You may know that I am a fan of Coursera, an aggregate site of short and usually free online courses presented by University professors from around the world.
Recently, Curtis Institute of Music’s online course entitled Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas has been rereleased as a “Go At Your Own Pace” course. This means that you can take this course anytime and without deadlines.
The course is led by the charming and passionate Professor Jonathan Biss, and I took this course when it was first released in early 2014.
While Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas definitely appeals to pianists, I think that the course has a much wider audience. The course comprises 5 lectures, each of which is broken into smaller segments that can be appreciated in small chunks of time. In these lectures, Professor Biss not only discusses the music of the Sonatas, he spends significant time exploring Beethoven’s growth as a composer through the lens of the Sonatas. The insights offered illuminate the development of Beethoven’s Sonatas and Beethoven’s other genres, including his symphonies and quartets.
Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas requires very little in terms of formal musical training as a background. Professor Biss admits right from the beginning that this course originates more from his personal relationship to the Sonatas than from a highly analytical approach. I found his treatment of the material spiritually deep while also enlightening at a historical, theoretical, and personal level. I especially appreciated hearing Jonathan Biss’ opinions when he pointed out how they differed from the opinions of other experts in the field. While some of the discussions might use terms unfamiliar to non-musicians, much of what is presented is easily accessible to anybody.
As would be expected, Jonathan Biss spends more time talking than performing. While I would have liked supplemental videos of him performing the works discussed in their entirety, I enjoyed the excerpts from the Sonatas that he did perform. Jonathan Biss’ passion is apparent both visually and aurally. To fully appreciate the course, viewers should allocate additional time to listen to recordings of the Sonatas discussed within the lectures.
I highly recommend Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas to musicians and music aficionados alike.