Lectures focus on Piano Sonatas No. 13 in E-flat major, Op. 27, No. 1 (“Quasi una fantasia”); No. 16 in G major, Op. 31, No. 1; and No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”)

Final lectures follow on January 6 and complete seven-year survey of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, one of many projects pursued by Mr. Biss as part of his decade-long immersion in the composer’s music

NEW YORK, NEW YORK (September 16, 2019) — Having attracted more than 150,000 students from nearly every country in the world since its launch in 2013, pianist Jonathan Biss’s free online course Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas continues its six-part survey of these 32 landmark works via online learning platform Coursera, with the next set of lectures—Part 5—scheduled to appear on Monday, September 30. Two lectures are devoted to the monumental “Hammerklavier” Sonata—No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106—while another two focus on Piano Sonatas No. 13 in E-flat major, Op. 27, No. 1 (“Quasi una fantasia”) and No. 16 in G major, Op. 31, No. 1, respectively. With the sixth and final course module to be released on January 6, Mr. Biss will have completed his journey through the complete Beethoven piano sonatas.

Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas is one of many avenues through which Mr. Biss has engaged with and shared Beethoven’s music over the past ten years—for him a period of prolonged meditation on the composer’s work. He completes the course and brings his decade of Beethoven to its culmination this season amidst the worldwide celebrations of Beethoven’s 250th birthday. The course is offered in partnership with the Curtis Institute of Music, where Mr. Biss has been on faculty since 2011 and holds the Neubauer Family Chair in Piano Studies. Current and future lectures may be accessed via Coursera.org/Curtis.

The course provides an in-depth look at Beethoven’s piano sonatas, featuring both analysis and historical background. Its video lessons take the perspective of the performer, exploring and demystifying the work of the pianist, while embracing the mystery of Beethoven’s music itself. Each lecture focuses on one sonata and an aspect of Beethoven’s music that it exemplifies. This might include the relationship between Beethoven the pianist and Beethoven the composer, the critical role that improvisation plays in Beethoven’s highly structured music, Beethoven’s mixing of extremely refined music with rougher elements, and the often surprising ways in which the events of Beethoven’s life influenced his compositional process and the character of the music that he was writing.

Speaking to the BBC one year after the launch of Part 1, which had attracted more than 35,000 students by that time, Mr. Biss said: “My dream student was someone who has heard the music and been in some way turned on by it, but who has never had the opportunity to delve any deeper. … I expected maybe 500 people to sign up. This was such a new venture for me, for Curtis, and for Coursera, which has never partnered with a music conservatory. We had no idea what was going to happen. So I have been absolutely floored.”

In addition to exploring Beethoven’s piano sonatas in the digital classroom, Mr. Biss has been recording a complete cycle of these works since 2011, with the ninth and final volume also scheduled for release in November 2019 by Orchid Classics. Both of these projects are complemented this season by Mr. Biss’s performances of all 32 sonatas over seven recitals each at Berkeley’s Hertz Hall, London’s Wigmore Hall, and the McKnight Center for the Performing Arts at Oklahoma State University. He also performs sonata recitals and mini-cycles around the U.S. this season, including at the 92nd Street Y in New York, Perelman Theater in Philadelphia, Meany Hall in Seattle, and The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, as well as abroad in Budapest, Melbourne, Rome, and Sydney.

Recent and upcoming Beethoven projects also include this season’s performances of the “Emperor” Concerto with Osmo Vänskä and Curtis Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and beyond as part of a seven-city tour; Mr. Biss’s Kindle Single e-books Beethoven’s Shadow (2011) and Coda (2017); and the world premiere of a new Beethoven-inspired piano concerto by Brett Dean with The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra—the final work to be written for the Beethoven/5 commissioning project, which has also included piano concertos by Timo Andres, Sally Beamish, Salvatore Sciarrino, and Caroline Shaw.


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