Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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,



Learning (and Describing) How Music Works: Free Online Resources

Cartoon by Toby Rush, man describing a musical passage to a woman "And then the bassoon choir comes in like flaming honeydew melons from on high"

Cartoon from “Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People” by Toby Rush.

You can enjoy music without knowing how it works, but knowing even a little bit will help you hear things you might have missed otherwise (for example, those repeated notes in Bach’s Magnificat and Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude).

And you’ll be able to describe to people what’s great in the music you’ve heard.  There are lots of great resources to help you learn how.

I recently found a set of pages explaining various aspects of music notation (and more) using a format you don’t typically see:  it looks like a graphic novel.  And I love the title:

Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People

While there’s a lot of information on each page, it’s very pleasing to the eye and easy to read.  The pages are available in several languages, and the English-language pages include British and American versions to accommodate, for example, the differing names for note lengths (quaver versus eighth note).

Read these pages, and soon you too will be able to casually toss around terms like “circle of fifths,” “complex meter,” “species counterpoint,” and “motivic development”!

But if you find yourself saying, “Hold on there, Sparky (Sparky is the Music Theory Dog of the series), you’re getting a little ahead of me,” here are some more options.

Coursera’s online course “Fundamentals of Music Theory,” offered by the University of Edinburgh, will start up on January 30, 2017 (a little off-topic, but also on Coursera, Yale University’s course “Introduction to Classical Music” begins January 2, 2017).

If you don’t have a lot of time, try

If you like to go at your own pace, see

If you’re keen on lots of details, check out

If you like using flash cards, look at the musical offerings on

Spend a little time at any of these websites, and pretty soon you’ll be able to say

Photo of Clara Schumann captioned "I see what you did there"

Just watch out for those flaming honeydew melons.


Image attributions:  Cartoon from Toby Rush’s “Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People”

Clara Schumann, photograph by Elliott & Fry [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

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New Free Online Course: “Defining the String Quartet: Haydn” from Stanford University

Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy

Stanford University has a new free online course on Haydn and the development of the string quartet.

The first half of the course explores string quartet writing before Haydn, as well as his early works.  The second half is devoted to a detailed look at Haydn’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20 No 5.

The course will help you learn what to listen for and get a better understanding of how the string quartet works.

You do not need to read music for this course.  The music tutorial that is offered is minimal, and looks like a quiz–click on “Show Answer” for explanations.  If you do read music, “dynamic scores” are available. Even if you don’t read music, check them out, they’re pretty cool, and you can learn a lot through observation and pattern matching.  When you select a movement, a play bar appears.  When you click play, the notes that are being played turn red.  And for the trill, the tr and note wiggle up and down—I think that’s quite clever!

The course includes a video of each movement of the String Quartet in F Minor performed by the St. Lawrence Quartet.  The videos can be viewed with or without the dynamic score.  The videos may also be downloaded for further study and enjoyment.

You can go at your own pace, and you can earn a certificate of accomplishment.  You can pick entry level or advanced level for the quizzes.

For more details, here is the webpage for “Defining the String Quartet: Haydn.”

You might also be interested in the course “The World of the String Quartet” from the Curtis Institute of Music on Coursera.


Image attribution: Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.