, I can confidently say that it is an exceptional learning experience for anyone interested in Beethoven's music and piano performance. Here is my evaluation of the course:
The course content is outstanding. Jonathan Biss's expertise and passion for Beethoven's piano sonatas shine through in each module. The lectures are well-structured, providing a balance of historical context, musical analysis, and interpretive insights. Biss's explanations are clear, and he effectively conveys complex musical concepts in an accessible manner.
One of the strengths of the course is the comprehensive approach to studying Beethoven's sonatas. The modules cover a wide range of sonatas, offering a holistic understanding of Beethoven's development as a composer. The in-depth analysis of each sonata, including discussions on themes, structure, and interpretation, deepened my appreciation for the intricacies and genius of Beethoven's compositions.
Jonathan Biss's teaching style is engaging and inspiring. His passion for the music is contagious, and he encourages students to develop their own interpretations while providing guidance and valuable insights. I found his personal anecdotes and performance demonstrations particularly enriching, as they brought the music to life and demonstrated the interpretive possibilities.
The course materials, including musical examples and assignments, were thoughtfully designed to reinforce the concepts taught. The assignments challenged me to apply the knowledge gained and encouraged active listening and critical thinking. The opportunity to interact with other learners through discussion forums fostered a sense of community and provided valuable perspectives from diverse musical backgrounds.
Furthermore, the production quality of the course is excellent. The video and audio recordings are of high quality, ensuring a clear and immersive learning experience. The course platform on Coursera is user-friendly, allowing easy navigation and access to course materials.
In conclusion, Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas by Jonathan Biss on Coursera is an exceptional course that exceeded my expectations. It provided me with a deep understanding of Beethoven's piano sonatas, enhanced my analytical and interpretive skills, and enriched my overall musical appreciation. I highly recommend this course to pianists, music students, and classical music enthusiasts who are eager to delve into the world of Beethoven's timeless compositions.
At the time, the coure has an average rating or 4.8 out of 5 stars based on over 589 ratings.
What you'll learn:
After completing the course Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas by Jonathan Biss on Coursera, learners can expect to acquire several skills. Here are some of the skills that students can develop through this course:
Enhanced Understanding of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: Students will gain a deepened understanding of Beethoven's piano sonatas, including their historical context, musical structure, and emotional depth. They will become familiar with the unique characteristics and innovations found in these compositions.
Musical Analysis: The course provides students with tools and techniques for analyzing and interpreting Beethoven's piano sonatas. They will learn how to dissect the music, identify thematic material, analyze harmonic progressions, and explore the formal structure of the sonatas.
Interpretive Skills: Through the guidance of Jonathan Biss, students will develop interpretive skills necessary for performing Beethoven's piano sonatas. They will gain insights into different interpretive choices, expressive techniques, and nuances that bring out the full potential of the music.
Historical and Cultural Awareness: The course explores the historical and cultural background of Beethoven's music, giving students a deeper appreciation of the societal influences that shaped his compositions. Students will understand how Beethoven's music contributed to the development of classical music.
Practice and Performance Techniques: Learners will receive practical advice and techniques for practicing and performing Beethoven's piano sonatas. They will learn strategies for tackling technical challenges, developing musicality, and refining their performance skills.
Critical Listening Skills: Through analyzing and discussing different recordings and performances, students will develop critical listening skills. They will learn to discern nuances in interpretation, style, and artistic choices made by various pianists.
Artistic Expression and Creativity: The course encourages students to explore their own artistic expression and creativity within the framework of Beethoven's music. They will gain insights into the artistic process and be inspired to develop their own interpretations.
Overall, completing the course Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas equips students with a deeper understanding of Beethoven's music, analytical skills, interpretive abilities, and the confidence to approach and perform his piano sonatas.
Jonathan Biss is an acclaimed pianist and educator known for his profound musicality and insightful interpretations. He was born on September 18, 1980, in Bloomington, Indiana, into a family of musicians. Biss began playing the piano at an early age and quickly displayed exceptional talent.
Biss has established himself as a leading interpreter of Beethoven's music, garnering praise for his deep understanding of the composer's works. His performances are characterized by a combination of technical brilliance, emotional depth, and intellectual rigor. Biss's playing is often described as sensitive, thoughtful, and nuanced, showcasing his ability to communicate the essence of the music to his audiences.
Aside from his skill as a performer, Biss is also highly regarded as an educator. He holds a teaching position at the Curtis Institute of Music, where he shares his knowledge and passion for music with the next generation of musicians. Biss is known for his engaging and insightful teaching style, providing students with valuable insights into the interpretive process and the historical context of the music they study.
Jonathan Biss has received numerous accolades throughout his career, including awards and recognition for his recordings and performances. He has collaborated with major orchestras worldwide and performed in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.
In addition to his performing and teaching activities, Biss is also an author. He has written extensively about his experiences and insights into the world of music, including his book "Beethoven's Shadow," which explores his deep connection with Beethoven's music.
Overall, Jonathan Biss is a highly skilled and respected pianist whose expertise in interpreting Beethoven's music is widely recognized. His performances and recordings, coupled with his commitment to educating others, have solidified his reputation as an exceptional musician and a leading authority on Beethoven's piano music.
The course Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas by Jonathan Biss on Coursera has several requirements for learners. Here are the key requirements for the course:
Basic Musical Knowledge: A foundational understanding of music theory and notation is recommended to fully engage with the course material. Familiarity with concepts such as scales, chords, and musical terminology will aid in comprehending the analysis and discussions.
Access to a Piano: As the course focuses on Beethoven's piano sonatas, access to a piano is necessary to practice and apply the techniques and concepts taught. Students should have regular access to a piano or a digital keyboard with weighted keys for optimal learning.
Listening Skills: Developing active listening skills is essential for this course. Students should be able to listen attentively to musical examples, identify different musical elements, and analyze the interpretations discussed in the lectures.
Time Commitment: The course consists of multiple modules, each with video lectures, musical examples, and assignments. Students should allocate sufficient time to watch the lectures, engage with the course materials, complete assignments, and practice the repertoire covered in each module.
Open Mind and Curiosity: To fully benefit from the course, an open mind and a curious attitude towards Beethoven's music are important. Students should be willing to explore new interpretations, challenge preconceived notions, and embrace the diverse perspectives offered by the instructor and fellow learners.
Passion for Beethoven's Music: A genuine interest and passion for Beethoven's piano music will enhance the learning experience. Enthusiasm for studying and delving into the depths of Beethoven's compositions will fuel motivation and engagement throughout the course.
While these requirements are not overly demanding, they contribute to creating a rich learning environment where students can fully immerse themselves in the exploration of Beethoven's piano sonatas and derive maximum value from the course.