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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 4.7 out of 5 by 73.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from fun & educational without a doubt, Prof Greenberg is one of the best, most entertaining lecturers around. His enthusiasm, exuberance, & humor make it impossible not to enjoy, delight in & learn from his lectures.
Date published: 2024-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beethoven's Piano Sonatas - 2nd Listening Any music course by Professor Robert Greenberg is OUTSTANDING! I have listened to all 28 music courses and have loved every one of them. For me, Dr. Greenberg is an exemplar professor and music professional. I had no interest in this style of music until after enjoying over 1000 The Great courses lecture sets, sought to expand my knowledge base and mind. Captivating and mesmerizing is the most accurate description of Professor Greenberg's presentation style and musical knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed this course the first time I watched it, then based on Dr. Greenberg's recommendation, purchased and read the outstanding biography of Beethoven by Maynard Solomon; 425 pages of in-depth research into the life, history and person of Beethoven. A massive writing endeavor and analysis. With this fresh knowledge and perspective I completed a second viewing of this brilliant course.I continue to re-watch all of Dr. Greenbergs courses as they have had a major influence on the musical life. I have enjoyed well over 1200 TGC/Wondrium courses since 2002, and greatly enjoy the comment from many: "How do you know so much about so many things?". As with all of Professor Robert Greenberg's lecture sets, I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2024-04-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from As good as it could be This is a tough course to create. Do you select only a few sonatas and go into depth, or try to cover them all? This is my 8th Greenberg course (so many favorites -concert masterworks, how to listen to music, and bach and the high baroque). I don't think you'll get much out of this course just listening to it straight through, which I came to the realization about halfway through. I've gotten much more value out of it listening to it while following along to the sheet music. Then listen to the full recording (a lot easier to do now with the internet than when the course was probably recorded). Where he points out lots of chord and key changes which I can follow. I also selectively revisit a sonata as preparation for listening at my local chamber music programs. He helps with some history and identifies themes, which makes it easier to immerse in understanding the song.
Date published: 2023-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Know What I Like It is fine to say "I know what I like when I hear it" with respect to music. One might also say "I know I like hot cars" with no idea of what is going on under the hood of your Lamborghini, (if you can afford a mechanic). These Sonatas pack much more "punch" for having the "musical bones" exposed by the Professor, and understanding "what we like" as well as liking it. Under the musical hood, is fascinating and entertaining, too.
Date published: 2022-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation as always I enjoy Prof. Greenberg’s lectures because of his sense of humor, extensive knowledge, and helpful examples to illustrate his points.
Date published: 2022-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent listening and learning experience I was delighted with the high quality content about the music, the man and his era. Many anecdotes helped me understand the background to these superb piano sonatas. The downloadable Guidebook is likewise very well done and informative. Thank you Professor Greenberg for reviving my interest and pleasure in Beethoven's sonatas.
Date published: 2022-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A pianist friend lent me her videos of this course and I then purchased the course for myself. Once you purchase the videos they are also streamed to your other devices. I cannot express enough positive comments about this course. If you are already a pianist, any additional insight into this music is always welcome. If you do not play the piano, but just love music and want to learn more about the music of Beethoven, this is an outstanding way to do so. Professor Greenberg's passion and great understanding of this music, and the energetic, generous, and expressive way it is introduced, make this course a great pleasure to listen to. Also, purchase the Word Score to go along with it.
Date published: 2022-04-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Klavier man, Beethoven! Pretty much over my head! I thoroughly enjoyed the pianist, Claude Frank, and Dr Greenberg's analyses...and wit. I will need to revisit these lectures at a later date when I can listen to more piano sonatas, both by Beethoven and other masters. I was not particularly impressed with the 'Hammerklavier' like I think Greenberg expected. Beethoven seems to have written these sonatas as a type of challenge to contemporary pianists and musicians. Maybe a sort of nerdy machismo he felt compelled to create and publish. I learned much, but also realized that I have much to learn. Recommended for the musically inclined.
Date published: 2021-10-18
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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

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.

You can find more music content from Robert Greenberg on Patreon:

By This Professor

The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works
Music as a Mirror of History
Great Music of the 20th Century
Symphonies of Beethoven
The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works
How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition
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