String Quartets of Beethoven

Course No. 7240
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course Overview

In his 16 quartets for two violins, viola, and cello, Beethoven created a Mount Everest for string players and some of the most sublime, unforgettable music ever written. Continuing to astound listeners after 200 years, these glorious quartets give voice to the innermost landscape of the human heart and spirit. They stand, like Michelangelo's statues or the plays of Shakespeare, at the pinnacle of Western art.

These history-making pieces revolutionized the string quartet as an art form, bringing to it bold new musical resources and expressive content. In these works, Beethoven mastered, then transcended, the accepted musical norms, creating the quartets as both a trailblazing manifesto of personal expression and a daring challenge to the Western conception of music itself.

How can we get the most from these intriguing masterpieces? In their mold-breaking construction and rich complexity, how can we find our way to their essence and hear them with full understanding?

In The String Quartets of Beethoven, Professor Robert Greenberg, composer and celebrated music historian at San Francisco Performances, guides you in a deep encounter with these majestic works of art, offering you the rare opportunity to grasp the musical riches and spiritual greatness of the quartets in a clear and accessible way. Speaking with passion, profound insight, and refreshing informality, Dr. Greenberg reveals the secrets of these multifaceted works in twenty-four 45-minute lectures, aided at every turn by the masterful interpretations of the Alexander String Quartet.

Decoding Genius

In this compelling inquiry, you uncover the musical underpinnings of the luminous beauty, emotional depth, and dramatic scope that make these quartets legendary, and you probe the inner workings of one of history's most innovative minds.

This is not formal, academic analysis, but rather a directly accessible entry into the real substance of the quartets, giving you both an intelligent way to listen to them and follow their structure as well as an understanding of what makes them expressively impactful, dazzlingly original, and ultimately great as works of art.

The String Quartets of Beethoven gives you a way of knowing these quartets that opens the door to years of pleasure and insight into great music.

One Man Transforms an Art Form

As the course opens, Dr. Greenberg plunges you directly into the exciting atmosphere of Vienna in the late 18th century. In Vienna and Italy, the string quartet evolves from the earlier "trio sonata" into what many consider the single most intimate and conversational of musical genres. You learn the "ritual template" of the Classical string quartet, and you probe the seminal innovations of Haydn and Mozart within the template, as they set the stage for the explosive arrival of Beethoven.

At the heart of the course, Dr. Greenberg takes you on a movement-by-movement exploration of the individual Beethoven quartets, revealing the arc of the composer's fierce independence and imagination, as he brings to the string quartet an expressive, formal, and narrative range undreamed of by earlier musicians.

Your exploration includes extensive listening and study of these landmark quartets:

  • Opus 18, no. 6: The most radically innovative of the early quartets. Here Beethoven alters the Classical structure of the string quartet, forcing listeners to think and hear in new ways.
  • Opus 59, no. 1: Proceeding from his "heroic" self-reinvention of 1803, in Opus 59, no. 1 Beethoven unveils string quartet writing of symphonic scope and dramatic power, demonstrating his mature compositional innovations.
  • Opus 127: The haunting, exquisite lyricism of this quartet, set within a work of dramatic contrasts, is one of the high points of Beethoven's work with the genre.
  • Opus 130 and the Grand Fugue: A rich, unfolding sequence of diverse movements, culminating in the monumental Grand Fugue, is the epitome of Beethoven's personal, subjective vision of fugue.
  • Opus 131: Plumbing the multiple expressive milestones of this seven-part, operatically conceived quartet, you devote three lectures to what many consider to be Beethoven's single "most perfect" work.

Professor Greenberg's many provocative insights deepen your understanding, as in his suggestion that you hear the structure of Opus 130 as "circular" rather than linear, relating each individual movement organically to the Grand Fugue.

Revolutionary Music, Conceived for a Later Age

Your immersion in the musical "meat" of the individual quartets grounds the story of Beethoven's artistic trajectory with the quartets as a whole. You delve deeply into the musical innovations that underlie Beethoven's phenomenal, unfolding creativity in these works:

  • "Motivic" development: You learn how Beethoven created entire movements using the simplest musical ideas or "motives"—how his core focus was not the musical material per se, but what the material could become, through transformation.
  • Ongoing dramatic narrative: Throughout the quartets, you see how Beethoven conceived of a multimovement instrumental composition telling a single, narrative story.
  • Originality: You observe how Beethoven pursued an uncompromising ideal of artistic growth and personal inventiveness, and how his refusal to "stand still" redefined the role of the composer.
  • Contextual use of form: You see how, in the quartets, Beethoven altered and extended musical forms such as sonata, fugue, and theme and variation, bending them to his own expressive purposes or "contextual" needs.

Vivid Details of a Path of Creation

Professor Greenberg brings out details of Beethoven's personal life as they relate to the writing of the quartets, showing how multiple aspects of his difficult circumstances and personality—in addition to practical and commercial matters—contributed to the specific direction he took with these works.

You learn how Beethoven arrived in Vienna at the time of a public mania for string quartets, and how his Opus 18 quartets gave him the chance to wrestle with the form and prove himself, as both a master of the Classical quartet "template" and a boldly original voice.

You see how in late 1802, driven close to suicide by his oncoming deafness, Beethoven managed to reinvent himself with the Enlightenment-inspired identity of a hero triumphing over fate—and how this "new self" took direct and dynamic musical form in the quartets of Opus 59.

You learn how Beethoven's personal belief in redemption through struggle and perseverance is reflected in the "cathartic" narrative structure of Opuses 95, 131, and 132.

And you observe how, in his last years, ill, isolated, and poverty stricken, he poured his remaining resources of body and spirit into the magnificent late quartets, creating them as the "last revelations of his spirit."

Professor Greenberg's gift as a teacher is his ability to make the abstraction of great music directly comprehensible, while speaking to a range of experience in his listeners. Seasoned musicians will find the lectures an ingenious and far-reaching illumination of the quartets and of Beethoven's unfolding innovations. Newcomers to Classical music will find them a very welcoming and accessible path to the heart of these extraordinary creations.

Throughout the course, the quartets come to vibrant life in the playing of the renowned Alexander String Quartet—a group that has lived these works deeply, praised by The New York Times for the "power and poignancy" of its interpretations.


"He who divines the secret of my music is delivered from the misery that haunts the world." —Beethoven

In The String Quartets of Beethoven, Dr. Greenberg offers you a rare and life-enriching opportunity: to grapple with the inner workings of musical genius, with the creation of the deepest and richest of human expression, in your encounter with these works that define the power of art.

With a rare melding of nonverbal "voices," Beethoven gives expression to the poignant depths and heights of human experience; to the anguish, awe, and ecstasy of living—and to a liberating, transcendent domain of the spirit, beyond place and time.

Take this opportunity, in The String Quartets of Beethoven, to know the scope of Beethoven's genius, his most unforgettable music, and the profound humanity and beauty that live through them.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 46 minutes each
  • 1
    "Loose Change"
    Enter Beethoven's tumultuous life, considering his spirit of revolutionary change and self-invention, as well as the influence of his personal crises and health problems on his creative output. Then learn the evolution of the string quartet, shaped by the ideals of the Enlightenment. Probe the innovations of Haydn and Mozart in "obbligato" accompaniment and Classical counterpoint, producing the string quartet as an art form joining four independent, highly "conversational" voices. x
  • 2
    Beethoven's Classical Inheritance
    Trace Beethoven's highly charged youth in Vienna as he reaches fame under the patronage of two royal figures, giving him the freedom to move forward quickly with his own artistic vision. Next, study the classical structure of the string quartet, focusing on Beethoven's Opus 18 no. 3. Consider the sonata, rondo, and minuet and trio forms, as Beethoven uses them idiosyncratically in this work, bringing brilliant originality to his first adventure with the string quartet. x
  • 3
    Beethoven Busts Out!
    This lecture charts Beethoven's creative development in the quartets of Opus 18, as well as his exploits in "marketing" them in the illustrious musical world of Vienna. You discover Beethoven's great ingenuity in his second quartet, as he develops a vibrant first movement from a single musical "motive," which then forms a subliminal link to the contrasting, darkly romantic second movement. Learn about his bold innovations with the scherzo form and the compelling architecture of the concluding rondo. x
  • 4
    In Deference to His Masters
    In forging his vision of the string quartet, Beethoven immersed himself in the methods of both Haydn and Mozart. Study how Beethoven experimented with aspects of Haydn's technique and "wit" in Opus 18 no. 2, while making them thoroughly his own. Learn about Beethoven's intense spiritual relationship with Mozart, and observe how he deliberately modeled Opus 18 no. 5 on Mozart's "esoteric" A Major Quartet of 1785, absorbing and extending essential features of Mozart's style. x
  • 5
    Something Old and Something New
    The lecture explores Beethoven's eccentric personal habits and his lifelong use of musical sketchbooks to introduce the puzzling origins of Opus 18 no. 4, the "Orphan" Quartet. Probe the internal evidence that suggests how this curiously uneven quartet may have been written. Also investigate the revolutionary nature of Opus 18 no. 6, where a melancholic "extra" movement and unpredictable shifts between light and darkness foreshadow the radical Middle Quartets. x
  • 6
    Beethoven in 1805
    In the early 19th century Beethoven passed through a shattering personal crisis, leading to a self-reinvention and new artistic path. Contemplate Beethoven's adopted "heroic" identity, inspired by the rise of Napoleon, and his new path in action, as he musically echoes his own struggles and despair in the history-making "Eroica" Symphony. And identify his key compositional innovations and his bold new vision of music as personal self-expression as revealed in the "Razumovsky" quartets. x
  • 7
    Opus 59, No. 1—Revolution in Action, Part 1
    The extraordinary first movement of Opus 59, no. 1 contains specific links to the Eroica Symphony, taking string quartet writing into the realm of orchestral scope and substance. In a detailed analysis of the movement, you study Beethoven's ingenious use of musical "motives," bold extremes of high and low registers, and the multitextured architecture of the exposition and development sections, as they create a sense of narrative storytelling with a deeply expressive thrust. x
  • 8
    Opus 59, No. 1—Revolution in Action, Part 2
    This lecture tackles the remaining movements of the revolutionary Opus 59, no. 1. Discover the brilliantly original scherzo, with its elaborate and unpredictable structure, surprising harmonic shifts, and constant thematic variations. Also track the dark, anguished third movement, whose meditation on darkness culminates in a subtle, unexpected transition to the light-filled final movement. See how Beethoven incorporates elements in the finale that unite the piece as a complete, movement-to-movement dramatic narrative. x
  • 9
    String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2
    Opus 59 highlights Beethoven's evolving belief in music as a dramatic, narrative progression. Chart his narrative impulse in Opus 59, no. 2, starting with the taut first movement, which builds a complex dramatic "story" as an outgrowth of two chords. Then follow the unfolding progression in the meditative second movement, the irreverent, Russian-themed scherzo, and the groundbreaking use of the finale as another bold step in a forward-moving journey. x
  • 10
    String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3
    In the last quartet of Opus 59, Beethoven takes inspiration from Mozart in pursuing his own iconoclastic vision further. Investigate the jarring dissonances of the opening, and the highly unusual, use of the first violin as a dramatic "character." Next, study his use of the "crude" augmented second in the second movement, and his third-movement incarnation of a scandalous new dance—the waltz. Finally, penetrate the structure and expressive heart of the explosive, racing finale. x
  • 11
    Beethoven in 1809
    This lecture reveals circumstances in Beethoven's personal life that formed the backdrop for his huge creative burst between 1805 and 1809. Explore the composer's highly eccentric and difficult behavior with friends and patrons and the ways in which his personal crises fed his creativity. Additionally, trace the wars and political strife in Austria that accompanied the writing of a string of Beethoven's masterworks and the role of his heroic music in expressing the frustrations and ideals of his adopted homeland. x
  • 12
    The "Harp"
    The "Harp" Quartet of 1809 reveals Beethoven's reexploration of Classical ideals—an unexpectedly graceful, intimate piece written in a time of dire emotional and financial hardships. Study the "conversational" architecture of the first movement and his contrasting, double use of theme and variations form. Then investigate the quartet's distinguishing "secrets," from its radically new use of "pizzicato" as an integral element to its unusual centering of expressive extremes in the middle movements. x
  • 13
    The "Serioso"—Opus 95
    Dedicated to one of his closest friends, Beethoven's "Serioso" Quartet unfolds as a deeply personal vision. In uncovering its expressive resources, you study his jarring juxtapositions of light and dark in the first movement and his unsettling use of the "Neapolitan" chord. In the later movements, consider how Beethoven's ambiguous harmonies and unpredictable mood shifts evoke the sense of a troubled journey. Finally, reflect on the highly surprising ending of the piece and on theories that may explain its meaning to the composer. x
  • 14
    Beethoven in 1824
    The years between 1810 and 1825 frame a period of supreme upheaval, conflict, and ultimate rebirth for Beethoven. Probe the events of this era, as they illuminate his evolution as a composer and prefigure the writing of his "late" quartets. Learn about his many personal crises, including his deafness, a dramatic rise and fall in public acclaim, and personal relationships involving profound psychological trauma. And assess his second artistic self-reinvention, as he emerges with a string of masterworks that transform Western music. x
  • 15
    Opus 127, Part 1
    The "late" quartets, coming on the heels of the Missa Solemnis and the great Ninth Symphony, occupied Beethoven completely during the final years and months of his life. This lecture begins your journey into the orchestral scale and profound lyricism of Opus 127. Learn how the expressive power of the first movement rests on Beethoven's melding of dramatic extremes and use of unusual key relations. Also investigate his highly personal use of theme and variations form in the second movement. x
  • 16
    Opus 127, Part 2
    Dr. Greenberg frames the conclusion of Opus 127 with poignant details of Beethoven's hearing loss and the creation of his famous "Conversation Books." Study the hugely compelling scherzo, comparing its unpredictable, almost schizophrenic contrasts to analogies in the Ninth Symphony. Then trace innovations in the richly melodic finale, noting the ambiguous return of the primary theme in a kind of "false" recapitulation. Afterward, consider the factors surrounding the difficult public reception of the quartet. x
  • 17
    String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132, Part 1
    This lecture focuses on the complex first movement of Opus 132, which achieves great expressive impact through unrelenting contrasts. In the opening, study the elements of "appoggiatura" and descending semitones that form the bleak, indistinct theme 1, and the jarring juxtaposition of the lilting second theme. Later, unravel the abstruse construction of the development section, incorporating a "transposed exposition," as it deepens the movement's aura of anxiety and incompleteness. x
  • 18
    String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132, Part 2
    As a totality, Opus 132 articulates the "cathartic impulse" in Beethoven's music, leading through adversity and struggle to a state of grace. You investigate the polyphonic voicing and expressive contrasts in the melodic scherzo, followed by the ethereal, spiritual "Hymn of Thanksgiving," based in the Lydian mode and inspired by Beethoven's recovery from illness. Last, explore the darkly urgent rondo, whose contrasting episodes lead the quartet to a transformative conclusion of light and renewal. x
  • 19
    Opus 130 and the Grand Fugue, Part 1
    The lecture opens with dramatic details of Beethoven's relationship with two personal assistants during the writing of the late quartets and of the circumstances surrounding Opus 130 and the role of the legendary Grand Fugue. You delve deeply into the formal construction of this quartet, focusing specially on the extreme contrasts within the powerful opening movement, the rhythmic sophistication of the Alla danza tedesca, and the haunting lyricism of the Cavatina, which "grounds" the quartet expressively. x
  • 20
    Opus 130 and the Grand Fugue, Part 2
    The Grand Fugue is one of Beethoven's most sublime and most "modern" creations. Consider the majestic scope and impact of the fugue, as it brings together the markedly contrasting movements that precede it. Next, study its compelling structure, focusing on the four "double" fugue sections contained within it. Probe the profound influence of Bach on Beethoven's aesthetics and the story of the fugue's reception, leading to Beethoven's highly controversial decision to replace it with an alternate finale for Opus 130. x
  • 21
    String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131, Part 1
    Beethoven considered this monumental, seven-section quartet to be his single greatest composition. In this first lecture devoted to it, consider his visionary conception of fugue form and how he reverses the structural sequence of Opus 130 by conceiving this quartet with a first-movement fugue. Discover how the tonal structure of the opening fugue defines the harmonic unfolding of the entire quartet, and study the fugue's components in detail, culminating with its ambiguous, forward-looking conclusion. x
  • 22
    String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131, Part 2
    Continuing with Opus 131, investigate Beethoven's unpredictable harmonic transitions, linking the quartet's "movements" without separation in an ongoing, episodic continuity. Study the structure of the rondo and the following recitative section, noting their expressive functions within the whole. And track the arc of the theme and variations, in its movement from sustained, Classical lyricism to yet another inconclusive "ending," as the hymn-like final variation is dramatically disrupted, bringing timeless contemplation back to earth. x
  • 23
    String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131, Part 3
    Finally, reflect on the operatic structure and thrust of Opus 131 and the ways Beethoven unifies and balances the seven sections. Take apart the driving, "triple" scherzo, focusing on its complex trio section and dramatic, disorienting climax. Dig deeply into the explosive finale, tracking its thematic echoes of earlier movements, its triumphant recapitulation, which Wagner called "the dance of the whole world itself," and its multipart coda, ending on a grand gesture of affirmation. x
  • 24
    Reconciliation—String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135
    You conclude with Beethoven's astonishing final quartet and with reflections on the scope of his musical goals and artistic achievement. Opus 135 appears to be a return to Classicism—yet ultimately reveals another visionary extension of Beethoven's sensibility. Focus on his supreme ingenuity in the first movement, as he presents melodic events in "non-linear" time frames; the scherzo, with its stunning, ferocious trio section; and the enigmatic finale, representing the composer's philosophical farewell. 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

String Quartets of Beethoven is rated 4.9 out of 5 by 51.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Couldn't be better My wife and I are string players who have done these quartets. We learned a lot and were entertained as well.
Date published: 2018-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Vintage Greenberg Greenberg’s courses are always very informative and entertaining. He is very passionate about his music and never hesitant to express his opinion. His opinions are well grounded and deserving of serious consideration. If you love music you can always learn from Greenberg.
Date published: 2017-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific introduction to The Great Courses! I love the Beethoven string quartets but don't know much about their history or structure. I bought this course, my first from The Great Courses, to listen to in my car on my way to and from work, and a tedious commute turned into a fabulous musical and historical experience. Professor Greenberg is a terrific (both knowledgeable and funny) lecturer. I'll probably listen to the whole series again at home so I can follow along with the study guide, and will definitely try additional courses.
Date published: 2017-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from another gem from Greenberg Having criticized the course Music As A Mirror of History, I wanted to start reviewing Professor Greenberg's other courses. I started with this one, because It is one of my favorites. Greenberg is superb at conveying the complex muscial structures of these challenging works and their deep metaphysical significance. To be sure, like all his courses, there are some extraneous details that I could have done without, but he has no peers in explaining music and the overall package is outstanding.
Date published: 2017-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Superb Teacher of Music I'm posting the same review for the many courses offered by Robert Greenberg I have taken. He is superb at explaining music, how it works and why it feels the way it does when you hear it. His courses greatly enhance my appreciation of the music, not just soon after taking his course but over the years thereafter. This is a particularly great course for Prof. Greenberg's skill and panache in guiding one through the great but not-so-easy late quartets.
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beethoven's String Quartets. A highly invigorating and entertaining course masterly taught and presented. The visuals and video clips were excellent. Very highly recommended.
Date published: 2017-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "The Dry Language of Words..." Our beloved Beethoven made reference once to trying to express himself in "....the dry language of words." Those of us not gifted with musical genius try our best at times to express ourself with mere words to give thanks to others who do so much to enrich our lives. I give a heartfelt "thank-you" here to our gifted teacher Professor Greenberg for his dedicated efforts to enrich our lives through the joy of exercising our brains and expanding our learning with The String Quartets of Beethoven. What a marvelous journey of musical exploration and experience this course is. To fully absorb the lectures requires concentration, focus, and a desire to dive deeper into the heart and soul of this great composer. This course is not one that I recommend for a beginning explorer of classical music (there are so many others available in the Greenberg inventory that are perfect for that), but this focused look at Mr. B's string quartets is a rich and unique journey well beyond the beaten path. Bravo again to Professor Greenberg for sharing his sharp wit, cutting-edge insights, and great passion for teaching with us.
Date published: 2016-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg Fan Club This is my 20th course by Prof. Greenberg. Would you say I like his work! Several I've taken twice. I was concerned with this course that it might be too specific on a topic I wasn't as interested in as the other courses. I needn't have worired. He is so good at making things interesting. besides the music he brings all sorts of interesting bits about the composer, the times, his quirks, personality the impact of history on his music and his impact on history. Every course I have taken is 5 star+ except for the Wagner, which wasn't Prof Greenbergs fault, I just didn't like the guy.,
Date published: 2016-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Provides insight into Beethoven and the String Quartets. Prof. Greenberg is outstanding.
Date published: 2016-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent course If you love string quartets, Beethoven, and especially if you love the Beethoven Quartets, this course is worth your time and money. I am one of those who do not at all enjoy Professor Greenberg's efforts at humor - at times they are maddening. And if we counted up the time spent telling us he doesn't have time to cover everything, we might get a whole new course out of him (but not a problem in this course.). But this is the fourth or fifth course of his I've purchased, and as annoyed as I get with the presentation, the pure gems when he is at his best are worth every cringe. I am not at all trained in music or music theory - I've picked up as much as I could as an adult and I very much appreciate that Greenberg bothers to explain things that still go over my head rather than pandering to my lack of background. I appreciate the respect that indicates both for the art and for the intelligence of the listener. He gets enough of the theory across that I have a good sense of what is going on, and I know what questions to ask and where I need to learn more to understand more. In other words, he's doing what a good teacher does and opening a door. I think he is at his best with these more specialized courses. I have been thrilled with these Beethoven Quartet discussions - maybe the best I've heard him give. Just the discussion of the 11th and 12 quartets are worth the listen. Based on this course, I just purchased the course on the Beethoven Piano Sonatas. Here's hoping he takes up the Mahler Symphonies at some point. By the way, I teach high school history and I am always finding material in his lectures that I can add to my class - now if they could just get him to cut back on jokes and impressions (lust let the accents go, maybe). But I'll continue to listen.
Date published: 2016-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great way to listen to and learn about great music I listen to this course when I exercise and hike. It's nice to be able to set my own pace and repeat parts that I particularly enjoy. Professor Greenberg does an excellent job keeping the course interesting.
Date published: 2016-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough and enjoyable I wa a music major in college, but never learned compositions on this level. Prof Greenberg is very interested in form and key, which provides a new avenue of enjoyment. He is erudite, includes social and cultural context, and is funny.
Date published: 2016-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ear Opening Analysis Professor Greenberg does a masterful job revealing the extraordinary structural and harmonic wonders of these quartets. His two-lecture discourse on the Op. 59 No. 1 quartet is itself worth the cost of the course. If you are quite familiar with the quartets but have not closely analyzed them, these lectures will deepen your appreciation and enjoyment. If you are new to the quartets, by all means take your time with these lectures and be sure to listen to each quartet movement in its entirety after you hear his analysis. Your ears, heart, and mind will thank you for the time well spent.
Date published: 2015-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Splendid Introduction Beethoven has been my favorite composer since I was a child. Amazingly, however, I was only familiar with his symphonies and many of his compositions for piano, and had virtually no knowledge of or-I'm ashamed to admit now-interest in his string quartets. After this course, I have both an appreciation and love for these works. Thank you again, Professor Greenberg!
Date published: 2015-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course This course is excellent. Greenberg does an excellent job of putting music into historic context and into the context of what was happening in the artist's life. Greenberg helps non-musicians, such as myself, understand the music. He also shows why seemingly lesser pieces, such as the Harp Quartet, are worth listening to. My only criticism is that I wish he had provided more Word Scores. Greenberg's wonderful course on the Beethoven symphonies has Word Scores for each symphony, and I wish that he had done the same here. My favorite quartet is the C-Sharp Minor Quartet, and I'm glad that he has a Word Score for that one.
Date published: 2015-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly recommended Splendid. Just what I needed to better understand the quartets of Beethoven
Date published: 2014-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best music course Professor Greenberg's courses are great, and I particularly like the more in-depth courses, like the ones he did on Beethoven's music (string quartets, symphonies, piano sonatas). Among them the course on string quartets is probably the best, but the symphonies and the piano sonatas are very close behind.
Date published: 2014-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Some Pointers About Greenberg's Pointers It's no wonder that Robert Greenberg is one of the Teaching Company's most popular professors. He is knowledgeable, engaging, and witty. Since other reviewers have already described his many virtues, let me respectfully comment on one of his quirks. Apparently, no one ever informed the good professor that it's not polite to point. And point he does. Sometimes his index fingers are jabbing upwards, which gives no particular offense. More troublingly, though, they often point to and jab at you, the viewer. I've probably listened to and watched hundreds of excellent Teaching Company courses during the past 15 years, and no professor is without quirks. I find it's best to ignore them. Or, in this case, you might want to consider the audio version of Greenberg's courses.
Date published: 2014-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really good - but you have to do the work Like all the Great Courses, this is not something you just sit back and absorb. You need a good background in music theory (what is a cadence, a diminished fifth, harmonic minor?) and you have to actively listen to the whole quartets, preferably several times, before and after hearing the lectures. Yeah, there's a good bit of historical background and trivia, but it does illuminate things a bit. The music never really "speaks for itself" - it lies within historical and personal context and in the case of Beethoven it's not so easy to disentangle the music from the man. The references to Haydn and Mozart are especially helpful in terms of understanding the evolution of the formal and material aspects of the quartet. Likewise the correlations with various symphonies, sonatas, and other Beethoven works. And the music is pretty good too. I have to add, as well, that I got this for free for evaluating the packaging material. Bargain of the last few years I'd say. I'm just getting caught up on my coursework.
Date published: 2014-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tailored for a specific audience DVD reviews. I came to appreciate classical music well after my teens. With no musical background whatsoever, I believe my tastes evolved through a fairly common path. First came "easy listening" tunes like Pachelbel's Canon. Loud, brassy symphonies, concertos and operas with catchy melodies soon followed. Excessive familiarity eventually led me to explore less-obvious choices, including early music and chamber pieces. Dr. Greenberg's CHAMBER MUSIC OF MOZART and STRING QUARTETS OF BEETHOVEN — the order is important — are great introductions to the string quartet as it evolved from Haydn through Mozart to Beethoven, who fundamentally redefined the genre's potential. BUT, BUT these two course do assume a basic understanding, or at least a high tolerance for, music theory at a level achievable if you first go through Greenberg's UNDERSTANDING THE FUNDAMENTALS OF MUSIC. Without this background information, these courses will sound like BLAH, BLAH, BLAH → MUSIC SNIPPET → BLAH, BLAH, BLAH → ANOTHER SNIPPET → BLAH, BLAH ..... Here is a BLAH, BLAH example, 17 minutes into Lesson 9 of BEETHOVEN: "The development section begins with the sequence of 2-chord units, each followed by a measure of silence, as the harmony moves forward from E-flat major to E-flat minor to B-major finally arriving in B-minor for a lengthy sequential modulatory passage based on theme 1." You get the point. Except for some delightful biographical lectures here and there, BLAH BLAH is what you hear for hours on end. Greenberg is a wonderful, entertaining lecturer, probably TTC's best. But music presents unique challenges. Whereas paintings can be shown at a glance, with plenty of speculation about what is portrayed or the artist's biography, music is invisible and flows through time. It moves us more viscerally, yet requires a fairly abstract vocabulary to explain and compare. _______________ To sum up..... If you expect long stretches of beautiful music briefly interrupted by vague babblings about what Mozart or Beethoven must have felt, these courses will seriously disappoint. Just buy the music CDs and enjoy yourself. If the Greenberg quotation mentioned above sounds like technical jargon that adds nothing to your aesthetic appreciation for chamber music, then stay away. These courses are designed either for musically literate people, or for TTC clients with an engineer's propensity to "look under the hood" and find out how these mechanisms work. Greenberg's courses also offer you a vocabulary to compare and contrast musical performances with like-minded enthusiasts. Highly recommended if you fit that description. The course guidebooks are great. Audio versions are all you really need.
Date published: 2014-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome! Professor Greenberg is a superstar teacher. I have taken a number of his courses and I always feel enriched after completing them. Having got used to his high standard I wasn't expecting him to get any better, yet somehow he managed to do so in this course. He has done a number of courses covering other aspects of Beethoven so I was prepared for a lot of repetition. Inevitably there is some overlap, but he manages to keep it to a minimum while adding previously uncovered background details. One word of caution. This course assumes you have some grounding in music theory. If you haven't then take and enjoy Professor Greenberg's courses - Understanding the Fundementals of Music and How to Listen to and Understand Great Music.
Date published: 2013-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it ! Loved it! Loved it! Loved it! Perhaps I should just get to the bottom line: I loved it!
Date published: 2013-02-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing! This is my 8th Teach12 course by Professor Greenberg and sadly it is the least satisfying. Oddly, Professor Greenberg himself is much less laudatory here than in other courses and is remarkably restrained in his use of superlatives. At times repetitious from one lecture to another, at times redundant with the “Beethoven Symphonies” series, this course suffers from what Professor Greenberg calls TMI: too much information. In order to appreciate the string quartets, do we really need extensive details about chamber pots, gastric ailments, fraudulent assistants, etc.? Such mundane matters are interspersed with overly specialized musical analysis that is very difficult to grasp even after having listened three times to Professor Greenberg’s “Fundamentals of Music” course. To cover the material, 16 well structured lectures would certainly be sufficient instead of 24. Consequently, this course can only be recommended to die-hard Beethoven fans with a strong basis in music theory.
Date published: 2011-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor explains complex material well I enjoyed the professor's descriptions of the string quartets and the humor with which he delivers them.
Date published: 2011-02-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wonderful This is my 3rd course from Prof Greenberg, who is an amazingly effective and entertaining teacher. I really like Beethoven and have listened to his string quartets for many years. I now, thanks to this course, have a much deeper appreciation of all of them. I know a lot more about their structure and about the factors in Beethoven's life which became manifest in the quarters. Greenberg's lectures about the major periods in Beethoven's life are wonderful, full of moving and sometimes funny anecdotes and character insights. I gave the course a 4 overall though I rate it 5 in all other dimensions for one reason that stems from my ignorance of music theory and not from any deficiency in Greenberg's course. When he explains, say, the tonal structure of a string quartet movement in detail I can hear it. But he then -- quite properly -- summarizes what he just said using the correct musical terminology. I don't read music or play an instrument and have never mastered the terminology. Thus those portions go over my head and I find my attention wandering for a few moments. If one understands the musical theory, the course would be even more compelling. As I have discovered in my previous courses from Greenberg, he is a real showman and a great speaker. In what is now 88 lectures of 45 minutes each across three courses, I have never heard him utter so much as an 'um' or an 'ah'. He also is consistently funny - a joy to listen to.
Date published: 2010-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of Greenberg's Best This is another fine course by professor Greenberg and, I think, one of his best. The course is a concise analysis of the sixteen string quartets of Beethoven. In addition to discussing Beethoven's ever-evolving string quartet style and presenting numerous musical excerpts, Professor Greenberg discusses the cultural and historic background and personal crises that affected Beethoven's compositions. As always, Professor Greenberg's lectures are packed with information presented in his enthusiastic, energetic, free-wheeling style. This course gave me much insight into Beethoven's quartets, as well as much gratification. If you love Beethoven's music, it will do the same for you.
Date published: 2010-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best pre concert lectures This is my 4th course by Prof Greenberg, having listened to the fundamentals, Mozart, Beethoven piano sonatas. His style is energetic and animated, which may not work for everybody, but does liven things up. Obviously, he approaches the music from a composer's perspective, spending time on themes, scales, modulatory bridges, and recapitulations, which may be too much for the casual listener. His descriptions bring the music to life, such as calling for a fire hose to cool the quartet down. There is some overlap with the Beethoven piano sonata course in describing events in Beethoven's life, unavoidably. Overall, an excellent survey of an important body of work, which is performed more frequently than I knew before the course.
Date published: 2010-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I wish this course was longer. This is the fourth Professor Greenberg course I am reviewing. My first was Bach and the High Baroque. Next was The Symphonies of Beethoven, followed by The Piano Sonatas of Beethoven. Now we ascend the lofty heights of some of the greatest music ever written, music I fortunately had an affinity for starting at a young age. I regard myself as above average in my musical knowledge and taste, especially for an amateur. Chamber music was always a corner of the classical musical world that I related to and knew pretty well. The quartets, opus 59, #1, 2, and 3, and quartets #13, 14, and 15 were my favorites since ninth grade. But I must say that this course greatly enlarged and deepened my appreciation of these masterpieces. Professor G. loves music and especially loves this music. While his expressions of enthusiasm, and his cultural references (such as to Mick Jagger and Keith Edwards), and his jokes and family stories (some cute, others lame) may be intrusive or distracting to some reviewers, they add to my own enjoyment and appreciation. I would much rather hear from a real person with some flaws than from a more mechanical teacher who suppresses their own personality. Admittedly, that is my own teaching style, but I appreciate it as a learner as well as a teacher. Now on to the substance of the course. The Alexander Quartet performances are excellent. I could argue the merits of The Budapest Quartet's recordings of the 1950's, or The Talich Quartet's recordings of the '60's and '70's, or the Hungarian Quartet, the Vegh Quartet, or the Takacs Quartets. My personal performance taste goes more to The Budapest and the Talich. But I found myself hearing great merit in The Alexander's performances. In addition, a few times they played individual lines so that the course listeners could hear themes played on the strings and not exclusively on the piano. This added a lot to the listening. Even in the opus 18 early quartets Beethoven was stretching limits. By opus 59 he was breaking new ground. The "Harp" Quartet, another of my favorites, could have used more emphasis by Professor G. For example, the dit, dit, dit, dah rhythm of the Fifth Symphony finds its expression in the Harp, and also in the 4th Piano Concerto, and many other places during this phase of Beethoven's compositional life, but there was not enough time to go into such interesting areas. The pinnacle of the course comes when Professor G. leads us through the 13th, 14th, and 15th quartets. These were published in a different sequence than they were written, and he addresses them in the written sequence. Quartet 15 has five movements, 13 has six, and 14 has seven -- the sequence in which they were written. All three quartets are among the most magical and amazing pieces of music ever penned by anyone. Professor G. makes a convincing case that the "Grosse Fuge" originally written as the final movement of #13 but later replaced with an alternate fifth movement, should be performed as the final movement today. I wish I could have asked the Professor whether the alternate movement and the final quartet #16, were not both ways in which Beethoven was saying, "OK public -- you can't really understand the profundity of what I have written? Here, take these sweet but simpler tunes and enjoy -- for now. Future generations will vindicate me." If you are going to traverse the Beethoven courses, I recommend that beginners start with the Life and Work course, and then go to the symphonies, the piano sonatas, and finally the string quartets. For me the string quartets are the pinnacle of greatness. A note on format. Even more than in the course on piano sonatas, it felt to me that Professor G. was reading from a script in contrast to speaking from an outline, as it seemed in the symphony course. I got used to it and still found the course to be enlightening. It definitely deepened my ability to listen to the quartets. And I plan, after I navigate my way through the other music courses, to return to this one. Very highly recommended.
Date published: 2010-08-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from String Quarts I have to admit that I never was one for chamber music. But something prodded me to get this course to broaden my horizons. I do not know music theory, so the various chords and fifths, etc. went over my head. However, I listened intently while "glossing over" the music theory and found there was a meaning hidden in all the technical talk. The auditory examples were enough to implant a "method to the madness" in my head which made the listening experience better than I had hoped for. Now when I listen to the string quartets I hear the composer's genius. And this also launched me into authentic Chinese and Japanese music. Go figure.........there must be a connection! Enjoy the music!
Date published: 2010-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quartet Survey Please I have been lucky enough to hear some of Prof Greenberg's live lectures in SF. Could you convince him to do a string quartet survey like he did for symphony and concerto? He's been giving lectures with Alexander Quartet for at least a decade. I'm assuming the Beethoven quartet lectures grew out of a Sat series he did with Alexander for SF Performances. A couple of years ago he did Shostakovich.This year he did Dvorak, and next year Bartok. I also heard him lecture on the Carter quartets for the Carter centenary last year. Sounds like a survey to me!
Date published: 2010-05-13
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