Lectures focus on Piano Sonatas No. 13 in E-flat major, Op. 27, No. 1 (“Quasi una fantasia”); No. 16 in G major, Op. 31, No. 1; and No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”)
Final lectures follow on January 6 and complete seven-year survey of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, one of many projects pursued by Mr. Biss as part of his decade-long immersion in the composer’s music
Having attracted more than 150,000 students from nearly every country in the world since its launch in 2013, pianist Jonathan Biss’s free online course Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas continues its six-part survey of these 32 landmark works via online learning platform Coursera, with the next set of lectures—Part 5—scheduled to appear on Monday, September 30. Two lectures are devoted to the monumental “Hammerklavier” Sonata—No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106—while another two focus on Piano Sonatas No. 13 in E-flat major, Op. 27, No. 1 (“Quasi una fantasia”) and No. 16 in G major, Op. 31, No. 1, respectively. With the sixth and final course module to be released on January 6, Mr. Biss will have completed his journey through the complete Beethoven piano sonatas.
Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas is one of many avenues through which Mr. Biss has engaged with and shared Beethoven’s music over the past ten years—for him a period of prolonged meditation on the composer’s work. He completes the course and brings his decade of Beethoven to its culmination this season amidst the worldwide celebrations of Beethoven’s 250th birthday. The course is offered in partnership with the Curtis Institute of Music, where Mr. Biss has been on faculty since 2011 and holds the Neubauer Family Chair in Piano Studies. Current and future lectures may be accessed via Coursera.org/Curtis.
The course provides an in-depth look at Beethoven’s piano sonatas, featuring both analysis and historical background. Its video lessons take the perspective of the performer, exploring and demystifying the work of the pianist, while embracing the mystery of Beethoven’s music itself.
Each lecture focuses on one sonata and an aspect of Beethoven’s music that it exemplifies. This might include the relationship between Beethoven the pianist and Beethoven the composer, the critical role that improvisation plays in Beethoven’s highly structured music, Beethoven’s mixing of extremely refined music with rougher elements, and the often surprising ways in which the events of Beethoven’s life influenced his compositional process and the character of the music that he was writing.
Speaking to the BBC one year after the launch of Part 1, which had attracted more than 35,000 students by that time, Mr. Biss said:
“My dream student was someone who has heard the music and been in some way turned on by it, but who has never had the opportunity to delve any deeper. … I expected maybe 500 people to sign up. This was such a new venture for me, for Curtis, and for Coursera, which has never partnered with a music conservatory. We had no idea what was going to happen. So I have been absolutely floored.”