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The String Quartets of Beethoven

Grasp the musical riches of one of the pinnacles of Western art—Beethoven's 16 string quartets—in this course by customer favorite Professor Robert Greenberg.
String Quartets of Beethoven is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 60.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterful Another brilliant series by Prof. Greenberg. He masterfully combines, music theory, storytelling and humor to help us understand some of the most exquisite music ever written. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2023-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Survey of the String Quartets I have listened to a number of Dr. Greenberg's courses. This one reviews the highlights of Beethoven's string quartets with the same degree of thoroughness and wit that the author has used in other courses. Of course this course cannot replace listening to the quartets from start to finish, but he supplies enough insight to make approaching each quartet much easier. A great introduction!
Date published: 2022-06-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Will not download I bought this course a while ago but have only just got round to wanting to watch the lectures. It appears in my library of Great Courses but all the lectures are marked as having zero minutes of content and nothing will download or play.
Date published: 2022-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Treat It is always a treat to listen to Robert Monteverdi, as he likes to call himself. He is a true musician like the real Monteverdi. His explanations are not only fun, but more importantly, very, very informative
Date published: 2022-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Professor Greenberg's courses never disappoint. I have an extensive musical background, my wife doesn't, but Professor Greenberg has perfect pitch when it comes to balancing his presentations so it can be appreciated by a broad audience with a range of experiences. And, yes, that was a run-on sentence, I am aware. But I stand by it. I get the most of these lectures when I listen to the pieces once through before and then once through after the lectures.
Date published: 2021-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Robert Greenberg is great. And, while I have listened to the Middle and Late Quartets over the years, I did not know Opus 18. They are very good. Thanks.
Date published: 2020-07-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from More Great Courses from Prof. Greenberg I am an amateur pianist and have listened to around 20 of Greenberg's lectures. I find him amazing in that he integrates music theory, appreciation, understanding with the events of the different periods, the differences in language and the individual personalities of the composers
Date published: 2020-05-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from No Main Menus Professor Greenberg was terrific, as usual, and the string quartet that performed for the course was excellent. However, there were no main menus on the six discs which made it difficult to get to an individual lesson. This is the first time I have faced this problem in the 60+ courses I have purchased from Great Courses.
Date published: 2019-10-09
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In The String Quartets of Beethoven


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

01: "Loose Change"

Enter Beethoven's tumultuous life, considering his spirit of revolutionary change and self-invention, as well as the influence of his personal crises and health problems on his creative output. Then learn the evolution of the string quartet, shaped by the ideals of the Enlightenment. Probe the innovations of Haydn and Mozart in "obbligato" accompaniment and Classical counterpoint, producing the string quartet as an art form joining four independent, highly "conversational" voices.

51 min
Beethoven's Classical Inheritance

02: Beethoven's Classical Inheritance

Trace Beethoven's highly charged youth in Vienna as he reaches fame under the patronage of two royal figures, giving him the freedom to move forward quickly with his own artistic vision. Next, study the classical structure of the string quartet, focusing on Beethoven's Opus 18 no. 3. Consider the sonata, rondo, and minuet and trio forms, as Beethoven uses them idiosyncratically in this work, bringing brilliant originality to his first adventure with the string quartet.

46 min
Beethoven Busts Out!

03: Beethoven Busts Out!

This lecture charts Beethoven's creative development in the quartets of Opus 18, as well as his exploits in "marketing" them in the illustrious musical world of Vienna. You discover Beethoven's great ingenuity in his second quartet, as he develops a vibrant first movement from a single musical "motive," which then forms a subliminal link to the contrasting, darkly romantic second movement. Learn about his bold innovations with the scherzo form and the compelling architecture of the concluding rondo.

46 min
In Deference to His Masters

04: In Deference to His Masters

In forging his vision of the string quartet, Beethoven immersed himself in the methods of both Haydn and Mozart. Study how Beethoven experimented with aspects of Haydn's technique and "wit" in Opus 18 no. 2, while making them thoroughly his own. Learn about Beethoven's intense spiritual relationship with Mozart, and observe how he deliberately modeled Opus 18 no. 5 on Mozart's "esoteric" A Major Quartet of 1785, absorbing and extending essential features of Mozart's style.

42 min
Something Old and Something New

05: Something Old and Something New

The lecture explores Beethoven's eccentric personal habits and his lifelong use of musical sketchbooks to introduce the puzzling origins of Opus 18 no. 4, the "Orphan" Quartet. Probe the internal evidence that suggests how this curiously uneven quartet may have been written. Also investigate the revolutionary nature of Opus 18 no. 6, where a melancholic "extra" movement and unpredictable shifts between light and darkness foreshadow the radical Middle Quartets.

45 min
Beethoven in 1805

06: Beethoven in 1805

In the early 19th century Beethoven passed through a shattering personal crisis, leading to a self-reinvention and new artistic path. Contemplate Beethoven's adopted "heroic" identity, inspired by the rise of Napoleon, and his new path in action, as he musically echoes his own struggles and despair in the history-making "Eroica" Symphony. And identify his key compositional innovations and his bold new vision of music as personal self-expression as revealed in the "Razumovsky" quartets.

47 min
Opus 59, No. 1—Revolution in Action, Part 1

07: Opus 59, No. 1—Revolution in Action, Part 1

The extraordinary first movement of Opus 59, no. 1 contains specific links to the Eroica Symphony, taking string quartet writing into the realm of orchestral scope and substance. In a detailed analysis of the movement, you study Beethoven's ingenious use of musical "motives," bold extremes of high and low registers, and the multitextured architecture of the exposition and development sections, as they create a sense of narrative storytelling with a deeply expressive thrust.

45 min
Opus 59, No. 1—Revolution in Action, Part 2

08: Opus 59, No. 1—Revolution in Action, Part 2

This lecture tackles the remaining movements of the revolutionary Opus 59, no. 1. Discover the brilliantly original scherzo, with its elaborate and unpredictable structure, surprising harmonic shifts, and constant thematic variations. Also track the dark, anguished third movement, whose meditation on darkness culminates in a subtle, unexpected transition to the light-filled final movement. See how Beethoven incorporates elements in the finale that unite the piece as a complete, movement-to-movement dramatic narrative.

48 min
String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2

09: String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2

Opus 59 highlights Beethoven's evolving belief in music as a dramatic, narrative progression. Chart his narrative impulse in Opus 59, no. 2, starting with the taut first movement, which builds a complex dramatic "story" as an outgrowth of two chords. Then follow the unfolding progression in the meditative second movement, the irreverent, Russian-themed scherzo, and the groundbreaking use of the finale as another bold step in a forward-moving journey.

45 min
String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3

10: String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3

In the last quartet of Opus 59, Beethoven takes inspiration from Mozart in pursuing his own iconoclastic vision further. Investigate the jarring dissonances of the opening, and the highly unusual, use of the first violin as a dramatic "character." Next, study his use of the "crude" augmented second in the second movement, and his third-movement incarnation of a scandalous new dance - the waltz. Finally, penetrate the structure and expressive heart of the explosive, racing finale.

46 min
Beethoven in 1809

11: Beethoven in 1809

This lecture reveals circumstances in Beethoven's personal life that formed the backdrop for his huge creative burst between 1805 and 1809. Explore the composer's highly eccentric and difficult behavior with friends and patrons and the ways in which his personal crises fed his creativity. Additionally, trace the wars and political strife in Austria that accompanied the writing of a string of Beethoven's masterworks and the role of his heroic music in expressing the frustrations and ideals of his adopted homeland.

46 min

12: The "Harp"

The "Harp" Quartet of 1809 reveals Beethoven's reexploration of Classical ideals - an unexpectedly graceful, intimate piece written in a time of dire emotional and financial hardships. Study the "conversational" architecture of the first movement and his contrasting, double use of theme and variations form. Then investigate the quartet's distinguishing "secrets," from its radically new use of "pizzicato" as an integral element to its unusual centering of expressive extremes in the middle movements.

45 min

13: The "Serioso"—Opus 95

Dedicated to one of his closest friends, Beethoven's "Serioso" Quartet unfolds as a deeply personal vision. In uncovering its expressive resources, you study his jarring juxtapositions of light and dark in the first movement and his unsettling use of the "Neapolitan" chord. In the later movements, consider how Beethoven's ambiguous harmonies and unpredictable mood shifts evoke the sense of a troubled journey. Finally, reflect on the highly surprising ending of the piece and on theories that may explain its meaning to the composer.

49 min
Beethoven in 1824

14: Beethoven in 1824

The years between 1810 and 1825 frame a period of supreme upheaval, conflict, and ultimate rebirth for Beethoven. Probe the events of this era, as they illuminate his evolution as a composer and prefigure the writing of his "late" quartets. Learn about his many personal crises, including his deafness, a dramatic rise and fall in public acclaim, and personal relationships involving profound psychological trauma. And assess his second artistic self-reinvention, as he emerges with a string of masterworks that transform Western music.

47 min
Opus 127, Part 1

15: Opus 127, Part 1

The "late" quartets, coming on the heels of the "Missa Solemnis" and the great Ninth Symphony, occupied Beethoven completely during the final years and months of his life. This lecture begins your journey into the orchestral scale and profound lyricism of Opus 127. Learn how the expressive power of the first movement rests on Beethoven's melding of dramatic extremes and use of unusual key relations. Also investigate his highly personal use of theme and variations form in the second movement.

46 min
Opus 127, Part 2

16: Opus 127, Part 2

Dr. Greenberg frames the conclusion of Opus 127 with poignant details of Beethoven's hearing loss and the creation of his famous "Conversation Books." Study the hugely compelling scherzo, comparing its unpredictable, almost schizophrenic contrasts to analogies in the Ninth Symphony. Then trace innovations in the richly melodic finale, noting the ambiguous return of the primary theme in a kind of "false" recapitulation. Afterward, consider the factors surrounding the difficult public reception of the quartet.

45 min
String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132, Part 1

17: String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132, Part 1

This lecture focuses on the complex first movement of Opus 132, which achieves great expressive impact through unrelenting contrasts. In the opening, study the elements of "appoggiatura"and descending semitones that form the bleak, indistinct theme 1, and the jarring juxtaposition of the lilting second theme. Later, unravel the abstruse construction of the development section, incorporating a "transposed exposition," as it deepens the movement's aura of anxiety and incompleteness.

49 min
String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132, Part 2

18: String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132, Part 2

As a totality, Opus 132 articulates the "cathartic impulse" in Beethoven's music, leading through adversity and struggle to a state of grace. You investigate the polyphonic voicing and expressive contrasts in the melodic scherzo, followed by the ethereal, spiritual "Hymn of Thanksgiving," based in the Lydian mode and inspired by Beethoven's recovery from illness. Last, explore the darkly urgent rondo, whose contrasting episodes lead the quartet to a transformative conclusion of light and renewal.

47 min
Opus 130 and the Grand Fugue, Part 1

19: Opus 130 and the Grand Fugue, Part 1

The lecture opens with dramatic details of Beethoven's relationship with two personal assistants during the writing of the late quartets and of the circumstances surrounding Opus 130 and the role of the legendary Grand Fugue. You delve deeply into the formal construction of this quartet, focusing specially on the extreme contrasts within the powerful opening movement, the rhythmic sophistication of the Alla danza tedesca, and the haunting lyricism of the Cavatina, which "grounds" the quartet expressively.

44 min
Opus 130 and the Grand Fugue, Part 2

20: Opus 130 and the Grand Fugue, Part 2

The Grand Fugue is one of Beethoven's most sublime and most "modern" creations. Consider the majestic scope and impact of the fugue, as it brings together the markedly contrasting movements that precede it. Next, study its compelling structure, focusing on the four "double" fugue sections contained within it. Probe the profound influence of Bach on Beethoven's aesthetics and the story of the fugue's reception, leading to Beethoven's highly controversial decision to replace it with an alternate finale for Opus 130.

47 min
String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131, Part 1

21: String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131, Part 1

Beethoven considered this monumental, seven-section quartet to be his single greatest composition. In this first lecture devoted to it, consider his visionary conception of fugue form and how he reverses the structural sequence of Opus 130 by conceiving this quartet with a "first-movement" fugue. Discover how the tonal structure of the opening fugue defines the harmonic unfolding of the entire quartet, and study the fugue's components in detail, culminating with its ambiguous, forward-looking conclusion.

46 min
String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131, Part 2

22: String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131, Part 2

Continuing with Opus 131, investigate Beethoven's unpredictable harmonic transitions, linking the quartet's "movements" without separation in an ongoing, episodic continuity. Study the structure of the rondo and the following recitative section, noting their expressive functions within the whole. And track the arc of the theme and variations, in its movement from sustained, Classical lyricism to yet another inconclusive "ending," as the hymn-like final variation is dramatically disrupted, bringing timeless contemplation back to earth.

47 min
String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131, Part 3

23: String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131, Part 3

Finally, reflect on the operatic structure and thrust of Opus 131 and the ways Beethoven unifies and balances the seven sections. Take apart the driving, "triple" scherzo, focusing on its complex trio section and dramatic, disorienting climax. Dig deeply into the explosive finale, tracking its thematic echoes of earlier movements, its triumphant recapitulation, which Wagner called "the dance of the whole world itself," and its multipart coda, ending on a grand gesture of affirmation.

47 min
Reconciliation—String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135

24: Reconciliation—String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135

You conclude with Beethoven's astonishing final quartet and with reflections on the scope of his musical goals and artistic achievement. Opus 135 appears to be a return to Classicism - yet ultimately reveals another visionary extension of Beethoven's sensibility. Focus on his supreme ingenuity in the first movement, as he presents melodic events in "non-linear" time frames; the scherzo, with its stunning, ferocious trio section; and the enigmatic finale, representing the composer's philosophical farewell.

47 min