In 2013 Jonathan Biss began partnering with the Curtis Institute of Music to present Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, a massive online open course (MOOC) offered through Coursera. 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.
The course has attracted more than 150,000 students from more than 185 countries.
“Our relationship to Beethoven is a deep and paradoxical one. For many musicians, he represents a kind of holy grail: his music has an intensity, rigor, and profundity which keep us in its thrall, and it is perhaps unequalled in the interpretive, technical, and even spiritual challenges it poses to performers.
“At the same time, Beethoven’s music is casually familiar to millions of people who do not attend concerts or consider themselves musically inclined. Two hundred years after his death, he is everywhere in the culture, yet still represents its summit.”