Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

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Beethoven or Mahler?  Your Choice—Live Webcasts This Saturday

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

On Saturday, March 16, 2019 8:00 PM EDT (GMT -4), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.  The program will also include Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, featuring violinist Yoonshin SongRafael Payare will conduct.  You can see the DSO concert here.

Also on Saturday, March 16, 2019 8:00 PM EDT (GMT -4), the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will present pianist Jonathan Biss performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3.  The program will also include Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, and Watermark, a Concerto for Piano by Caroline Shaw, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. Watermark is one of five piano concertos commissioned by the SPCO and Biss to coordinate with Beethoven’s piano concertos (read more about the Beethoven/5 concerto commissioning project here).  You can read the composer’s comments on Watermark hereMischa Santora will conduct.  You can see the SPCO concert here.

Wherever your weekend takes you, I hope you will find some time to enjoy music!


Free Lectures on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas by Jonathan Biss


Happy New Year, everyone!  It’s good to be back after a very busy holiday season.

Great news for piano music lovers!  Pianist Jonathan Biss is back with his third series of lectures on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas on  Biss is in the process of recording all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.

This series, like the previous two, is designed for everyone—no prior knowledge is needed.  And if you missed the first two lecture series, they are also available on Coursera.  The first series provides a wealth of background information to understand Beethoven’s world and the sonata form.  I wrote about series one here.  The second series focuses on the exploration of individual sonatas, including the Waldstein and Pathétique.

Here are links for the three lecture series on Coursera

Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas

Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Part 2

Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Part 3.

Need more Beethoven?  This post provides more resources for learning more about Beethoven.

Here is a video of Biss playing a portion of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 5 in C minor.

You can hear the entire sonata here.


Image attribution:  Beethoven, Painting by Carl Jäger (1833-1887), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons,

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Explore Beethoven Piano Sonatas with Jonathan Biss on Coursera

Ludwig van Beethoven Jonathan Biss, photo by Benjamin Ealovega

Pianist Jonathan Biss has created a new set of lectures on selected Beethoven piano sonatas on  The course is free, and is designed “for people of all levels of experience with Beethoven’s music (including no experience at all!).”1 This set of lectures will cover Sonata No. 3, Op. 2, No. 3; Sonata No. 8, Op. 13 (“Pathetique”); Sonata No. 21, Op. 53 (“Waldstein”); and Sonata No. 27, Op. 90.

This course, Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Part 2, will begin in mid-January, but you can enroll now.

The first course, Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, will begin again on January 2, but you can enroll now as well.  This course provides an overview of the 32 sonatas, and contains a wealth of detail on the sonatas themselves and music history.

I took the first course, enjoyed it, and learned a lot.  You can read more about the course in an earlier blog post.  You may learn more about Jonathan Biss at his website, which contains the least serious biography I have ever seen.

Biss is in the process of recording all 32 of the Beethoven piano sonatas, and several CDs have already been released.

Follow this link for my post containing more free Beethoven resources.

Follow this link for my post containing more on Beethoven’s late string quartets.

And now, here is Jonathan Biss performing Beethoven’s Sonata No 5 in C Minor, Op. 10, No. 1.





Image attributions: Beethoven, Painting by Carl Jäger (1833-1887), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons,  Jonathan Biss, photo by Benjamin Ealovega,


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Where To Begin with Beethoven


Pianist Artur Schnabel compared Beethoven’s work to a mountain range:  vast, imposing, with infinite pathways to explore.

So where do you start with Beethoven?  Here’s my suggestion. has a free, go-at-your-own-pace, on-demand set of lectures, Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.  The series is sponsored by the Curtis Institute of Music and hosted by renowned pianist Jonathan Biss.  Before he even gets to Beethoven, Biss gives an overview of the state of music in Bach’s time and in the time of Haydn and Mozart, so you have a background to understanding the environment in which Beethoven wrote.  He then explains the sonata form.  Even if you have little to no musical background, you should be fairly comfortable with the material, which is presented in a lively and interesting manner.

The lectures then move into the various periods of Beethoven’s sonata writing, with ample and engaging illustrative samplings of the works.  The course includes notes and lists of resources, and one can stream sonatas discussed in the course, performed by Jonathan Biss.

I took this course and learned a great deal about the sonatas and Beethoven (as well as Bach, Haydn, and Mozart).  I gained a deeper understanding of the music, and could enjoy and appreciate it more as a result of taking the course.

Biss is currently in the middle of a nine-year project to record all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.  Some are already available.  He has also published Amazon “singles” (short books) on Beethoven and Schumann, which I have read and enjoyed (see the recordings and books here).

I had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Biss after a performance some time ago.  After I introduced myself as one of his “Courserians,” he began to talk enthusiastically about the course, and told me that he planned to augment the course with lectures devoted to individual sonatas (he has).  It was clear he was happy to bring Beethoven to a wider audience, which was already evident in his lectures.  That wider audience is now in excess of 100,000 students from 160 countries!

So go to Coursera, sign up for a free account, and start exploring Beethoven’s sonatas.  While you’re there, you’ll also find an on-demand course on the string quartet (also brought to you by the Curtis Institute of Music) and a variety of other courses on music and many other subjects.   A course on the rudiments of music will start up 3 August 2015.  And keep an eye out for Write Like Mozart, a fantastic course on composition (sadly, not currently available).

Which is your favorite Beethoven sonata?  If you don’t have one yet, that’s ok—you will soon!