Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas


Beethoven was a revolutionary man living in a revolutionary time. He created a body of music the likes of which no one had ever before imagined. A virtuoso at the keyboard, Beethoven used the piano as his personal musical laboratory, and the piano sonata became, more than any other genre of music, a place where he could experiment with harmony, motivic development, the contextual use of form, and, most important, his developing view of music as a self-expressive art.

The Details

Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas provide a window into his personal musical development, and show the concept of the piano as an instrument and the piano sonata as a genre undergoing an extraordinary evolution. Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas include some of his most popular works as well as some of his most experimental. This course touches on every one of these fascinating pieces, approaching them chronologically, from the terse and powerful first sonata of 1795 to the revolutionary Hammerklavier Sonata of 1818 and the radical last three sonatas of 1820–1822.

Professor Greenberg analyzes many musical passages, taking you note-by-note, phrase-by-phrase through different movements of the sonatas, showing how Beethoven plans and achieves his surprising effects. Beethoven paid scrupulous attention to all aspects of his compositions, and Professor Greenberg elucidates these features and brings them vividly to life, such as thematic development, tempo, large-scale dramatic progression, and psychological manipulation by the performer.

Piano Sonata Excerpts from Pianist Claude Frank

You will hear literally hundreds of excerpts of Maestro Claude Frank’s recordings over the span of the course. Frank’s recording of the 32 sonatas was originally released for the Beethoven bicentennial in 1970, and was hailed as “one of the year’s 10 best” by Time magazine.

Truly, Beethoven’s piano music is his voice, emerging from his mind, through his fingers, to our ears and hearts. And his piano sonatas are, more than any other of his amazing works, his personal testament, expressed in his own voice.

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Lectures

  1. Beethoven and the Piano
  2. Homage to Mozart
  3. The Grand Sonata, Part 1
  4. The Grand Sonata, Part 2
  5. Meaning and Metaphor
  6. The Striking Subversive, Op. 10 Continued
  7. The Pathétique and the Sublime
  8. The Opus 14 Sonatas
  9. Motives, Bach and a Farewell to the 18th Century
  10. A Genre Redefined
  11. Sonata quasi una fantasia—The Moonlight
  12. Lesser Siblings and a Pastoral Interlude
  13. The Tempest
  14. A Quartet of Sonatas
  15. The Waldstein and the Heroic Style
  16. The Appassionata and the Heroic Style
  17. They Deserve Better, Part 1
  18. They Deserve Better, Part 2
  19. The Farewell Sonata
  20. Experiments in a Dark Time
  21. The Hammerklavier, Part 1
  22. The Hammerklavier, Part 2
  23. In a World of His Own
  24. Reconciliation