Jonathan Biss and the Curtis Institute of Music have released three new lectures in their popular Coursera course, Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. The course relaunched at the beginning of the year on Coursera in a new format, allowing students to watch all the video lessons at once or progress at their own pace. In the four months since its relaunch, the online lecture series—filmed at the Curtis Institute of Music, where Biss is a member of the piano faculty—has had more than 20,000 active learners from more than 160 countries. In the new lectures, Biss takes a deeper look into specific sonatas, against the context of Beethoven’s life and times established in the original series. He also offers listeners several examples from the piano, shifting from describing the music to playing it. The new lectures focus on sonatas Op. 2, No. 1; Op. 10, No. 2; Op. 57, the “Appassionata,” and Op. 101. Biss will eventually film lectures to include all of the Beethoven piano sonatas.
“When I was preparing the five lectures that comprised the original course, one of the huge challenges was providing an overview of this mammoth body of work in only 5 hours—it takes at least 10 hours just to play the sonatas! So I’m thrilled that now, having ‘zoomed out’ in that way, this new format is giving me the chance to investigate these pieces that I love so much in detail. Each one of the sonatas is unique, and the new lectures will focus on the intricacies and innovations that make them so,” explains Biss.
He has also undertaken a nine-year, nine-disc recording project of the entire Beethoven piano sonata cycle. The fourth volume of sonatas, including Op. 2, No. 1, the first sonata; Op. 10, No. 2; Op. 49, No. 1, and Op. 57, the “Appassionata,” was released in January 2015. The new lectures discuss all of these, except for Op. 49, No. 1. The Guardian called Biss’s playing on the recording “blazing, nimble, fleet of finger and dangerous.” His first three volumes of Beethoven piano sonata recordings are streaming on the Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas site free for Coursera students.
Biss will also host meet-ups this spring and Google Hangout “office hours,” in order to answer students’ questions in person and in small online sessions.
The Curtis Institute of Music is also offering The World of the String Quartet—which explores the history and musical ingredients of string quartets with legendary violinist Arnold Steinhardt and esteemed pedagogue and performer Mia Chung—in this new, on-demand format. This season’s Curtis courses on Coursera are sponsored by Linda Richardson in loving memory of her husband, Dr. Paul Richardson.