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.
- Week 1 - Welcome to Class!
We’re happy that you’ve joined us! The items you see here will enable you to get the most out of this course. Please note that many of the items have been updated to reflect the addition of Jonathan’s newest lectures.
- Week 2 - How Things Were
To examine the relationship Beethoven had with the piano sonata, we begin by looking at its origins. In this lecture, we will discuss the role of music generally, and of the sonata specifically, in the time of Haydn and Mozart. This lecture will also provide a...
- 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 altog...
- 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 t...
- 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, w...
- 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 sev...
- Week 7 - Op. 2, No. 1, and Op. 10, No. 2
This lecture delves into two of the early sonatas: the F minor, Op. 2, No. 1 (the first of the 32), and the F Major, Op. 10, No. 2. Unlike “The First Thirteen” lecture, which was nominally about the Sonata Op. 7 but sought to address the early period in genera...
- Week 8 - Op. 57: The "Appassionata"
The topic of this lecture is the Sonata Op. 57, commonly known as the "Appassionata"—one of Beethoven’s most iconic works. The sonata’s unusual (for Beethoven) and unrelenting emotional trajectory is a major topic, as is his use of a surprising chord as a sort...
- Week 9 - Op. 101
This lecture explores the Sonata Op. 101, commonly thought to be the first sonata that belongs to the late period. Major topics include the first movement’s unusual harmonic instability, and the way in which this becomes a source of the music’s character; the ...
- Week 10 - Learning Library
The Learning Library contains supplementary resources to help you during and after this course: lesson notes, suggested readings, and links to streaming audio files for most of the sonatas explored in the course.
- Week 11 - Feedback, Please
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- Week 12 - Announcements and Events
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Neubauer Family Chair in Piano Studies