The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works

Course No. 7320
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 7320
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What Will You Learn?

  • Explore the "Well-Tempered" tuning system and Bach's encyclopedic use of musical genres.
  • Take apart the musical architecture of the G Minor Ballade to discover how Chopin created a dramatic poem.
  • Learn how Liszt redefined what was physically possible in piano playing.
  • Study the five elements of Debussy's revolutionary style, including "modal" melodies, rhythmic fluidity, and tone color.

Course Overview

As a solo concert instrument, the piano enjoys an unrivaled popularity in Western music. Capable of a vast sonic range, from ethereal softness to thundering grandeur, its appeal is global and seemingly eternal. For nearly 200 years, audiences have packed concert halls and opera houses to hear performers play this single, phenomenal instrument.

One of the primary reasons for the piano’s popularity is the fact that it has inspired many of the greatest compositional masterworks in the concert repertoire. The piano’s harmonic and melodic capabilities, tone colors, and orchestral resources have fascinated composers—the majority of them highly accomplished pianists themselves—since the mid-18th century. The result is a magnificent body of work, from the intricate and lyric creations of the High Baroque and Classical masters to the passionate visions of Romantic virtuosos to the revolutionary sonorities of pianistic “impressionism” and modernism.

Within the rich repertoire of the piano, a group of unique masterworks stand out as the greatest achievements of this tradition. These historic milestones in piano writing are celebrated for several key reasons:

  • They have commanded the respect of the music world through their compositional mastery and their extraordinary power to move listeners and mirror human experience.
  • They have used the resources of the piano in groundbreaking or unique ways.
  • They have stood the test of time, continuing to enthrall and amaze each new generation of concertgoers.

To study these works and to understand their genius and enduring appeal is to know one of the greatest accomplishments of Western culture, works that provide pleasure even as they deepen your insight into the power and meaning of music.

In The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works, Great Courses favorite Professor Robert Greenberg of San Francisco Performances returns with an in-depth exploration of the solo piano works he considers to be among the most exceptional landmarks in the literature. The 23 works you’ll study represent the selections of an internationally respected composer and music historian, carefully chosen to highlight the most significant compositional and pianistic achievements in the solo piano repertoire.

Encounter a Magnificent Tradition in Art

These 24 engrossing lectures guide you through more than 200 years of music. Beginning with the towering figure of Bach, followed by Mozart and Beethoven, you encounter the piano music of such great 19th-century masters as Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt, before moving forward to visionary modernists including Scriabin, Debussy, and Prokofiev. In Professor Greenberg’s trademark style, each lecture focuses on a single work in a fresh, accessible encounter with the musical substance of the piece, welcoming listeners new to concert music as well as experienced concert music lovers.

In addition to your study of the music, the lectures expose you to a rich panorama of music history. You dig deeply into the artistic and social environments that the compositions reflect, shedding light on what inspired these great works and how they were created. As a third key layer of the course, you delve into the extraordinary history of the piano itself, discovering the ways in which the evolution of the instrument directly affected the music that composers wrote for it.

As a compelling feature of the video version of this course, the three dynamic concert pianists who play most of the musical excerpts encountered during the course appear on camera. This is a unique chance to not only hear the music superbly played, but to watch the pianists at the keyboard and to observe the extraordinary “choreography” of hands and body that goes into a performance.

A Solo Repertoire Unparalleled in Western Music

Within the wide range of periods and styles you study, you’ll explore these timeless works:

  • BeethovenDiabelli Variations: Penetrate the musical structure of this crown jewel of the repertoire, as Beethoven magically transforms the theme through successive variations, leading to a transcendent conclusion that invokes the spirit of Bach.
  • ChopinPréludes, opus 28: From this iconic Romantic composer for the piano, experience the expressive power, intimacy, and nuance of these beloved short pieces, embodied in keyboard sonorities of ravishing beauty.
  • LisztYears of Pilgrimage: Observe how these daring pieces, penned by history’s defining piano virtuoso, create dazzling pianistic effects that push the limits of both the player and the instrument.
  • DebussyPréludes, Book One: As one of the most original composers in piano history, Debussy forged trailblazing pathways in musical harmonies, textures, and nonlinear time, all of which you’ll follow in these powerfully evocative miniatures.
  • AlbénizIberia: In this luminous journey into the culture of Spain, grasp the compositional techniques through which Albéniz evokes the reverie and passion of Andalusian gypsies, guitarists, and Flamenco dancers.
  • Copland—Piano Variations: From our own shores, discover the brilliant synthesis of European modernism, West African rhythm and melodic structure, jazz, and machine-age dynamism that drives this uniquely American masterwork.

The Piano: History of a Cultural Treasure

Parallel with the unfolding of the musical repertoire, you follow the history of the piano’s technological evolution, from the development in 1700 of the first piano “action”—a mechanism enabling the instrument to produce gradations of volume from soft to loud—through successive design innovations that increased the instrument’s power and resonance, culminating with the fully modern piano of the 1870s. Here, you discover how changes in piano design made entire new types of keyboard music possible.

You learn, for example, about the “double escapement” mechanism, pioneered in the 1820s, that made fast repeated notes possible and allowed Liszt to create a sort of piano music that could never have been played on earlier pianos. And you grasp how Debussy used the resonance and overtones of the modern piano to create the shimmering, otherworldly atmospheres that characterize his piano writing.

In studying the individual works in the course, you learn about the musical forms and structural procedures that underlie them—such as sonata form, rondo form, fugue, and canon—allowing you to follow the music’s structure as you listen, and also to appreciate the masterful use of these forms. Understanding sonata form, for example, allows you to appreciate how Prokofiev’s thoroughly modernist use of the form differed from its use by Beethoven and Liszt before him, and how the three composers employed this same musical structure to realize hugely different expressive visions.

You also learn in detail about the compositional means used by the great composers for the piano to realize their creative impulses. Early in the course, you see how Bach used the musical pitches of his Fugue no. 4 to depict the Christian cross, making explicit his own identification with Christ’s suffering. Later, you study Schubert’s glorious use of lyric, thematic melodies. And you learn how Alexander Scriabin, fulfilling a vision of music as spiritual revelation, employed a “mystic chord” to create a sound outside of traditional tonality.

Larger than Life Creative Spirits

Throughout the lectures, you look penetratingly into the circumstances surrounding the composition of the individual works and the historical background of their writing. In this inquiry, Professor Greenberg provides fascinating glimpses into the process of musical creation and reveals insights into some of Western art’s most remarkable personalities:

  • Chopin, whose obsessive creative process included shutting himself in for days, weeping, breaking his pens, and agonizing—sometimes for weeks—over a single page
  • Liszt, who cut the figure of a 19th-century rock star, driving awestruck fans to ecstatic adulation during his pyrotechnical performances
  • Brahms, who, declared by Schumann to be the new Beethoven, burned piles of his own works in fanatical self-criticism
  • Scriabin, whose embrace of Gnosticism and quest to reveal divine knowledge through music pushed him to the edge of sanity
  • Prokofiev, who, during the terror under Stalin, doggedly pursued his own musical vision in some works while adhering to the artistic dictates of the Soviet state in others

In The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works, you’ll delve deeply into a body of works that have enthralled, astounded, and profoundly moved generations of listeners. An educational journey you won’t find anywhere else, these twenty-four, 45-minute lectures give you the knowledge and insight to enjoy and appreciate the stunningly diverse literature of the piano.

Join a master composer and musicologist in discovering these great works of art, which make the solo piano tradition one of the superlative, enduring riches of our culture.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 48 minutes each
  • 1
    Piano Starts Here!
    Begin by reflecting on the life of the concert pianist and the extraordinary rigors and demands of this unique profession within the music world. Then trace the history of the harpsichord, the piano’s predecessor, and how the piano, capable of a huge sonic range, evolved from its beginnings in 1700 into the modern concert instrument. Consider the range of composers included in this course and the criteria for the selection of the masterworks you’ll study. x
  • 2
    J. S. Bach—The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book One
    As a point of entry to this vastly influential work, learn about the aesthetic of the High Baroque, with its duality of exuberant expression and intellectual control. Define the highly controlled fugue as a “polyphonic” musical form, and the free-form prelude that precedes each fugue in Bach’s scheme. Then explore the “well tempered” tuning system and Bach’s encyclopedic use of musical genres in the sublime preludes and fugues that make up this work. x
  • 3
    J. S. Bach—Goldberg Variations
    Trace the roots of this iconic masterpiece and the purported circumstances of its creation. Penetrate its complexity by digging into its “concentric” structure—the groups of variations and larger divisions in the material that form the work’s musical architecture. In particular, discover the remarkable “trinities”— successive groups of three variations, each trinity comprising character pieces, toccatas, and canons, and how they serve the larger unity and spiritual meaning of the set. Learn also about Bach’s admittedly checkered relationship with the piano. x
  • 4
    Mozart—Piano Sonata in C Minor, K. 457
    In realizing the expressive scope of his keyboard compositions, Mozart single-handedly enlarged the scale, virtuosity, and importance of the piano sonata. Track Mozart’s rise as a keyboard prodigy and his transition from the harpsichord to writing music specifically conceived for the piano. Through the great C Minor Sonata, grasp his lyric, operatic use of the piano; rich melodic variety; dynamic contrasts; and expressive extremes that look toward the piano music of the 19th and 20th centuries. x
  • 5
    Beethoven—The Appassionata Sonata
    First, learn how Beethoven’s relationship with the organ led to the orchestral power and sonority of his piano works. Also trace how the Appassionata grew from the composer’s psychological self-reinvention following his tragic hearing loss. In the sonata’s opening, see how Beethoven creates a compelling dramatic narrative through persistent dissonances and ambiguous harmonies. Witness how the chorale-like second movement theme and variations achieves a lyrical calm before the relentless darkness of the heart-stopping finale. x
  • 6
    Beethoven—Diabelli Variations, Op. 120
    Arguably the greatest of all works for solo piano, these glorious variations were written on an invitation from composer Anton Diabelli. Grasp the extraordinary ways in which Beethoven varies the theme, using allusion, humor, and parody. Follow the progression of the three groups of variations, from the first group’s cumulative unfolding to the second group’s dissociations and contrasts, leading to the final set’s movement toward the spirit of Bach and concluding in a mood of transcendent peace. x
  • 7
    Schubert—Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-flat Major
    Among relevant details of the composer’s life, learn about Schubert’s tragic struggle with ill health, Beethoven’s influence as a role model, and the importance of song in the character of Schubert’s music. In the beloved B-flat Major Sonata, delineate the three ravishing thematic melodies that compose the first movement. Savor the nostalgic melancholy and slow-changing harmonies of the three-part andante, the harmonic flight of the scherzo, and the great expressive range of the final rondo. x
  • 8
    Chopin—Préludes, Op. 28
    As context for studying the music of Chopin, delve into the aesthetics of 19th-century Romanticism, its emphasis on self-expression, and its model of the artist-hero. Also glimpse Chopin’s painstaking process of creation in the writing of the preludes. Discover the lyric intimacy, harmonic ingenuity, and expressive nuance of these exquisite miniatures, as each prelude evokes a single emotional environment. Learn how the performance technique of rubato informs and illuminates the music. x
  • 9
    Chopin—Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23
    Chopin’s music for the piano was directly impacted by the evolution of the instrument itself. First, study two innovations in piano design that produced more powerful and resonant pianos, and grasp the symbiotic relationship between Chopin the pianist and Chopin the composer. Take apart the musical architecture of the G Minor Ballade, focusing on its unusual thematic structure, to see how Chopin creates a powerful dramatic poem with an emotional narrative that builds to an apotheosis-like conclusion. x
  • 10
    Schumann—Kreisleriana
    Trace the origins of this landmark of Romanticism in Schumann’s fascination with the novels of E. T. A. Hoffman, his anguished courtship of future wife Clara Wieck, and his impulse to create art that fused music, literature, and autobiography. In the eight extraordinary movements of Kreisleriana, consider how Schumann writes a spiritual diary in sound, using expressive thematic melodies and harmonic complexity to reveal rich metaphoric meaning and his own innermost feelings and fears. x
  • 11
    Liszt—Years of Pilgrimage
    This lecture explores the phenomenal legacy of Franz Liszt as piano virtuoso, composer, and innovator in piano writing. Encounter the passionate, demonic figure of Liszt, the ultimate virtuoso-hero, packing concert halls and raising audiences to heights of ecstasy and adulation. Through his Years of Pilgrimage, learn how Liszt redefined what was physically possible in piano playing, creating dazzling musical and pianistic effects that push the limits of the pianist’s body and the resources of the instrument. x
  • 12
    Liszt—Sonata in B Minor
    Here, probe further into the extraordinary life and contribution of Liszt. Follow the events of his trailblazing virtuoso career and his near burnout that led to the introspective period in Weimar that produced the B Minor Sonata. Analyze the large-scale structure of this magisterial work and its metaphoric meaning based in the narrative of Goethe’s Faust. Hear how Liszt recasts and transforms the three powerful themes as they evoke the figures of Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles. x
  • 13
    Brahms—Handel Variations, Op. 24
    Contemplate the naming of this work (Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel), as it reveals Brahms’s spiritual links to the musical past and his individualist stance as a Romantic-era composer. Learn also about defining influences in Brahms’s life that shaped his musical destiny. Follow the unfolding of the great Handel Variations in six groups of variations of rich and diverse content, building to the splendorous fugue, a musical creation of majestic power. x
  • 14
    Brahms—Six Pieces for Piano, Op. 118
    In this lecture’s opening, explore Brahms’s musical aesthetics, a pioneering synthesis that combined 18th-century formal procedures with a fully Romantic expressive content. Also note how his personality and extreme self-criticism affected his creative output. Uncover the riches of the six pieces of Opus 118, highlighting the compositional ingenuity of the wistfully beautiful Intermezzo in A, the radiant Romance in F, and the masterful final Intermezzo, a movement portraying “utmost grief and passion.” x
  • 15
    Mussorgsky—Pictures at an Exhibition
    In 19th-century Russia, Mussorgsky and his contemporaries rejected the influence of German composers in seeking to create a music that would be purely Russian. In the kaleidoscopic movements of Pictures at an Exhibition, each based on a visual artwork, experience the power and directness of Mussorgsky’s non-Western European musical language, from his incarnation of fantastic creatures and comic flights of fancy to the monumental tone painting of The Great Gate of Kiev. x
  • 16
    Debussy—“The Sunken Cathedral”
    Here, journey into Debussy’s early life as he broke with the musical past, developing new approaches to tonality and sonority to create stunningly original piano works. In this extraordinary prelude, study five elements of Debussy’s revolutionary style, used to evoke the mythical cathedral of Ys rising from the sea. In particular, observe how he uses “modal” melodies and harmonies, rhythmic fluidity, and tone color to create a magical, otherworldly atmosphere and a nonlinear sense of time. x
  • 17
    Debussy—Préludes, Book One
    Begin this lecture with reflections on Debussy’s personality and artistic influences, including that of French Symbolist poetry, as they influenced his musical creations. In his first book of Préludes, discover the remarkable compositional innovations that allowed him to craft these superlative short pieces. Focus on the storytelling content, ethereal textures, nuance, and harmonic originality of preludes including “Dancers of Delphi,” “The Wind in the Plain,” “Footprints in the Snow,” and the raucous “Minstrels.” x
  • 18
    Albéniz—Iberia
    Albéniz’s magnum opus for the piano celebrates the culture of the Andaluc'a region of Spain. Identify the characteristic elements of Andalusian folk music, such as the Phrygian mode, Flamenco rhythms, and traditional dance forms, and how Albéniz incorporated them into the lush sonic palette of this work. In compelling excerpts from the 12 pieces of Iberia, hear how the score pulsates with the sounds of voices, bells, guitars, castanets, and Flamenco dancers. x
  • 19
    Ravel—Valses nobles et sentimentales
    Explore the evolution of the waltz as a popular dance and musical form, and how the Viennese waltz, paradoxically, became a metaphor for both civility and tragedy. Learn about Ravel’s creative process and character and the likely personal meaning behind this suite. Experience the rich harmonic textures and huge expressive range of these eight pieces, from passionate exuberance to dreamlike wistfulness, as Ravel evokes the waltz as a memory of a vanished world. x
  • 20
    Scriabin—Piano Sonata No. 5
    Beginning as a post-Romantic composer, Alexander Scriabin made a dramatic transition, embracing theosophy and a vision of music as mystical revelation. In this daring, modernist piece, see how Scriabin shapes a musical narrative in which tonal and nontonal music coexist. From the sonata’s dissonant opening, follow the interweaving of the first, tonal theme with a lyric, contrasting theme based in a “mystic chord,” creating a melodic and harmonic sound outside of traditional tonality. x
  • 21
    Rachmaninoff—Études-tableaux
    Rachmaninoff’s Études-tableaux combine programmatic (storytelling) content with great pianistic challenges for the performer. As background, explore Rachmaninoff’s dual life as a composer and a peerless piano virtuoso, and the linking of his musical destiny with the American-made Steinway piano. In the Études, see how Rachmaninoff uses ingenious virtuoso effects, layered rhythms, and sophisticated harmonies to evoke a boisterous fair, a seascape, a funeral ceremony, and a heroic march. x
  • 22
    Prokofiev—Piano Sonata No. 7
    In a story of tragic poignancy, learn about Prokofiev’s early international success and his extraordinary political naïveté as he returned to live in the Soviet Union during the terror under Stalin. In the Sonata no. 7, follow the unfolding of the first movement’s two themes, alternating brutal force with quiet rumination. Grasp the expressive content of the second movement, based on Schumann’s song “Sadness,” and of the explosive finale of this work that demonstrates brilliantly Prokofiev’s trademark, machine-like rhythmic drive. x
  • 23
    Copland—Piano Variations
    American concert music emerged in the early 20th century as a synthesis of musical types and influences. Trace its dynamic mix of elements, encompassing West African rhythm and melodic structures, blues, ragtime, jazz, popular song, and European modernism. In this homegrown masterwork, study how Copland used “microtonal” melodies, jazz and ragtime rhythms, and a relentless, machine-age energy to create a dramatically compelling set of variations—a work that is “American” to its core. x
  • 24
    The A-List
    The course concludes with a lighthearted look at another side of the piano literature: works written by the great composers for amateur pianists. Survey nine iconic piano pieces from Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Rubinstein, Dvorak, and Debussy; the stories behind their writing; and the often amusing ways in which these works have taken root in our culture. Contemplate the scope of the piano repertoire, a literature that is, as Professor Greenberg says, “the envy of every other instrument.” x

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  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
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  • 24 lectures on 6 DVDs
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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

The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 51.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another brilliant course in Greenerg's mononpoly I have by now heard almost all of Professor Greenberg’s courses on concert music. This course too, is beautifully crafted and delivered and contained for me a wealth of information that was totally new. Solo piano music is one of my favorite genres to which I have listened extensively over the years, along with chamber music. So this particular, relatively narrow, subject of interest is of special interest to me. I do not have a substantial formal training in music and I ended up listening to what caught my ear without knowing if these pieces are considered major or not. It turned out that many of my favorite solo piano pieces are also what Prof. Greenberg considers to be of the 23 greatest solo piano pieces, without me even realizing they were important cornerstones in the repertoire. These included, for example, Chopin’s Preludes, and Brahms’ six piano pieces Opus 118. As in many of his other courses, however, I was introduced to other major works of which I did not have a clue, such as for example the works by Scriabin and Copland. I will surely make a concentrated effort to hear them in the future. These recommendations are almost worth the time and effort of listening to the courese in and of themselves. Professor Greenberg, as always, is absolutely first rate: funny, knowledgeable and highly evocative. He analyzes the general history, the biographical situations of the different composers, and the general trends in music history to create a wonderful, integrative context for understanding the music. Then he analyses the music itself through brilliantly constructed technical explanations, which are at the same time accessible even to those of limited background, and yet still profound and satisfying. Not a trivial task at all, and beautifully pulled off… I must join other reviewers, though, regarding choice of lecturers. Even considering all the superlatives that Professor Greenberg surely deserves – his monopoly on presentation of concert music courses makes the delivery (although absolutely first rate and wonderful) - limited. There is significant repetition between the courses. For example, the lectures regarding Brahms’ solo piano music also discuss much of his biography, and this inevitably overlaps with his own course dedicated solely to Brahms’ biography. I think that had someone else presented the course on Brahms’ biography, at least the emphasis and the way of presentation would probably have been different, and possibly the very choice of content. As it is, some parts are almost repeated word for word. Another prime example is the evolution of the piano – from Harpsichord to the modern Steinway concert pianos of today. Again, this is an absolutely brilliant and fascinating narrative and presentation, but gets to be tiring after the first two or three times you hear it. TGC does not have such a presentation monopoly in any other subject, and I firmly join those who would like to hear other Professors on this topic. Still, judging by its own merits - another brilliant and wonderful course by Professor Greenberg.
Date published: 2018-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Musical Illumination I have not yet finished listening to the lectures in this course because I pulled out all of the stops and ordered my own copies of each of the piano works it covers (except for those I already owned) and some of them have been slow to arrive. But for the works I have listened to, I have found Dr. Greenberg's lectures not only entertaining, but illuminating. In each one, he gives a brief synopsis of the composer's life, the circumstances of the composition of the work in question, and the reactions of the critics. For these topics, Dr. Greenberg has thoroughly researched the published sources, and he always arbitrates when they disagree and justifies his own opinion. Then he analyzes the work itself, illustrating his points with brief excerpts. The effect of this on my understanding of the work is understated when I use the term "illuminating." The difference between how I heard the work before I listened to the lecture and how I hear it afterwards is amazing. The music then engages both my mind and my feelings to a far greater extent. Let me add that Dr. Greenberg's courses are intended for non-musicians like myself. Musicians would need a different kind of course.
Date published: 2018-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful, funny! I've never been disappointed with this gentleman's lectures and his humor and his expertise.
Date published: 2018-03-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Fine Informative but hard to listen to the speaker. Forced narration. Not talking TO people but talking AT the listener. .
Date published: 2017-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Audio & Video The material is, of course, more important than the quality of the video. Nevertheless, The Great Courses (AKA The Teaching Company) have made great improvements in the video quality of their productions. As always, the material is excellent and, now, so is the video.
Date published: 2017-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding We have almost all of professor Greenberg's courses. We think he is the best teacher of all the professors. His courses are the best. A-number one.
Date published: 2017-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 23 Great Solo Piano Works Prof. Greenberg is brilliant again. The piano demos are tremendous in themselves. I am only several lectures into it and already have learned so much. I highly recommend this series for any music/piano lovers.
Date published: 2017-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another winner for Robert Greenberg As always, another superior music course from Dr. Greenberg. Good mix of history, biography, music education and stellar piano performances make this a must for any piano fan. Highly recommended
Date published: 2017-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg Presents Live Piano This is the eighth course from Dr. Greenberg, so by now I am well used to his style and eccentricities. There are many detractors, who consider his presentations way over the top: too many words, way too fast, too much bad humor, too childish, too much hyperbole, and not enough music. Just are there are many who love his style, humor and presentation. Although I understand both perspectives, I am in the “campy” camp. For the most part few reviewers, even those who dislike his style, fault his analysis of music and musicians. This course is a bit different, in that most of the music is played live by three different concert pianists. Plus of course Dr. Greenberg also demonstrates many of his points at the piano. This course shows Dr. Greenberg at his best. The 23 pieces selected are all representative, although as in any “best” list some may disagree with a few choices. The usual suspects are all present: Diabelli Variations, Goldberg Variations, Well-Tempered Clavier. And the choice of composers is also pretty much as expected: Bach Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Chopin, Schubert and Schumann. Somewhat of a surprise, but not at all unexpected, given copyright laws, is the glaring omission of more recent composers. For me the big surprise was in the last lecture, “The A-List”, which consisted of pieces composed for amateur pianists, such as Mozart’s Sonata in C Major and Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”. There are nine of these pieces in lecture 24, something I considered a treat. As for the course itself, Dr. Greenberg does his usual excellent blend of history, personalities, and musical analysis. I particularly enjoyed his detailing the history of the piano from the harpsichord to the modern, 9 foot concert grand. Also how the continuing improvements in the pianos, allowed composers to write ever more difficult pieces, as the reliability, soundness and action of pianos improved. One small defect, my downloaded version of the course materials had the picture of the piano on the cover reversed, as well as photos of that same piano in the online lectures also being reversed. A small detail perhaps, but one that should have been picked up by TTC editors. After all almost anyone who has ever looked at a concert piano knows the bass is on the left hand side of the piano, not the right as shown in my course materials. Love him or loathe him, Dr. Greenberg has yet another winner for all music lovers.
Date published: 2017-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course I find Dr. Greenberg's courses very accessible, even though I do not have a formal musical background (The only instrument I play is the stereo.) The courses are well-put together, informative, and surprisingly fun, with much side information about the composers and their lives and foibles. I feel that anyone purchasing the audio only version would miss a great deal of the enjoyment, because of not being able to enjoy the expressiveness of Dr. Greenberg's face, and also would miss the joy of seeing the music spill out of the beautiful black lacquer Steinway, as nimble fingers fly over the keys.
Date published: 2017-05-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well done, but repetitious The lecturer knows what he is talking about, selects appropriate examples, and speaks in an entertaining way. "The 23 Greatest Piano Works" are arguably just that, and I enjoyed each lecture. On the other hand, there was little continuity to the series. It is all very well that individual lectures should stand on their own–and they do–but they are so independently conceived that we hear the same information over and over again. How often. for example, do we need to be told, in virtually the same words, the history of piano making or what constitutes the sonata form? The overall impression is of a cut and paste assembly of lectures previously recorded for other courses. Intelligent listeners can remember simple facts from one lecture to the next. It is only the more abstruse comments that require repetition, and there are few difficult concepts in these mostly biographical lectures.
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg at his best Professor Greenberg is one of my favorite lecturers. He always brings more to the subject than the course title implies. Yes, he does the music superbly, but he also brings in the ins and outs of the characters, the social events, the historic events, the applicable peer group(s), and then adds his own opinions and humor. If you enjoy music and learning about music, this course should fill the bill. I also must mention the lady concert pianists who performed most of the music. Fantastic job and superb talent, ladies. My kudos and thanks to you. Throughout the course I wondered what make of piano was being used. It seemed so uniform in voice and timbre from the low end of the keyboard to the top end. I finally got a glimpse of the manufacturer in one of the performances. I wish I could afford one.
Date published: 2017-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Yet another wonderful romp through music by the maestro. Any fan of Mr. G (and it's hard to imagine anyone who is not) will be impressed. My one regret is my inability so far to work in the phrase "modulating bridge" in a casual conversation but I'm working on it.
Date published: 2016-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Priceless Professor Greenberg is the best of lecturers and his lecture on Debussy's "The Sunken Cathedral" is the best of lectures. In a few words, Prof. Greenberg enthusiastically lays out the historical, biographical, mythical, and musicological context of this amazing work. You do not need to know the context to love "The Sunken Cathedral," but the context adds immeasurably to its appreciation. Thank you, Prof. Greenberg.
Date published: 2016-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Breaker of my Chrysalis, Freer of my Mind I am SO GRATEFUL for Robert Greenberg's music courses. I'm writing here to say that, like a Master's Degree Capstone, his 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works course freed me to soar, to sky, to dive, to wander, to appreciate, to love. It opened my mind, finally, and once and for all, so much so, that now I'm able to find beauty, and thus joy, even in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.   Don't expect results like this to come quickly. My Robert Greenberg journey started over  a decade ago with multiple listenings over years and years to his big and his small courses: How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, Bach and the High Baroque, The Symphonies of Beethoven, Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, The Great Masters, (Mozart, Beethoven), and others. What I'm trying to say is that the result for me and for my love of life has been completely transformative: a butterfly has emerged.  And that butterfly is very very happy to thank Robert Greenberg for unveiling the beauty of life through an understanding of great music and how the lives, the times, and the struggles of the great composers are a reflection of my own life and, much more importantly, the lives of those around me. Thank you Robert Greenberg. Sincerely, Daniel Scott Winger
Date published: 2016-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Greenberg Tickles the Ivories Anytime you make a “greatest” list, you know you’re going to anger or disappoint someone whose favorites are not included. But Dr. Greenberg has done a good job of creating a list that even the most finicky pianist could probably agree to. Of course, there are the “inevitables”: the Diabelli and Goldberg varations, the WTC, preludes by Chopin and Debussy. But there are also a few that I would have never thought of if I were creating my own list, such as Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” or “Iberia” by Albeniz. The Prof makes a good case for all of them. One of the problems of a musical course is that works under copyright are expensive to license, so there is very little material in this course written after 1923. How could a course like this neglect Bartok, Webern, Nancarrow, Bolcom, Shostakovich or other 20th-century greats? And of all the pieces to choose from that era, why Copland’s dreary “Variations”? Greenberg’s leadup to that piece is full of references to American music, jazz, blues, etc. – and then we hear Copland’s sparse, 1920s-Euro-sounding doodling. What a disappointment. Thanks heavens that Prokofiev saved the day with his spiky Sonata #7. I listened to the audio version, so I could not see the in-studio pianists which the Prof referred to. Some of the performances were fine; others were bland. For some of the pieces, the Prof had to resort to recordings since apparently they were too difficult for the studio pianists. The piano also sounds sub-par; it would have been great for TGC to invest in the very best instrument available for a course like this. In summary, this course is another ‘hit’ for Dr. Greenberg, who never fails to inform and entertain, if you don’t mind his corny jokes and occasionally quirky pronunciations. If you are new to the world of piano music, it’s an excellent introduction to the ‘big hits.’ If you’re a lifetime pianist like me, it’s a fine refresher course with a few surprises.
Date published: 2015-10-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not enough of the Music! The viewer who knows a moderate amount of information about the composers highlighted and their works will find this course irritating and disappointing. Greenberg spends far too much time talking and not enough time letting us hear the great works. He makes an attempt to explain technical details like the structure of pieces, but hearing a pianist play little snippets of a theme is very unsatisfying. I think a course like this should let the music sell itself. My husband and I got so frustrated we stopped watching before the course was over. I understand that many rated this course very highly and I'm glad they have found it helpful.
Date published: 2015-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the most enjoyable courses I have ever taken. Robert Greenberg is a font of knowledge and has a great deal of fun presenting his subjects (I have two other courses taught by him). Since he is such an enthusiastic teacher he increases the enjoyment of the student. I thoroughly enjoy taking his classes and have recommended him to friends. He's great.
Date published: 2015-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Captivating unforgettable inspiring Professor Greenberg has got me "hooked" Therefore, I purchased 10 of his great Masters Piano CD's. I'm 76 years old and started studying piano at the age of 3 Thank you Great Courses for these superb lessons. AND A SPECIALTHANK YOU TO PROFESSOR GREENBERG. I would recommend these piano courses to anyone even if they are not piano people. You will get History, Geography and Philosophy and Pleasure from these exceptional courses. Another Course that my Wife and I like is: Scientific Secrets for a powerful Memory.
Date published: 2014-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 23 Most Important Solo Piano Works As always, Professor Greenberg's courses are outstanding. Purely semantics, but "most important" rather than "greatest" piano works would be a better title. As he clearly states in his lectures, these are very influential pieces and his format allows for a somewhat historical overview. The course provides brief biographical information on the composer, samples of the piano pieces, and appropriate analysis. I am not a musicologist or student of music, only an avid listener, so I thoroughly enjoy this approach. I have found an interesting way to enjoy this and other music lectures. I listen to Dr. Greenberg's lectures on CD, and intersperse them by listening to the appropriate musical selection on MP3 files. In this way, the ideas are fresh in my mind.
Date published: 2014-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from another goodie from Greenberg This is yet another wonderful, entertaining and informative course from Prof Greenberg. He adroitly covers the works selected, weaving in the essential biographical details about each composer covered, as well as covering the evolution of the piano from its ancestor, the harpsichord. Greenberg is a truly interesting and delightful speaker -- and once again, as I have found in almost all of his courses, he never in 24 lectures makes a slip of the tongue or utters an errant syllable. I find him a joy to listen to, and I have learned a lot about music that I didn't know before.
Date published: 2014-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome course I haven't finished all the videos yet -- I'm alternating them with another set of videos, also with the same professor. I am very impressed. I don't watch television. I'd much rather read a manual than watch an instructional video online. That said, I'm watching these videos and giving them my full attention!
Date published: 2014-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Love a Piano Dr. Greenberg has got to be one of the most entertaining lecturers extant when it comes to music. This is at least the twelfth course of his I have done, if one counts each of the Great Masters as a separate course. His nominally 45 minute lectures are perfect for my morning treadmill workouts. I am retired and at age 65 have started to learn to play the piano. After reading an excellent book on the history of the piano starting with its invention in 1700 by Cristofiori, this course by Dr. Greenberg was a superb parallel as it traces the growth and development of the body of piano music as the instrument itself developed. As the course reached the composers of the 20th century I began to wonder why some of the selected composers/pieces were included, until reminded in the last lecture that the stated objective of the course was to trace the development of the music that paralleled the instruments development. Dr. Greenberg achieved that objective magnificently. If you are interested in either learning more about music, or about the lives and works of great composers, I don't know how you could do better than Dr. Greenberg's wide variety of courses. Incidentally, for at least eight of the composers covered in the lectures I have subsequently purchased recordings of their piano music and added it to my iPod. Thanks to Dr. Greenberg, my classical collection has expanded greatly. Up next is his course covering the chamber music of Mozart.
Date published: 2014-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Can't get enough of Dr. Greenberg! This course is, simply, a gem. Dr. Greenberg's love of great music shines throughout this course-- but that doesn't mean it's stuffy or overly technical or intellectual. What drives the course is the music itself, and how great piano works have developed and changed from Bach to Copeland. Dr. Greenberg's engaging, passionate, and at times genuinely funny commentary will help music lovers of any background really appreciate what makes these pieces the best piano music ever performed.
Date published: 2014-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Walked away with a ton of new music on my ipad I taken other courses by Professor Greenberg, but I must say this course tops the others in many respects. In his Lives of the Great Composers series, he really emphasized the life of the composer in terms of their childhood, education, marriages , and the historical context in which their music was composed. But I never really understood what made certain musical pieces special, endearing or even difficult to play. But with this series the music is the star. Of course, the professor has to give some historical background on the composer's life but then he dives right into the music. For example, I walked away with a greater appreciation of Liszt's B minor sonata based sorely upon Professor Greenberg technical analysis of the melody, and chord structure of the piece. And I enjoyed the analysis of all the musical selections that were presented. I loved how the professor presented this subject matter with a healthy dose of humor and kept it fun. It kept the subject matter from being dry and tedious. Professor Greenberg had the perfect balance of historical background, musical analysis of the selections and humor. I was able to go through this course in a week because it was that interesting and have since gone back to listen to certain lectures again, and again. As to address the criticism that the course is repetitious, I would have to disagree. As I said before the music is the "star" of the course not the life of the composer. Of course you have to have some background on the composer's life but it is not as detailed as what can be found in his previous courses. If you do not have any experience with his previous courses and if you have a particular infinity for piano music I highly recommend this course as a good starting point.
Date published: 2014-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One Small Step Toward Musical Literacy For music, there is a resonance in the human soul. Even to the untrained ear of the musically ignorant, some music lightens the heart. But I never understood the deep appreciation of classical music enjoyed by more musically literate friends. As I accompanied them to concerts, it was easy to tell that they were seeing more than I was. They were enjoying a different level of experience than I. As a 70 year old retired engineer, with no musical training at all, I was looking for a music appreciation course which would give me some hint of what I was missing. This course did so wonderfully. As the professor leads through each piece, you learn that each piece has a structure, some of it formal, some of it showing the composer's artistry. Professor Greenberg's course enables you to see each composition as a carefully crafted work instead of a mere sequence of pleasant sounds. His narratives about the history of the instrument and the artists are fascinating in themselves. The musicians are introduced as real people living through historical periods and political dynasties , not abstractions existing in some ethereal world in Paris or Vienna, Professor Greenberg's course guides you through two hundred plus years of classical music, from the invention of the piano by Christofori, the technical improvements (e.g. steel harp, double escapement) and composers and pianists from J.S. Bach to Aaron Copeland. You will learn a the meaning of a few terms you've heard, fugue, sonata. rondo for example. And I learned to pronounce timbre, a word which I have been pronouncing incorrectly for 65 years One course will not turn you into an expert, but this course will give you a set of signposts upon which to pin new knowledge as you listen. It is an excellent introduction. And it's fun. Really fun.
Date published: 2014-11-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from By Jove, I Think I've Got It! I have taken quite a few courses taught by Professor Greenberg. My ratings have ranged all the way from the most dissatisfied one star to the most exuberant five stars. And, as one can tell from the reviews, I've struggled mightily to understand the cause of such disparate conclusions. Putting aside small matters, such as the good fellow's "sense of humor," I think I've boiled it down to the real basics. For me, I love the way Greenberg goes to the heart of the music, analyzes it, and gives students a deep and profound understanding and appreciation of it and its principal featues. Further, he does a fine job when he is able to discipline himself both in time and subject in laying out the foundation for the discussion of the composer and the music. Again, for me, I do not like it, and get very impatient and negative, when Greenberg goes on and on with unnecessary and unhelpful detail about matters that can stretch far beyond what's relevant and helpful to the basic mission of exploring the music. Sometimes this takes the form of unessential biographical material, flabby and irrelevant historical accounts, poor attempts at making metaphors of current trends and pop observations, and downright silliness. I know Greenberg has many fans. Heck, I'm one of them! But these habits of his are simply offputting to me. If you agree with me, I have a tip for those who might want to buy this course. The last half of each lecture tends to be quite good. It's generally all about the music. What I began to do about a third of the way through the course was to look quickly at the course guidebook, figure out what of the introductory tracks in a lecture offered value, and then use my track changer to skip ahead through what I thought was filler, and get as quickly as possible to the music. I was taught early in life to sit through all lectures. And I find it sad that Greenberg doesn't teach the music as fully as he used to. But, as I've gotten older, I've decided life is too short to suffer unnecessarily. So, I cut away and was happier. You might give it a try.
Date published: 2014-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating I have thoroughly enjoyed this course. The enthusiasm of the instructor mixed with his knowledge of the subject has kept me captivated. Each session includes biographical information concerning the composer, musical selections representing their style and even technical and historical information about the development of the piano. This course will enlighten both the novice and the informed musician. I highly recommend it!!
Date published: 2014-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative AND inspiring In 24 lectures Prof. Greenberg accomplishes so much: a survey of the history of the evolution of the piano along with brief interesting biographical details of each composer and a solid analysis of each composition. He manages to do all of this without ever being dry or boring. It's as if he comes to life from my CD player. I couldn't be happier with this course. In fact, it has inspired me to study the piano again. In addition, I also purchased a few of the works that Prof. Greenberg discusses.
Date published: 2014-06-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Is Professor Greenberg losing his touch? In this series of lectures, Professor Robert Greenberg endeavours to present and discuss what he considers the 23 greatest piano solo works ever written. Sadly, both in terms of contents and of rendition, this production does not meet the level of excellence attained in his previous ones (15 of which I have bought and listened to at least once). Professor Greenberg points out from the start that the lectures in this course are meant to be self-standing and need not be followed in sequence. This implies of course that there is no train of thought linking them. This also leads to countless repetitions from one lecture to the next, regarding for instance the development of pianos with metal-framed harps or the structure of a sonata form. Worse, there are repetitions with previous courses and, for instance, the same anecdotes with the same wording are provided regarding Bach, Liszt and Brahms as in the series devoted to each. Yet worse, there are oftentimes repetitions within the same lecture: the listener need not be told three times in 45 minutes that Brahms burned the works he did not deem worthy! In terms of rendition, Professor Greenberg definitely speaks less quickly than in previous series, enunciates unusually well and obviously reads his text throughout, with section titles spoken out and breaking the internal continuity of single lectures. In fact, except in lectures 23 and 24 where he appears energized, he seems a bit bored with what he is delivering. Unfortunately, the result is just plain long and tedious.
Date published: 2014-05-18
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