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Great Masters: Beethoven—His Life and Music

Dive into this biographical and musical study of Beethoven as it puts the great musician's life into social, political, and cultural context.
Great Masters: Beethoven-His Life and Music is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 87.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Insight into Beethoven I knew Beethoven was a bit of a tortured soul, like everyone else I knew he went deaf in the later years of his life, but I had no idea of how dysfunction his birth family was and he, as an adult. An extraordinary musical genius who basically struggled in the other areas of his life to the point he was more than a pain in the derriere to his relatives and people around him. I have never been able to get my mind around the fact that he composed such wonderful music without being able to hear. I’ve been trying to think of another endeavor that would be a good analogy, and cannot come up with one. I am about as unmusical person as you can imagine, and at times I will hear songs playing in my head. He obviously had a whole symphony at his mental beck and call. The professor is very good, but a bit trippy. He teaches like he is conducting an orchestra. A very effective method of transmitting information, but a time or two it felt a little over the top. He also has a bit of a nerdy sense of humor. He will start off with a very erudite turn of phrase only to twist it suddenly to something common place, also a good method of making a point. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and I have an even deeper appreciation of the music of this pivotal figure in western music.
Date published: 2024-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating! As a layperson I started this course with some trepidation — but found it fascinating, giving me a thirst to not only learn more about Beethoven and his music, but to explore the other composers of that era. I highly recommend this course and commend Dr. Greenberg for the content and his excellent presentation.
Date published: 2024-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love this lecturer He is so passionate and expressive that it keeps my interest, unlike some of these lecturers who just read from the teleprompter.
Date published: 2023-12-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Love this series There is one thing those reading reviews to decide on whether to watch a course should know about this one, and that is the whole Beethoven's hair story that starts this series has been debunked. Turns out the lock of hair researched wasn't even Beethoven's. Dr. Greenberg can't be faulted for this error. At the time this series was made, it was thought to be true that the hair in question was authentic and that the composer died of lead poisoning. Won't the the first or last time history needs to be updated in light of new processes and information. Nonetheless, it's still an excellent course with much to offer the listener about Beethoven's life and music. Just do a quick search to bring the part about the composer's death up to date with the most recent information available -- it was widely covered in popular media last year. I hope The Teaching Company will bring the rest of Dr. Greenberg's lectures to the streaming platform so we subscribers can enjoy them. There are still a handful of these Great Master composer series not available, as well as Dr. Greenberg's music theory series from back in the live audience and chalkboard days.
Date published: 2023-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Greenberg makes Beethoven come alive! These lectures by Dr. Greenberg on Beethoven are a great adventure into the life and music of a great composer. His lectures are not those boring ones done reading a text from a, no these are vivid and dramatically given with passion and with a musical insight that only a composer like Dr. Greenberg can technically explain...I am now going to buy the transcript, as the lectures are filled with so much information and quotes from friends and colleagues of the great composer....*****Five Stars!
Date published: 2023-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome way to spend a Sunday afternoon! These are longer lectures and bring Beethoven's life and music in perspective. We enjoy listening to all of these audio lectures of the Great Masters while doing jigsaw puzzles. Win-win for our intellect and brain health! Highly recommend.
Date published: 2022-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly enjoyed this course Professor Robert Grrenberg is a consummate connoisseur of classical music and a very entertaining speaker. I learned so much about Beethoven's life and what motivated him. I didn't know that he was regarded as a misanthrope, and that he was so disagreeable to some of the noble elite. Beethoven was a musical genius, but he had such a miserable life. So unlucky in love. Going deaf. Growing up as an abused child. But, his music elevated him above all that. Greenberg describes all this in an engaging way that kept me wanting to continue on to the next session even though I was short on time.
Date published: 2022-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent professor Professor Greenberg proved to be not only highly informed but also very user friendly. He combined wit with content in such a way that he held my attention throughout. I would love further course by him on Rimsky Korsakov and Vivaldi. In fact anything by him would be well worth following.
Date published: 2021-10-11
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Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the most prolific and inspiring forces in the history of music. With his brilliant compositions and his unique approach to the piano, he changed the face of western concert music forever. After Beethoven nothing could ever be the same again.


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
The Immortal Beloved

01: The Immortal Beloved

Beethoven's foremost physical characteristic was his hair; four strands under recent chemical analysis revealed lead poisoning that could account for the abdominal distress, irritability, and depression that Beethoven suffered from for most of his adult life. But other physical, emotional, and spiritual problems were the result of a lifetime of struggle and frustration, which forced him to look inward and reinvent himself and, in so doing, reinvent the nature of musical expression in the Western world.

44 min
What Comes down Must Go up, 1813–1815

02: What Comes down Must Go up, 1813–1815

In the summer of 1812, Beethoven composed the Symphony no. 8 in F Major, op. 83. On its surface, the symphony seems to be in the Classical style, but it is filled with modern twists and turns. He was depressed over the loss of a relationship and his worsening hearing. But in 1813, he wrote a piece of music commemorating the defeat by Wellington of one of Napoleon's armies. When it premiered in December of 1813, it garnered Beethoven a new level of popularity.

46 min
What Goes up Must Come down, 1815

03: What Goes up Must Come down, 1815

Beethoven's return to fame and fortune was short lived; this lecture describes the six factors, most notably his increasing deafness, that contributed to his fall from popular grace and his plunge into emotional instability.

44 min
Beethoven and His Nephew, 1815–1819

04: Beethoven and His Nephew, 1815–1819

Beethoven emerged from his shell during his second decade, through his musical talent and with the help of his teacher and mentor, Christian Gottlob Neefe. The events of these years, however, would influence Beethoven's outrageous conduct in 1815 in the litigation over custody of his nephew Karl. During these years, Beethoven's deepest fears and longings were brought to the surface. Events would also serve as a catalyst for Beethoven's next "rebirth," in 1819, and the creation of the Ninth Symphony, the Missa Solemnis, the last piano sonatas, and the six late string quartets.

48 min
Beethoven the Pianist

05: Beethoven the Pianist

Aside from the Piano Sonata in B-flat, op. 106, Beethoven wrote little significant music from 1815–1819. By 1820, Beethoven was well into his third compositional period, which encompassed such masterworks as the "Missa Solemnis," op. 123, and the Symphony no. 9 in D Minor, op. 125. Before this, Beethoven was living in Vienna, outplaying virtually every other pianist in the city in competitions and became the darling of the Viennese aristocracy.

44 min
Beethoven the Composer, 1792–1802

06: Beethoven the Composer, 1792–1802

Beethoven's Viennese period, 1792–1802, was a time of assimilation, technical growth, and mastery of the existing Viennese classical style. For 18 months Beethoven devoted himself to the string quartet, composing six. Next, he turned to the symphony, premiering his Symphony no. 1 in C Major in 1800. Seemingly conservative this symphony is full of witticisms, shocking harmonic events, and unique organic developments. But his hearing loss, which began in 1796, was becoming progressively worse, as was Beethoven's despair over it. In 1802, he wrote a letter to his brothers that may have provided him a catharsis.

46 min
The Heroic Ideal

07: The Heroic Ideal

The model for Beethoven's new self-image was Napoleon Bonaparte, who represented individualism and empowerment. Later disillusioned with Bonaparte, he held on to the sense of the individual struggling and triumphing against fate. Beethoven's Symphony no. 3 in E-flat Major, op. 55 (the "Eroica"), for example, was revolutionary in its expression of the heights and depths of the artist's emotions. Beethoven came to be known as a radical modernist who had broken forever with the classical standards of Haydn and Mozart.

46 min
Two Concerts, 1808 and 1824

08: Two Concerts, 1808 and 1824

With his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, among other pieces, Beethoven became a legend. More than 15 years later, in May 1824, the Ninth Symphony was premiered to an overwhelming reception. The Ninth, regarded as the most important piece of music composed in the 19th century, embodies Beethoven's belief that the expressive needs of the artist must transcend the time-honored assumptions of art. In November 1826, Beethoven fell ill with cirrhosis of the liver and died on March 26, 1827. In the end, he had managed a reconciliation with his family and was given an affectionate tribute by the Viennese people.

49 min