Great Masters: Beethoven-His Life and Music

Course No. 755
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 755
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Course Overview

Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the most prolific and inspiring forces in the history of music. With his brilliant compositions and his unique approach to the piano, he changed the face of western concert music forever. After Beethoven nothing could ever be the same again.

This course by Professor Robert Greenberg is a biographical and musical study of Beethoven . It puts the great musician's life in a social, political, and cultural context.

First and foremost, it is a biographical study, and includes excerpts from more than a dozen of Beethoven's works.You will learn about Beethoven's:

  • Dysfunctional family life and relationships with his mother, father, paternal grandfather, and brothers
  • Musical training, especially his unique approach to the piano
  • Appearance and attitude
  • Celebrity in music- and piano-crazed Vienna
  • Compositional successes including symphonies, piano sonatas, and string quartets, among many others
  • Hearing loss and the crisis of 1802
  • Delusions and his relationship with his nephew Karl.

You learn about the core features of some of his greatest music, but without the detailed, technical analyses in the courses The Symphonies of Beethoven, or in the Concert Masterworks series, wherein Professor Greenberg discusses Beethoven's Emperor Concerto and Violin Concerto.

Reinventing Musical Expression in the Western World

Beethoven's appearance was somewhat off-putting. He was short with a thick body and an unusually large head, covered with his famous wild hair. Heinrich Friedrich Ludwig Rellstab, a journalist, music critic, and contemporary of Beethoven's, described his hair as "Not frizzy, not straight, but a mixture of everything."

Beethoven was physically clumsy; he was liable to knock over or break anything he touched. He could not keep time when dancing and had problems cutting and shaping the quill pens he needed for writing.

Beethoven exhibited a pathological hatred for authority, a persecution complex, and delusional behaviors. With his deafness, these problems forced him to look inward and reinvent himself. In doing so, he reinvented the nature of musical expression in the Western world.

An Artist of Musical Transformations

Beethoven experienced "rebirth" as an artist three times over the course of his life.

Intense Composition

He was born December 17, 1770, into a dysfunctional family with an abusive and alcoholic father and a depressed mother. His musical talent was recognized early, but his father attempted to beat him into becoming a child prodigy to rival Mozart. It was a futile attempt; there could only be one Mozart.

By 1785, the young Beethoven was the family breadwinner and, in 1787, the primary caregiver for his younger brothers. In 1789, he sought and was granted some relief from these responsibilities from local authorities and experienced his first musical rebirth.

It was for him a time of intense composition. He wrote five sets of piano variations, ballet music, concert arias, chamber works for piano and winds, and two cantatas for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Pianist and Hero

When he moved to Vienna to study with Haydn in 1792, Beethoven "was living with a reputation as a virtuoso pianist in a city that was mad for pianists," says Professor Greenberg. "He outplayed virtually every other pianist in the city in competitions and became the darling of the Viennese aristocracy. During this same time, he took lessons with Haydn, although his dislike of authority figures made most music lessons a waste of time."

These early years in Vienna were also significant for his compositional career. From 1792–1803, he produced, among many other works, the Opus 1 Trios for Piano, Violin, and 'Cello; the Opus 18 string quartets; and the Symphony no. 1 in C Major.

Meanwhile, his popularity outside Vienna increased. In 1801, Beethoven's career and finances were flourishing, but he was in poor health. His hearing loss was becoming progressively worse, and he grew more and more depressed and anxious.

His emotional crisis reached a peak in 1802—but served as the creative catharsis that brought about a second musical rebirth a year later, in a self-sufficient and heroic guise, struggling against his fate.

He took as a model for this new self-image Napoleon Bonaparte, who at the time, represented a vision of individualism and empowerment.

Beethoven's music reflects this vision in its insistence on expressing the heights and depths of the artist's emotions. His Symphony no. 3 in E-flat Major, op. 55, for example, was revolutionary in its proportions and dramatic expressive content.

This first of the "Heroic Symphonies" changed the history of Western music.

During this compositional period from 1803–1812,Beethoven produced masterworks: the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Symphonies; the Violin Concerto; the Choral Fantasy; the Fourth and Fifth Piano Concerti; the five middle string quartets; the Mass in C Major; and the opera Fidelio.

But toward the end of this period, Beethoven experienced a short affair with the mysterious "Immortal Beloved," an episode that ultimately precipitated his fall into despair and public ridicule.

In his youth, Beethoven had been irrationally possessive and jealous of his brothers. So when his brother Carl died, Beethoven transferred these feelings to his nephew Karl and pursued four years of destructive litigation to gain guardianship of the boy.

"Modern" Works and the Ninth Symphony

In 1819, Beethoven used events, once again, as a catalyst for an artistic rebirth. In the last years of his life, he wrote many of his most profound, most "modern" works, including the six late string quartets, the Ninth Symphony, and the Missa Solemnis.

Beethoven's Symphony no. 9 became the single most influential piece of music composed in the 19th century. The work breaks with time-honored conventions and distinctions to give precedence to the expressive needs and desires of the artist.

During these years, Beethoven was consumed by his craft, but socially, he was still difficult with friends, family, and business associates.

An "Impossible" Composer

Beethoven died March 26, 1827. At the end of his life he had managed a reconciliation with his family and was given an affectionate tribute by the Viennese people.

When Gioacchino Rossini met Beethoven in 1822, he was stunned by the squalor of his apartment and the sadness of the artist himself. As Frances Toye tells the story, "Later, Rossini tried to do something for Beethoven, himself heading a subscription list. To no purpose, however. The answer [the Viennese gave] was always the same: Beethoven is impossible.'"

Works you'll hear in the lectures are excerpted from:

Symphony no. 7 in A Major, op. 92 (1812)
Missa Solemnis in D Major, op. 123 (1823)
Symphony no. 8 in F Major, op. 93 (1812)
Wellington's Victory , op. 91 (1813)
Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, op. 106 (1818)
Piano Sonata in C Major, op. 53 (1804)
Symphony no. 3 in E-flat Major, op. 55 (1805)
String Quartet no. 7 in F Major, op. 59, no. 1 (1806)
String Quartet no. 9 in C Major, op. 59, no. 3 (1806)
Symphony no. 6 in F Major, op. 68 (1808)
Piano Concerto no. 4 in G Major, op. 58 (1806)
Symphony no. 5 in C Minor, op. 67 (1808)
Symphony no. 9 in D Minor, op. 125 (1824)
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8 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 1
    The Immortal Beloved
    Beethoven's foremost physical characteristic was his hair; four strands under recent chemical analysis revealed lead poisoning that could account for the abdominal distress, irritability, and depression that Beethoven suffered from for most of his adult life. But other physical, emotional, and spiritual problems were the result of a lifetime of struggle and frustration, which forced him to look inward and reinvent himself and, in so doing, reinvent the nature of musical expression in the Western world. x
  • 2
    What Comes down Must Go up, 1813–1815
    In the summer of 1812, Beethoven composed the Symphony no. 8 in F Major, op. 83. On its surface, the symphony seems to be in the Classical style, but it is filled with modern twists and turns. He was depressed over the loss of a relationship and his worsening hearing. But in 1813, he wrote a piece of music commemorating the defeat by Wellington of one of Napoleon's armies. When it premiered in December of 1813, it garnered Beethoven a new level of popularity. x
  • 3
    What Goes up Must Come down, 1815
    Beethoven's return to fame and fortune was short lived; this lecture describes the six factors, most notably his increasing deafness, that contributed to his fall from popular grace and his plunge into emotional instability. x
  • 4
    Beethoven and His Nephew, 1815–1819
    Beethoven emerged from his shell during his second decade, through his musical talent and with the help of his teacher and mentor, Christian Gottlob Neefe. The events of these years, however, would influence Beethoven's outrageous conduct in 1815 in the litigation over custody of his nephew Karl. During these years, Beethoven's deepest fears and longings were brought to the surface. Events would also serve as a catalyst for Beethoven's next "rebirth," in 1819, and the creation of the Ninth Symphony, the Missa Solemnis, the last piano sonatas, and the six late string quartets. x
  • 5
    Beethoven the Pianist
    Aside from the Piano Sonata in B-flat, op. 106, Beethoven wrote little significant music from 1815–1819. By 1820, Beethoven was well into his third compositional period, which encompassed such masterworks as the Missa Solemnis, op. 123, and the Symphony no. 9 in D Minor, op. 125. Before this, Beethoven was living in Vienna, outplaying virtually every other pianist in the city in competitions and became the darling of the Viennese aristocracy. x
  • 6
    Beethoven the Composer, 1792–1802
    Beethoven's Viennese period, 1792–1802, was a time of assimilation, technical growth, and mastery of the existing Viennese classical style. For 18 months Beethoven devoted himself to the string quartet, composing six. Next, he turned to the symphony, premiering his Symphony no. 1 in C Major in 1800. Seemingly conservative this symphony is full of witticisms, shocking harmonic events, and unique organic developments. But his hearing loss, which began in 1796, was becoming progressively worse, as was Beethoven's despair over it. In 1802, he wrote a letter to his brothers that may have provided him a catharsis. x
  • 7
    The Heroic Ideal
    The model for Beethoven's new self-image was Napoleon Bonaparte, who represented individualism and empowerment. Later disillusioned with Bonaparte, he held on to the sense of the individual struggling and triumphing against fate. Beethoven's Symphony no. 3 in E-flat Major, op. 55 (the Eroica), for example, was revolutionary in its expression of the heights and depths of the artist's emotions. Beethoven came to be known as a radical modernist who had broken forever with the classical standards of Haydn and Mozart. x
  • 8
    Two Concerts, 1808 and 1824
    With his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, among other pieces, Beethoven became a legend. More than 15 years later, in May 1824, the Ninth Symphony was premiered to an overwhelming reception. The Ninth, regarded as the most important piece of music composed in the 19th century, embodies Beethoven's belief that the expressive needs of the artist must transcend the time-honored assumptions of art. In November 1826, Beethoven fell ill with cirrhosis of the liver and died on March 26, 1827. In the end, he had managed a reconciliation with his family and was given an affectionate tribute by the Viennese people. x

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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,...
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Reviews

Great Masters: Beethoven-His Life and Music is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 71.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun and informative While I was disappointed in the courses on How To Listen To And Understand Opera (I would have called it "How To Listen To and Understand These Particular Operas"), I've enjoyed the courses on the lives of the great composers, particularly for the biographical information. It's one thing to be familiar with how a composition is put together, performed, structured, and so on. But adding the events in the composer's life surrounding the creation of a piece of music - or any work of art - can add greatly to understanding why it has the emotional impact it does. When listening to a powerful piece of music, it's easy to romanticize the composer, and forget that he is/was a living, breathing human being, with the same human concerns we all face - how to pay the rent, how to deal with cranky family members, what to do about a romantic relationship, how to deal with tragedy, business dealings, employers and employees, social and economic conditions. These courses on the lives of the artist remind us that we are all products of our own eras, and that artists might create timeless works, but they themselves are products of their time. I'd recommend the courses on the lives of the composers. You'll great music, but you'll hear intimate details of their lives too.
Date published: 2018-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Short and extremely interesting I've taken every TC course by Prof Greenberg about Beethoven, including those on his symphonies, piano sonatas, and string quartets. Beethoven's work is also covered in other Greenberg courses. Nonetheless, I have always found his short courses on the lives of the great masters quite valuable. This was no exception; it's an excellent introduction to Beethoven, his life and times, and his music. Amazingly, since each Greenberg course that covers Beethoven goes into some aspects of Beethoven's personal life, this course has information I hadn't heard before. This course is well worthwhile regardless of your prior knowledge of Beethoven's music.
Date published: 2017-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beethoven - Life & Music. I greatly enjoyed this course. The presenter is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
Date published: 2017-10-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Dynamic and Knowledgeable Presentation There is no doubt that Professor Greenberg knows his material very well; and his presentation is quite dynamic. You won't fall asleep in this class. Perhaps the title of his course says it all, but I was expecting to hear more about Beethoven's music, and less about his personal life. He also expects the student to know something about music theory, which I do not, and that contributed to my disappointment in this course. For these reasons, I reduced a deservedly 5-star rating to a 4.
Date published: 2017-09-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing There was too much time spent on the less pleasant side of Beethoven's nature. We needed to know about it but not in such great detail. His beautiful legacy of music is far more important and continues to bring so much pleasure into our lives. This is what he is about. I usually enjoy and appreciate the Professor's courses.
Date published: 2017-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Splendid I like, that Professor Greenburg brought out new (for me) material on Beethoven. Keep on!
Date published: 2017-05-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great but too brief I liked it a lot, but the topic is too great to cover in eight lectures. The course is more like a great "introduction to Beethoven".
Date published: 2017-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very moving, almost heartbreaking I was hesitant about purchasing this course because I had already learnt a lot about Beethoven’s life from music history (while studying the piano as a teen), books and movies. However, the course did not disappoint. Greenberg brings to life the ups and downs of Beethoven’s life and career through various anecdotes, quotes, readings of personal letters and numerous musical excerpts. The overall experience was very moving, especially the account of Beethoven’s troubled childhood (at the hands of his abusive father) and the numerous hardships endured towards the end of his life. When I heard excerpts from Beethoven’s ninth symphony, composed towards the end of his life, they moved me to tears, given the context of his extreme isolation and suffering at that time. Here were some key learnings for me: • How Beethoven’s relationship with his father instilled a hatred of authority which in turn informed his rule-breaking composition style • How Beethoven’s relationship with his mother (and her view of marriage) kept him wary of settling down and set the tone for his relationships with women • The evolution of Beethoven’s work over time, informed by his emotional states (he often composed his most brilliant and up-beat music when he was the most depressed) • The extent to which Beethoven’s work was misunderstood and underappreciated during his day The course also introduced me to new Beethoven pieces I had not heard before (eg his beautiful piano trios opus 1 and Mass in C Major opus 86) which I will now seek out with new appreciation.
Date published: 2016-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best! A wonderful course! Professor Greenberg is among the very best lecturers I've ever experienced. His depth of knowledge, his wit and entertaining style, and his obvious love for great music all hold you captive. The course includes interesting information about Beethoven's personal life, the historical setting in which he lived and worked, and, of course, his incredible music compositions. I have listened to the CD three times and still enjoy the lectures.
Date published: 2016-09-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Bit Disjointed As Always, Professor Greenberg is well informed, animated, and provides a very interesting presentation. I won't repeat my positive thoughts on Greenberg as they have appeared in my previous reviews of his courses and have been stated over and over again by other reviewers. I do like his courses, have purchased many, and continue to do so. My only criticism is that the biographical part of the series did not seem to be chronological, which is the way I like to hear or read biographies. Starting with over Beethoven's love life seemed a strange place to start.
Date published: 2016-08-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very worthwhile course with some reservation. Professor Robert Greenberg's discussion of Beethoven's music is helpful, insightful and most enjoyable but I do wish there was more of it! For me there was just too much biographical detail which was often repetitive - perhaps unavoidable due to the structure of the series. While I am pleased I purchased this lecture series, a better balance between the discussion of Beethoven's music and his life would have made for a more pleasurable overall experience.
Date published: 2016-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a Hoot! This professor is very entertaining, full of energy and humor. Some of it works. Some of it doesn't. But I love his passion. I always learn a lot from him (also took his Motzart biography class) and the music samples are really helpful and illuminating. This class wasn't structured chronologically however and, as a Beethoven newbie, I would frequently get lost in the mess of musical pieces and events. But great presentation. If I see his name on a class, I take it.
Date published: 2016-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best lecturers Robert Greenberg's courses are always packed with facts and insights about history's great musicians and their music. This one is no exception. Understanding Beethoven, the man and the musician, has always intrigued me and this course plumbed some depths I knew little about. I always loved Beethoven's music and now I understand it better. And the course integrated the music and its meaning with the many challenges of Beethoven's life, including but not limited to the excruciating adjustments he had to make as he gradually lost his hearing. Mr Greenberg has a great deal of knowledge, his energy is contagious, and his delivery is vibrant. I would challenge any listener to lose interest during his lectures - I believe it can't be done!
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from This is not a good course Professor Greenberg is sarcastic, outraged, hyperbolic and most uninformative. And he is a hopeless gossip. I made it through one and a half lectures before giving up in disgust. I will never buy one of Greenberg's other courses of which there are many. A complete waste of money.
Date published: 2015-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Most Entertaining Biography Robert Greenberg never fails to entertain, while nonetheless conveying the essential elements that shaped Beethoven’s life, times, and music. Prof. Greenberg eschews a simple chronological narrative in favor of thematically-based lectures centered on specific aspects of Beethoven. I have come away from this course with a much greater understanding of the influence Beethoven has had on the world of music, and the influence that his contemporary world had on him and his music. I had expected a little more of an analysis of the music itself, but this is still a delightful course fully worth five stars.
Date published: 2015-06-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not enough music I bought this for an introduction to the composer as well as the music, but didn't get enough at all of the music, and found the professor's style quite irritating unfortunately. I would love another Great Course series on classical music that has more of the music in it!
Date published: 2015-04-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable but too short and a bit hard to follow This course is largely Beethoven's biography, discussing his music only as it is relevant to the events in his life. It is organized by the stages of Beethoven's life and music. The middle of Beethoven's life comes first in the lectures and is given the most amount of time. This means that Prof. Greenberg often breaks away from the current topic to provide background about events early in Beethoven's life. Consequently it is a bit hard to follow. However, Prof. Greenberg is expert at organization and lecturing and entertaining so don't worry about getting too lost. Finally, I only wish there was more. Sadly, these lectures came to an end too quickly. Perhaps that is only because I love Beethoven's music and find Beethoven to be a very interesting man. For those like me, I can definitely recommend the other music courses by Robert Greenberg.
Date published: 2015-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Music of Richard Wagner Professor Robert Geenberg is not only an expert but also a humorous, insightful and delightful presenter who brings the subject to life. I highly recommend beginning with Professor Greenberg's "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music," then select the five or six composers of greatest interest. For example, I have worked through Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and, Wagner. Next is his "How to Listen to and Understand Great Opera" followed by Verdi. Professor Greenberg demonstrates how the individual composer's private life and psyche as well as the historical setting are intimately revealed in their music. If you long to fill that great gap in your education on Western Civilization and culture begin here. Then, you can move on to great literature with Professor Marc C. Connor and his amazing "How to Read and Understand Shakespeare." Walter J. McDonald, Jr.
Date published: 2015-01-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beethoven's life and times, but not his music Robert Greenberg's courses are always entertaining even if he sometimes tends toward being too cute. The course itself has much more to do with Beethoven's life and times than with his music. If you're interested in Beethoven's music, this isn't the course for you. If you're interested in the context in which his music was written, give the course a try.
Date published: 2014-11-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A mixed bag First of all, I need to make one thing clear: I love Robert Greenberg's lecturing. LOVE. He knows music inside and out, and his enthusiasm is clear and contagious. He helped me hear things in Beethoven's music that I never heard before. Lecture 6 of this course is possibly one of the best lectures I've ever heard in my whole life -- I was laughing out loud, fully engaged, enjoying myself thoroughly. That said . . . There are some serious errors in this course. Johanna van Beethoven as a paragon of virtue? Do the words "convicted of theft" ring any bells? Even I knew about that, and I know far less about Beethoven than Dr. Greenberg does! That didn't make it right for Beethoven to try to cut her off from her son, of course, but for the professor to suggest that Johanna was a great person whom Beethoven disliked for no reason at all, is out-and-out stacking the deck against Beethoven, for no reason that I can fathom. His behavior could have been censured without that. And then -- Antonie Brentano has been proven without doubt to be the Immortal Beloved? I'm sure a lot of Beethoven experts would be very surprised to hear that! As for the non-chronological style, I didn't mind it, but I felt Dr. Greenberg spent far too much time on Beethoven's worst music ("Wellington's Victory," etc.). It was worth mentioning and sampling, just to help understand some of the shifts and transitions the composer went through and the public's reaction to them, but it wasn't worth dwelling on for so long when there was so much else to cover. As I said, Dr. Greenberg is an amazing lecturer and has taught me a great deal, and I appreciate his work very much. I plan to listen to much more of it. But I'm afraid this is not one of his better lectures. I would recommend it to a friend just for the style and educational value, but I would tell the friend to be aware of the inaccuracies, and to supplement with a serious biography of Beethoven.
Date published: 2014-09-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very disappointing Professor Greenberg, what happened? I have listened to all your Great Masters courses and loved each one of them - but not this one. What on earth did Beethoven do to you? All I really got from this course is, that you deeply detest the guy. Though I can relate to that - honestly, that is not what I purchased this course for! I was expecting more details of his biographie, more music and more of Professor Greenberg!
Date published: 2013-11-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Took me a while to warm up to this one. Going into this course, I saw that Dr. Greenberg was highly thought of here at TTC, so when I had a chance to purchase Beethoven's life and music CD set, I took advantage. I have to admit I was confused and a bit put off after the first CD, "The Immortal Beloved." Many have already expressed their confusion at a non-chronological presentation, and I was really thrown off by it. In addition, Dr. Greenberg comes off as a bit wild at times--maybe it's the influence of talking about Ludwig von Beethoven, who was quite an eccentric fellow. As I have listened a few times now, and have gotten to listen to the musical portion of the lectures a bit more, especially in the latter CDs, I feel now that the course has accomplished what it intends to do--make the listener more excited about listening to Beethoven's music. When I listen to my set of Beethoven's symphonies, I sense more of Beethoven's struggles as he wrote them. In the end, I am glad I purchased this course, and look forward to getting more Beethoven courses and going into more detail about his music.
Date published: 2013-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg tells it like it was ! A marvellous short course about the life of the musical genius Beethoven. Professor Greenberg relates his story in a highly entertaining, enjoyable manner, telling it straight from the shoulder, pulling no punches. I especially liked the lecturer's piano work as he played a few of the master's works in studio. Some reviewers feel that Greenberg was disrespectful to Beethoven, but facts are indeed facts! We need not imagine that Beethoven was a paragon of virtue or even a pleasant man, in order to derive enjoyment from his magnificent works. I found this course truly excellent, full of fascinating and revealing facts, throwing light on Beethoven's activities, actions and musical output. A highly-recommended 6-hour course.
Date published: 2013-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course, Elegant. This was the first course that I got from the great courses. Although I was skeptical about the whole idea of the lectures, I was astonished by the quality and couldn't expect anything better. The content is extraordinary, lots of very detailed information, with lots of quotations, lots of music samples, all of this in a very engaging and amusing fashion, I finished it in no time. Prof. Greenberg has a wonderful way of lecturing, he will keep you on the edge of your seat, and make you lough very frequently. The whole approach to the life of this great composer was very novel, and will affect how I understand his music. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2013-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Roll Over Lots of mixed reviews: some think, not enough music. Others complain Greenberg is disrespectful. Remember this is a biography. If you are mainly interested in the music, other TGC courses offer this. Beethoven as a person, was at best a mixed bag. Greenberg just tells is like it is. All Greenberg courses I have ever seen are very entertaining and worthwhile.
Date published: 2013-03-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Waste of time Ah, Dr. Greenberg, what happened my friend? This was not a course on a brilliant composer, but a rendition of Beethoven's poor grooming; psychopathology; failed relationships; and personal struggles. Where were the brilliant compositions we have grown to love and are such an important part of our lives? This was a literal waste of time, and an insult to not only Beethoven, but to your devoted following. It was an embarrassment!
Date published: 2013-02-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very Disrespectful!!!! I have purchased a number of Great Masters courses by Robert Greenberg from you and generally I have been pleased with them - I have learned a lot. However, recently I purchased and completed the course: Beethoven - His Life and Music. I was very disappointed with Dr. Greenberg's, almost disrespectful treatment of a person that many consider the greatest composer. He dwelled excessively on Beethoven's personality at the expense of a serious presentation of his music and his genius. For example, mere snippets of the 6th and 9th symphonies were included and a wholly inadequate treatment of his music as a whole (the piano sonatas were barely touched on), while he droned on excessively about Beethoven’s personality.
Date published: 2012-08-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from If you just want to dabble in classical music... I only want to dabble in classical music -- I'm not a serious student of it. Given that, I enjoyed this course. Prof Greenberg did a good job of intertwining Beethoven's personal life with his music. The course contains lots and lots of anecdotal stories from Beethoven's life, and Greenberg's interpretation of the impact these might have had on shaping his style of music. Prof Greenberg is exuberant and keeps the course from becoming dry (again good for the student who only wants to dabble in classical music). The course does jump around a lot in time so it is good to be aware of that before starting - it does not go in order.
Date published: 2012-05-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good stories told out of order I am a great fan of Professor Greenberg, but I did not like the organization of this course. By abandoning the chronological approach for a topical one, I didn't walk away with as clear of a biographical narrative as with his other 'Life and Music' courses. I remember anecdotes, but they don't hang together. I'd recommend watching the film 'Immortal Beloved' before listening to these lectures, because the series dives right in with addressing questions one would have if they'd seen the popular film (like 'who was the 'immortal beloved'?) that wouldn't be very meaningful if this was your very first foray into Beethoven. The course was an interesting contrast to Greenberg's treatment of Mozart. In Mozart - His Life and Music, Wolfgang is presented as a mature, complex individual at odds with the images of him from the popular media and imagination, while this course didn't make much effort to present Beethoven as anything but a cantankerous misanthrope (albeit a brilliant one). That isn't to say I have any inside information that this portrait is incorrect - just that I felt a strong difference between the demythologizing of Mozart and the embracing of the popular image of Beethoven. Like my comment on the Haydn course, I'd have liked to learn what drove Beethoven to produce so many folksong arrangements of music from the British Isles. Was this a popular trend in Vienna? All in all, a decent course, even if I'm left feeling like I need to go read a Beethoven biography now.
Date published: 2012-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Kaleidoscope As in most of his other composer courses (the notable exception being Shostakovich) Professor Greenberg is his exuberant self as he presents a kaleidoscope of Beethoven’s life and music. I use the word “kaleidoscope” because, in contrast to his other biographies, he jumps between different stages of Beethoven’s life. I’m not sure he is entirely successful with this organization, the non-linearity does make for some incongruence in the story line, but, given the inherent limitations in a six-hour course, any resulting shortcomings are a minor distraction from the pleasure of getting, in a concise and entertaining way, a glimpse of the life and music of one of our great composers. The problems imposed by the non-chronological order notwithstanding, Professor Greenberg is at his usual best narrating Beethoven’s life and music and putting them within the cultural and political context of his era. He shows how being a musical genius and being a social jerk are not mutually exclusive but one can also feel his compassion when he talks of Beethoven’s progressing deafness. And in putting Beethoven’s musical creations within the context of his contemporary personal circumstances I was often reminded of Shelley’s “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought”. Professor Greenberg’s narrative always keeps engaging this listener. A final remark regarding the musical selection: Considering that Beethoven’s music is featured in a good number of other courses I was glad to find relatively little overlap here, even it meant that some of my favorites were missing.
Date published: 2012-03-11
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