Beethoven's Piano Sonatas

Examine 32 piano sonatas with Great Courses favorite Professor Robert Greenberg as he combines music, anecdotes, and humor to highlight classic pieces.
Beethoven's Piano Sonatas is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 63.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beethovens piano sonatas Great technical view of each sonata, more that I can appreciate but will listen to them in the future with a level of appreciation that I could not have had without this course. I enjoy the presenter and look forward to taking more of his classes
Date published: 2020-06-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Returned after watching the first DVD I bought this course as a gift for my mother. She didn't make it through the first lesson before she decided to return it. She rarely returns gifts. She didn't like the way the teacher taught.
Date published: 2019-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beethoven's Piano Sonatas I bought this course when it was on sale. However, I am a fan of Professor Greenberg's so I decide to but this course. I am a music novice when it comes to knowing the technical terms of music. As a novice I learned a lot. To commit yourself to this course you need a desire to learn something new. Because at times Professor Greenberg discusses technical terms and styles that are beyond entry level students. People with with more experience and knowledge of music will get more out of this, but I am glad I bought this course and what I learned from it.
Date published: 2019-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Although I haven’t gotten too far into this course, I can already tell it’s going to be another Greenberg winner just as all my other Greenberg courses. Well spoken, attention to detail, and right on the money with facts. As I have said before, in my book, Robert Greenberg is a Walking Human Encyclopedia Of Musical knowledge. I would without question recommend this and his other courses to anyone who loves Classical Music.
Date published: 2019-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Greenberg tour de force In another of Robert Greenberg’s tours de force, this course provides 18 hours of in-depth presentation, examination, and discussion of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas. Its comprehensiveness is similar to that of his parallel course on the string quartets (that is, not for the musically naïve or only marginally interested), which I have to say has had a lasting impact on me. As usual, he seasons and spices the discussion with humorous or ironic references to pop culture, and occasionally lapses into the South Jersey street talk of his childhood—but these diversions always have a legitimate purpose and assist in understanding the points being made, and I think they add rather than detract. The course is masterfully organized, presenting the 32 sonatas more or less chronologically and placing them in biographical and historical context as well as covering a good bit of music theory along the way. Its effectiveness is augmented by the extensive use throughout of pianist Claude Franks’s recordings of the sonatas, as well as by Greenberg’s frequent illustrations on the piano. It’s hard to imagine anyone teaching music appreciation—at admittedly a pretty high level—more effectively or enjoyably, at least for me.
Date published: 2018-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg Hits One Out of the Concert Hall I’ve taken well over a dozen of Professor Greenberg’s courses and own several more that I have yet to watch (or listen to). Obviously I am a Greenberg fanboy and love his courses. As always Dr. Greenberg offers up a blend of humor (OK, some of you understandably won’t care for it), history, biography, music, music appreciation and music theory. In this course the history is of Beethoven’s life (although not too much—one can always take the Beethoven “Great Masters” course for that), the development of the piano (and there is another Greenberg course for that in some detail), the development of Beethoven’s musical growth, and most especially that musical growth as related to his piano sonatas (including a fair bit of technical, music jargon and theory). As with most who chose to take this course, I have a laypersons' familiarity with Beethoven’s music including his piano sonatas. Some are quite familiar to me, while others I probably could not name upon hearing them at first, and still others I have only heard a few times and never in person. And while I can usually follow the basic sonata forms, I confess that I really get lost when listening to the later works. After listening to these lectures, at least I now understand why I could never figure out what was going on in the last movement (for example, there are many others) of the Hammerklavier. And even though I still won’t be able understand or be able to follow the technical details of what Beethoven accomplished, I at least know what is going on in general terms. Professor Greenberg reveals something new for me in each one of these lectures and in each one of the sonatas, including the ones that I thought I knew quite well. I consider this course a perfect blend of entertainment and instruction—a little of everything, a lot of musical education and often some enlightenment. I do have a nit to pick. While I understand the effort to pack as much as possible into 45 minutes there are a few times when a musical example ends abruptly, and the lecture resumes. For many passages this is just fine. But please never again end the musical selection on an open cadence and then talk for another two or three minutes. Also, as is rightly pointed out, the end of Sonata # 31 is profound. Give the listener a moment or two to reflect on the end. Don’t resume the lecture immediately after the final note. Also trying to follow the Word Scores on a downloaded version is very difficult, as one is forced to page back and forth while following the music. I imagine that this is a non-issue in the printed version, but very distracting in the downloaded version. I think that the ability to read music and have some idea of basic theory will be helpful in this course, although Professor Greenberg is very helpful in outlining what one needs to know early on. Later on, put on your seat belts as he discusses key changes, etc.
Date published: 2018-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presentation Greenberg is so enthusiastic and professional, even if you were not interested in music, you might enjoy it. If I were taking a course in another profession, which I have been over the decades, I would just go sit in on any presentation he was making.
Date published: 2018-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another great course by Professor Greenberg Professor Greenberg uses exciting and memorable techniques to explain Beethoven's piano sonatas, to enhance my enjoyment, help me play the easier ones, and entertain me while I exercise.
Date published: 2018-10-04
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Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas provide a window into his personal musical development and highlight the piano as an evolving instrument. Professor Robert Greenberg combines analysis of extensive musical excerpts with historical anecdotes, metaphors, and humor to show what goes on inside a musical composition and how Beethoven often broke all former rules to achieve a new, powerful effect.


Robert Greenberg
Robert Greenberg

For thousands of years cultures have celebrated themselves through their music. Let us always be willing and able to join that celebration by listening as carefully as we can to what, through music, we have to say to one another.


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, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands. He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres. Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.

Beethoven and the Piano

01: Beethoven and the Piano

Professor Greenberg introduces the course with a brief biography of Beethoven and the early history of the piano followed by a discussion of the recordings of Beethoven's piano sonatas used throughout the course, performed by the distinguished pianist Claude Frank....

48 min
Homage to Mozart

02: Homage to Mozart

This lecture explores the Classical style that Beethoven inherited from Haydn and Mozart, highlighting some of its more notable features. Then we look at Beethoven's Piano Sonata no. 1 in F Minor, op. 2, no. 1, from 1795, as both an homage to Mozart and an example of Beethoven's pianistic audacity....

45 min
The Grand Sonata, Part 1

03: The Grand Sonata, Part 1

Beethoven's first four piano sonatas are four-movement works that are orchestral in scope, reflecting Beethoven's concept of the piano as a major instrument. We look at the second of his opus 2 set-Sonata no. 2 in A-as an example of these "grand sonatas."...

46 min
The Grand Sonata, Part 2

04: The Grand Sonata, Part 2

Continuing our study of Beethoven's grand sonatas, we examine Sonata no. 3 in C, no. 3, op. 2, and Sonata no. 4 in E flat, op. 7. In both these works, we see Beethoven's early artistic declaration that he was not interested in slavishly following the Classical tradition....

46 min
Meaning and Metaphor

05: Meaning and Metaphor

In his three opus 10 sonatas, Beethoven continues his formula of composing a triad of starkly different works, ranging from darkly passionate to witty to grand. We look at the first of these pieces: Piano Sonata no. 5 in C Minor....

45 min
The Striking and Subversive, Op. 10 Continued

06: The Striking and Subversive, Op. 10 Continued

Piano Sonata no. 6 in F, op. 10, no. 2 remained a special favorite of Beethoven's for many years after its composition. We examine the elements that make it seem so playful, before turning to the grander work that concludes the opus 10 set: Piano Sonata no. 7 in D....

45 min
The Pathetique and the Sublime

07: The Pathetique and the Sublime

We focus on one of Beethoven's most popular piano sonatas: no. 8 in C Minor, op. 13 (Pathetique). Professor Greenberg shows how time and popularity can trivialize even the most revolutionary creation, rendering us immune to what was once considered new and shocking....

45 min
The Opus 14 Sonatas

08: The Opus 14 Sonatas

Beethoven's music can be supple, light-hearted, quick-witted, and genuinely humorous, just as it can be heroic, magnificent, and spiritually profound. Beethoven's lighter side is delightfully on display in his two opus 14 piano sonatas: no. 9 in E and no. 10 in G....

47 min
Motives, Bach and a Farewell to the 18th Century

09: Motives, Bach and a Farewell to the 18th Century

We focus almost entirely on the first movement of Piano Sonata no. 11 in B flat, op. 22, to understand Beethoven's developing compositional priorities and the influence of Bach on his music. Written in 1800, this work is in many ways Beethoven's farewell to the 18th-century Viennese Classical style....

45 min
A Genre Redefined

10: A Genre Redefined

From this point on, each of Beethoven's piano sonatas is markedly different from what came before it. No. 12 in A flat, op. 26 (Funeral March) shows a remarkable degree of contrast between its movements and has, as its third movement, an anguished funeral march....

46 min
Sonata quasi una fantasia-The Moonlight

11: Sonata quasi una fantasia-The Moonlight

The most popular of all of Beethoven's piano works is his Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (Moonlight). Imbued with tragic feeling, the Moonlight is almost impossible not to relate to the composer's progressive hearing loss....

46 min
Lesser Siblings and a Pastoral Interlude

12: Lesser Siblings and a Pastoral Interlude

We study two underappreciated works: Sonata no. 13 in E flat, op. 27, no. 1 continues Beethoven's assault on the Classical sonata template, while Sonata no. 15 in D, op. 28 (Pastoral) is a revolutionary work that elevates musical pastoral cliches to a high art....

46 min
The Tempest

13: The Tempest

While the groundbreaking Third Symphony was Beethoven's public declaration of his "new path" as a composer, the piano sonatas were, collectively, his workshop for getting there-none more so than Sonata no. 17 in D Minor, op. 31, no. 2 (Tempest)....

46 min
A Quartet of Sonatas

14: A Quartet of Sonatas

We explore the other two opus 31 sonatas: no. 16 in G (which literally saved the life of pianist Claude Frank) and no. 18 in E flat. We also look at the opus 49 pair: no. 19 in G Minor and no. 20 in G; both were published against Beethoven's wishes and have since become favorites of young players....

45 min
The Waldstein and the Heroic Style

15: The Waldstein and the Heroic Style

Piano Sonata no. 21 in C, op. 53 (Waldstein) is like no other music written by Beethoven or anyone else. We study this remarkable piece-from its unrelenting opening theme to its breathtaking prestissimo ("as fast as possible") conclusion....

47 min
The Appassionata and the Heroic Style

16: The Appassionata and the Heroic Style

Likened to Dante's Inferno and Shakespeare's King Lear, Sonata no. 23 in F Minor, op. 57 (Appassionata) is not only esteemed by audiences, it was also one of Beethoven's favorites among his piano works. With the Waldstein, it is a quintessential example of Beethoven's "heroic" style....

46 min
They Deserve Better, Part 1

17: They Deserve Better, Part 1

We examine two Beethoven sonatas that deserve more attention than they are generally accorded: no. 22 in F, op. 54, and no. 24 in F sharp, op. 78. The former is an inspired, virtuosic, and genuinely experimental piece of music; the latter is one of the strangest and most adventurous works in the repertoire....

45 min
They Deserve Better, Part 2

18: They Deserve Better, Part 2

Continuing our exploration of Beethoven's often overlooked piano sonatas, we study no. 25 in G, op. 79, and no. 27 in E Minor, op. 90. The opening movement of op. 79 is a parody of Classically styled piano sonatas, while op. 90 opens with great pathos and tenderness....

45 min
The Farewell Sonata

19: The Farewell Sonata

Piano Sonata no. 26 in E flat, op. 81a (Les Adieux) was dedicated to the Archduke Rudolph, an aristocratic patron and friend of Beethoven's who was fleeing Vienna ahead of Napoleon's armies-hence, the Farewell Sonata. We look at the piece as a mirror of contemporary events and as program music....

46 min
Experiments in a Dark Time

20: Experiments in a Dark Time

Piano Sonata no. 28 in A, op. 101, is unique among Beethoven's 32 in that he had someone else's hands and spirit in mind when he composed it-namely his brilliant student Baroness Dorothea von Ertmann. It is also one of Beethoven's most rigorous and experimental works composed to that point in his life....

46 min
The Hammerklavier, Part 1

21: The Hammerklavier, Part 1

Piano Sonata no. 29 in B flat, op. 106 (Hammerklavier) was the groundbreaking work-the first masterpiece-of Beethoven's late period. It is the most virtuosic keyboard music ever written to its time. In this lecture, we cover the first of its four movements....

45 min
The Hammerklavier, Part 2

22: The Hammerklavier, Part 2

We continue our study of the Hammerklavier, focusing on the paradoxical fourth movement fugue, composed seemingly without limits or limitations. The Hammerklavier has been called "monstrous and immeasurable," a sonata like no other. With it, Beethoven opened the door to a new expressive world....

46 min
In a World of His Own

23: In a World of His Own

Beethoven's last three piano sonatas owe much to his epic Missa Solemnis ("Solemn Mass") which was also composed in the period 1820-1822. We explore the spiritual and compositional links to the Missa Solemnis, particularly as they relate to sonatas no. 30 in E, op. 109, and no. 31 in A flat, op. 110....

46 min

24: Reconciliation

Beethoven completed his final piano sonata, no. 32 in C Minor, op. 111, in 1822-five years before his death. Opus 111 seems obviously Beethoven's valedictory statement for the genre; it ties up loose ends, yet it is so stunningly original that it caps, rather than continues, the composer's run of 32 sonatas for piano....

47 min