Beethoven's Piano Sonatas

Course No. 7250
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Share This Course
4.7 out of 5
54 Reviews
70% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 7250
Sale
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring around 75 portraits, illustrations and WordScore Guides. Portraits include those of Beethoven and his contemporaries, including his close friend Archduke Rudolph (for whom the Farewell sonata was written).
Streaming Included Free

Course Overview

Beethoven was a revolutionary man living in a revolutionary time. He captured his inner voice—demons and all—and the spirit of his time, and in doing so, created a body of music the likes of which no one had ever before imagined. "An artist must never stand still," he once said. A virtuoso at the keyboard, Beethoven used the piano as his personal musical laboratory, and the piano sonata became, more than any other genre of music, a place where he could experiment with harmony, motivic development, the contextual use of form, and, most important, his developing view of music as a self-expressive art.

Pushing the Piano to Its Limit and Beyond

Spanning the length of his compositional career, Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas provide a window into his personal musical development, and they show the concept of the piano as an instrument and the piano sonata as a genre undergoing an extraordinary evolution.

The sonatas are not simply compositions for the piano, but are about the developing technology of the piano itself, an evolving instrument that Beethoven pushed to its limits and then beyond, ultimately writing music for an idealized piano that didn't come into existence until some 40 years after his death.

An Engaging and Exhilarating Professor

As in his previous courses, Professor Greenberg combines his perceptive analyses of musical excerpts with historical anecdotes, metaphors, and humor. He shows what goes on inside a musical composition: how it came to be written, how it works, and how—as is often the case with Beethoven—it may break all the rules to achieve a new and powerful effect. This course is somewhat technical and although musical knowledge is helpful, it is not necessary.

Popular, Experimental, Revolutionary, Shocking

Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas include some of his most popular works as well as some of his most experimental. This course touches on every one of these fascinating pieces, approaching them chronologically, from the terse and powerful first sonata of 1795 to the revolutionary Hammerklavier Sonata of 1818 and the radical last three sonatas of 1820–1822.

In addition to the Hammerklavier, you will explore in detail the other sonatas that, by virtue of their popularity or other special qualities, have been bestowed with evocative nicknames. These include:

  • Pathétique (Piano Sonata no. 8 in C Minor, op. 13): The modern popularity of this piece has obscured its shocking originality, which led a contemporary to characterize Beethoven's work as "lots of crazy stuff."
  • Funeral March (Piano Sonata no. 12 in A-Flat, op. 26): Beethoven's first 11 piano sonatas challenged and eventually broke the bonds of the 18th-century Classical style. In this work, he fully embraced a genuinely experimental, avant-garde approach to the sonata.
  • Moonlight (Piano Sonata no. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, op. 27, no. 2): The composer Hector Berlioz wrote that the haunting first movement of this famous work is "one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify."
  • Tempest (Piano Sonata no. 17 in D Minor, op. 31, no. 2): Although Shakespeare's The Tempest reportedly inspired this sonata, the thematic parallels between the two works are elusive. But like the title of Shakespeare's play, Beethoven's sonata must qualify as one of the most expressively "tempestuous" in the repertoire.
  • Farewell (Piano Sonata no. 26 in E-Flat, op. 81a): Also known as Les Adieux and Das Lebewohl, this programmatic work commemorates the departure from and return to Vienna of Beethoven's close friend Archduke Rudolph.

Not all of Beethoven's greatest piano sonatas have nicknames. The last three are conventionally known by their opus numbers—109, 110, and 111—and are among Beethoven's most pathbreaking works.

"Oh, to Have Heard Him Play!"

Beethoven first achieved fame as a thrilling and unorthodox pianist who treated the piano, according to his contemporaries, in an "entirely new manner."

"When Beethoven played, expression always came first," says Professor Greenberg. "Beethoven was no more capable of slavish adherence to a steady beat than he was able to follow the constructs and rituals of Classicism. Oh, to have heard him play!"

To be present while Beethoven played was considered by contemporaries to be a revelatory experience. Johann Wenzel Tomaschek, a rival piano virtuoso, observed: "Beethoven's magnificent phrasing and particularly the daring of his improvisation stirred me strangely to the depths of my soul; indeed, I found myself so profoundly bowed down that I did not touch my piano for several days."

Piano manufacturers saw things differently. According to Andreas Streicher, Beethoven was so violent at the keyboard that he was "unworthy of imitation. ... He carries on in a fiery manner, and treats his instrument like a man who, bent on revenge, has his archenemy in his hands and, with cruel relish, wants to torture him slowly to death."

Nonetheless, once he became famous, Beethoven rarely if ever had to buy his own pianos, as piano builders vied with each other to lend him instruments. Nor did Beethoven let shortcomings of contemporary pianos limit his creativity. In his Piano Sonata no. 7 in D, op. 10, no. 3, he expands two musical phrases into high and low registers that didn't exist on the keyboards of the day.

Transferring Despair into Musical Action

Beethoven's childhood was dominated by abuse and loss. Already a bundle of gastric ailments and psychological neuroses, he went deaf over the course of his young and middle adulthood. He was desperately unlucky in love. Desiring a child, he did everything in his power to steal his nephew Karl from the boy's mother; when he succeeded, Karl attempted suicide.

As he entered his final decade, Beethoven became genuinely paranoid. And yet, says Professor Greenberg, Beethoven translated his experience into action—musical action—by composing pieces that by some amazing alchemy universalized his problems and his solutions.

Analyzing Beethoven's "Game"

Professor Greenberg analyzes many musical passages, taking you note-by-note, phrase-by-phrase through different movements of the sonatas, showing how Beethoven plans and achieves his surprising effects. Beethoven paid scrupulous attention to all aspects of his compositions, and Professor Greenberg elucidates these features and brings them vividly to life, such as thematic development, tempo, large-scale dramatic progression, and psychological manipulation by the performer.

You will learn a wealth of musical vocabulary: terms such as Viennese Classical style, sonata form, theme and variations, exposition, modulating bridge, recapitulation, cadence, minuet, rondo, fugue, and scherzo.

What You Will Hear: Extraordinary Performances by a Celebrated Pianist

Beethoven died 50 years before the invention of sound recording, so we will never hear his voice or the sound of his playing.

You will hear literally hundreds of excerpts of Maestro Claude Frank's recordings over the span of the course. Frank's recording of the 32 sonatas was originally released for the Beethoven bicentennial in 1970, and was hailed as "one of the year's 10 best" by Time magazine.

Truly, Beethoven's piano music is his voice, emerging from his mind, through his fingers, to our ears and hearts. And his piano sonatas are, more than any other of his amazing works, his personal testament, expressed in his own voice.

Hide Full Description
24 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 1
    Beethoven and the Piano
    Professor Greenberg introduces the course with a brief biography of Beethoven and the early history of the piano followed by a discussion of the recordings of Beethoven's piano sonatas used throughout the course, performed by the distinguished pianist Claude Frank. x
  • 2
    Homage to Mozart
    This lecture explores the Classical style that Beethoven inherited from Haydn and Mozart, highlighting some of its more notable features. Then we look at Beethoven's Piano Sonata no. 1 in F Minor, op. 2, no. 1, from 1795, as both an homage to Mozart and an example of Beethoven's pianistic audacity. x
  • 3
    The Grand Sonata, Part 1
    Beethoven's first four piano sonatas are four-movement works that are orchestral in scope, reflecting Beethoven's concept of the piano as a major instrument. We look at the second of his opus 2 set—Sonata no. 2 in A—as an example of these "grand sonatas." x
  • 4
    The Grand Sonata, Part 2
    Continuing our study of Beethoven's grand sonatas, we examine Sonata no. 3 in C, no. 3, op. 2, and Sonata no. 4 in E flat, op. 7. In both these works, we see Beethoven's early artistic declaration that he was not interested in slavishly following the Classical tradition. x
  • 5
    Meaning and Metaphor
    In his three opus 10 sonatas, Beethoven continues his formula of composing a triad of starkly different works, ranging from darkly passionate to witty to grand. We look at the first of these pieces: Piano Sonata no. 5 in C Minor. x
  • 6
    The Striking and Subversive, Op. 10 Continued
    Piano Sonata no. 6 in F, op. 10, no. 2 remained a special favorite of Beethoven's for many years after its composition. We examine the elements that make it seem so playful, before turning to the grander work that concludes the opus 10 set: Piano Sonata no. 7 in D. x
  • 7
    The Pathétique and the Sublime
    We focus on one of Beethoven's most popular piano sonatas: no. 8 in C Minor, op. 13 (Pathétique). Professor Greenberg shows how time and popularity can trivialize even the most revolutionary creation, rendering us immune to what was once considered new and shocking. x
  • 8
    The Opus 14 Sonatas
    Beethoven's music can be supple, light-hearted, quick-witted, and genuinely humorous, just as it can be heroic, magnificent, and spiritually profound. Beethoven's lighter side is delightfully on display in his two opus 14 piano sonatas: no. 9 in E and no. 10 in G. x
  • 9
    Motives, Bach and a Farewell to the 18th Century
    We focus almost entirely on the first movement of Piano Sonata no. 11 in B flat, op. 22, to understand Beethoven's developing compositional priorities and the influence of Bach on his music. Written in 1800, this work is in many ways Beethoven's farewell to the 18th-century Viennese Classical style. x
  • 10
    A Genre Redefined
    From this point on, each of Beethoven's piano sonatas is markedly different from what came before it. No. 12 in A flat, op. 26 (Funeral March) shows a remarkable degree of contrast between its movements and has, as its third movement, an anguished funeral march. x
  • 11
    Sonata quasi una fantasia—The Moonlight
    The most popular of all of Beethoven's piano works is his Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (Moonlight). Imbued with tragic feeling, the Moonlight is almost impossible not to relate to the composer's progressive hearing loss. x
  • 12
    Lesser Siblings and a Pastoral Interlude
    We study two underappreciated works: Sonata no. 13 in E flat, op. 27, no. 1 continues Beethoven's assault on the Classical sonata template, while Sonata no. 15 in D, op. 28 (Pastoral) is a revolutionary work that elevates musical pastoral clichés to a high art. x
  • 13
    The Tempest
    While the groundbreaking Third Symphony was Beethoven's public declaration of his "new path" as a composer, the piano sonatas were, collectively, his workshop for getting there—none more so than Sonata no. 17 in D Minor, op. 31, no. 2 (Tempest). x
  • 14
    A Quartet of Sonatas
    We explore the other two opus 31 sonatas: no. 16 in G (which literally saved the life of pianist Claude Frank) and no. 18 in E flat. We also look at the opus 49 pair: no. 19 in G Minor and no. 20 in G; both were published against Beethoven's wishes and have since become favorites of young players. x
  • 15
    The Waldstein and the Heroic Style
    Piano Sonata no. 21 in C, op. 53 (Waldstein) is like no other music written by Beethoven or anyone else. We study this remarkable piece—from its unrelenting opening theme to its breathtaking prestissimo ("as fast as possible") conclusion. x
  • 16
    The Appassionata and the Heroic Style
    Likened to Dante's Inferno and Shakespeare's King Lear, Sonata no. 23 in F Minor, op. 57 (Appassionata) is not only esteemed by audiences, it was also one of Beethoven's favorites among his piano works. With the Waldstein, it is a quintessential example of Beethoven's "heroic" style. x
  • 17
    They Deserve Better, Part 1
    We examine two Beethoven sonatas that deserve more attention than they are generally accorded: no. 22 in F, op. 54, and no. 24 in F sharp, op. 78. The former is an inspired, virtuosic, and genuinely experimental piece of music; the latter is one of the strangest and most adventurous works in the repertoire. x
  • 18
    They Deserve Better, Part 2
    Continuing our exploration of Beethoven's often overlooked piano sonatas, we study no. 25 in G, op. 79, and no. 27 in E Minor, op. 90. The opening movement of op. 79 is a parody of Classically styled piano sonatas, while op. 90 opens with great pathos and tenderness. x
  • 19
    The Farewell Sonata
    Piano Sonata no. 26 in E flat, op. 81a (Les Adieux) was dedicated to the Archduke Rudolph, an aristocratic patron and friend of Beethoven's who was fleeing Vienna ahead of Napoleon's armies—hence, the Farewell Sonata. We look at the piece as a mirror of contemporary events and as program music. x
  • 20
    Experiments in a Dark Time
    Piano Sonata no. 28 in A, op. 101, is unique among Beethoven's 32 in that he had someone else's hands and spirit in mind when he composed it—namely his brilliant student Baroness Dorothea von Ertmann. It is also one of Beethoven's most rigorous and experimental works composed to that point in his life. x
  • 21
    The Hammerklavier, Part 1
    Piano Sonata no. 29 in B flat, op. 106 (Hammerklavier) was the groundbreaking work—the first masterpiece—of Beethoven's late period. It is the most virtuosic keyboard music ever written to its time. In this lecture, we cover the first of its four movements. x
  • 22
    The Hammerklavier, Part 2
    We continue our study of the Hammerklavier, focusing on the paradoxical fourth movement fugue, composed seemingly without limits or limitations. The Hammerklavier has been called "monstrous and immeasurable," a sonata like no other. With it, Beethoven opened the door to a new expressive world. x
  • 23
    In a World of His Own
    Beethoven's last three piano sonatas owe much to his epic Missa Solemnis ("Solemn Mass") which was also composed in the period 1820–1822. We explore the spiritual and compositional links to the Missa Solemnis, particularly as they relate to sonatas no. 30 in E, op. 109, and no. 31 in A flat, op. 110. x
  • 24
    Reconciliation
    Beethoven completed his final piano sonata, no. 32 in C Minor, op. 111, in 1822—five years before his death. Opus 111 seems obviously Beethoven's valedictory statement for the genre; it ties up loose ends, yet it is so stunningly original that it caps, rather than continues, the composer's run of 32 sonatas for piano. x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Video Download Includes:
  • Ability to download 24 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
Audio Download Includes:
  • Ability to download 24 audio lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 280-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 280-page printed course guidebook
  • Wordscore guides
  • Timeline
  • Glossary

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor

Reviews

Beethoven's Piano Sonatas is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 54.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding lecturer! The Robert Greenberg lectures are wonderful! As he feeds the listener extensive details on the life and music of Beethoven he injects humorous asides that keep you chuckling and wanting more. A chronological look at the music includes numerous excerpts, quotes from experts of musicology and his own analysis that give the listener a real appreciation of the man and his piano sonatas.
Date published: 2018-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Wonderful Listening Experience I purchased the two volumes of the Beethoven piano sonatas in Bonn and watched these videos with the music in hand. I enjoyed every video and learned an untold amount of information I had not known previously. The lecturer was obviously intelligent and informed. I liked his sense of humor and his enthusiasm for his subject. I will eventually watch this set of videos again.
Date published: 2018-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely great This is the second course I have heard given by Professor G. dedicated exclusively to Beethoven, the first being his biography (which although good, I found to be the Professor’s least satisfying biography in TGC). In this course, he explores Beethoven’s evolution as a composer as mirrored in this genre: from a “quasi-classical” composer in the early pieces, to a provocatively romantic innovator, and finally in the late sonatas to Beethoven writing in a silent world of his own. The coverage was absolutely first rate in terms of its musical analysis and its integration with Beethoven’s evolution as a composer – driven by his own personal biography, by the historical events taking place in the background (the Napoleonic conquests, the age of nationalism and romanticism), and by the more general trends affecting concert musical style. He explains in a manner I found very satisfying why this genre is so “Beethovenian” – why it embodies to such an extent himself and why he was almost the last major composer to invest so heavily in this genre (literally exhausting it). Obviously, some of the pieces are among the most famous and beloved in the repertoire, but others are less known. Hearing Professor GReenberg's analysis of them was was very fulfilling for me - because he was often able to express in words feelings thatr I felt while listening to the music, yet not being able to put a finger on them or understand how Beethoven trechinically managed to evoke them. My only criticism is that he did not have enough time to cover all of the sonatas in enough depth. More time would have gone a long way. Overall – another fascinating and wonderful course by Professor Greenberg.
Date published: 2018-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I have been listening to these sonatas for decades, yet these highly entertaining lectures have provided me with remarkable insights. I give these lectures my strongest possible recommendation.
Date published: 2018-04-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not Greenberg's best It is difficult for me to write a less than stellar review of one of Robert Greenberg's courses, as I have really come to enjoy him and his teaching style. My love for concert music has been significantly enhanced by listening to and watching his lectures. In this series, however, the depth of discussion Greenberg takes the listener into is very deep, much too deep for a non-professional listener of Betthoven's music. WHile I did learn quite a bit, much went over my head. In addition, there is more than a little bit of points where he disagrees with other critics, and while that is OK, I would much rather just listen to the pieces and determine for myself without Bob Greenberg's coloring. He also takes too much time rehashing a number of stories about Beethoven that by now, I have heard more than a few times in other lectures. This really is much more equivalent to a masters level course, and definitely not for one just starting to appreciate concert music.
Date published: 2018-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Music, Great Teacher! My wife and I are both trained musicians, and I was a professional musician for 45 years. We have several of Greenberg’s courses, History of Opera, Bach, twenty-three piano works, Chamber Music of Mozart and Beethoven Piano Sonatas. We find them accurate, informative, educational but Very Entertaining, and the seem written clearly enough for the most uninformed beginner. I can’t imagine anything better for the informed and particularly for the uninformed. He is an enthusiastic lecturer. We have three bookshelves of Courses, and love them all, but I think we love Greenberg best of all.
Date published: 2017-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great learning experience I have become a fan of Dr. Greenberg' music lectures. They are both informative and very interesting. His presentation is perfect for anyone, but particularly valuable for neophyte concert attendees.
Date published: 2017-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Love the Beethoven Piano Sonatas even more. For sometime I have loved Beethoven's Sonatas. Hearing Prof. Greenberg tell the stories about Beethoven and the stories around the sonatas increases my enjoyment of the great music of Beethoven. Prof. Greenberg is a great teacher who loves his subject.
Date published: 2017-06-03
  • y_2018, m_9, d_20, h_2
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_2.0.8
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_2, tr_52
  • loc_en_US, sid_7250, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 70.38ms
  • REVIEWS, PRODUCT

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought