January 02, 2020


Part 6 lectures 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 “[The course] was remarkable for all the things it wasn't. In an age of impatience and distraction, it was a slow, deep immersion.”  —Peter Dobrin, The Philadelphia Inquirer In addition to highlighting Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas in performance cycles and a recently completed, nine-volume recording collection, pianist Jonathan Biss has engaged more than 150,000 students worldwide with these works via his free online course Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, which was launched via online learning platform Coursera in 2013 and finishes its survey of this repertoire on Monday, January 6, when registration opens for the sixth and final installment of lectures. He devotes one lecture to four of Beethoven’s shorter sonatas—Nos. 9 and 10 in E and G major, Op. 14, and Nos. 19 and 20 in G minor and major, Op. 49—while the remaining three lectures focus on No. 18 in E-flat major, Op. 31, No. 3 (“The Hunt”); No. 22 in F major, Op. 54; and Beethoven’s final piano sonata, No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, respectively. 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 decade—for him a period of in-depth immersion in the composer’s work. He completes the course and brings these ten years to their culmination this season amidst the worldwide celebrations of Beethoven’s 250th birthday. Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas 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. All lectures may be accessed via 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. Lectures focus on particular sonatas and certain aspects of Beethoven's music that they exemplify. These 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. Mr. Biss said:
“Preparing and delivering these lectures over the past seven years has been a life-changing experience. It has deepened my relationship with Beethoven, and forced me to define—and continually redefine—my priorities in the music that means most to me. The greatest discovery: that after all these years and all this study, these sonatas are more wondrous and more mysterious to me than ever.”
The release of these final lectures follows the recent completion of Mr. Biss’s Beethoven sonata recording cycle. He began that project in 2011 and finished in November 2019 with the release of the ninth and final volume on Orchid Classics. The label releases a box set of all nine discs on March 6. Both the course and recording cycle 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. Additional recent and upcoming Beethoven projects include this season’s performances of the “Emperor” Concerto with Osmo Vänskä and the 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.