Stanford Launches New Free Online Beethoven Course

The history, reception and development of the composer Ludwig van Beethoven as an artist are the subject of a new Stanford online free and open to the public.

Music historian Stephen Hinton leads a new online course exploring Beethoven’s music and his development as a composer. (Image credit: LA Cicero)

The course, which launched in the spring, is designed for all levels of musical literacy – from beginner to enthusiast – with the aim of enhancing the understanding and appreciation of Beethoven’s music through the study of his quartets at strings, a genre of music involving two violins. , a viola and a cello.

“Beethoven made a name for himself with his string quartets,” said Stephen Hinton, Avalon Foundation Professor of Humanities and Professor of Music History in the School of Humanities. “His last five string quartets are widely regarded as the pinnacle of Western art music, although at the time many people regarded them as the ramblings of a madman gone deaf.”

Defining String Quartet II: Beethovenwhich is now open for enrollment for anyone curious to learn more about the composer, is a sequel to Stanford’s first free online course in classical music appreciation, called Defining the String Quartet: Haydnlaunched in 2016 and centered on the origins of the string quartet and its famous “father”, Joseph Haydn, who was also Beethoven’s teacher.

As part of the new class, Hinton analyzes in depth three of Beethoven’s string quartets, one from each of the three periods of the musician’s career, called early, middle and late. The three pieces are Opus 18 No. 4, Opus 59 No. 3 and Opus 131. This last piece, which Beethoven wrote towards the end of his life, would have been the composer’s favorite string quartet, Hinton said.

“Not only have Beethoven’s 16 String Quartets long enjoyed a reputation as one of the crowning achievements of Western classical music history,” Hinton said, “but they are also like a journal of its development in as a composer. By comparing them, you can see how he evolved as a musician.

The seven-week course, which began on April 16, includes live recorded performances of Beethoven’s work by the renowned Saint-Laurent String Quartet at the Bing Concert Hall as well as Hinton’s comments on the music.

Hinton co-developed the new class with members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the university’s ensemble-in-residence. They worked in collaboration with the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (VPTL) as well as Victoria Chang, a doctoral student in musicology at Stanford.

Like the Haydn course, the new one grew out of materials developed for a first class created for Stanford Continuing Studies students, as well as a freshman seminar, The Classical String Quartet.

Global interactions

Hinton said he also applied lessons learned from teaching the Haydn Online Course, which was his first time teaching an online audience. For example, the new course contains more unscripted discussions between Hinton and the quartet members about Beethoven’s music and what it means to them as musicians and in the context of Beethoven’s story.

Saint-Laurent String Quartet

Members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet: Geoff Nuttall, Owen Dalby, Lesley Robertson and Christopher Costanza. (Image credit: Marco Borggreve)

The new course has so far attracted a diverse audience around the world, Hinton said. Nearly 700 participants have registered for the class so far. He also said he enjoyed seeing students share their interpretation and experience of Beethoven’s music on the course’s online forums. In a thread, a student described how he listened to the composer’s pieces on a large record player at his grandmother’s house as a child.

Another student expressed his gratitude after learning more details about one of Beethoven’s quartets through the class. “Understanding Beethoven and his music more and more gave me the opportunity to really sit down and appreciate his music with even more love than before,” the student said.

After one lesson, another student reflected, “The technical passages reminded me of a gusty day in the trees.”

“It’s fascinating to see how willing participants were to share their reactions to specific pieces of music, reflecting a wide range of listening styles,” Hinton said.

After June 11, Set String Quartet II will reopen as a self-paced course on Stanford onlinewhich offers free online courses taught by Stanford professors to lifelong learners around the world.

Students who successfully complete the full course may receive a statement of achievement that reflects their level of participation and achievement. This will be marked as “entry level” or “advanced”.

Go to the website to watch the video.

Defining String Quartet II: Beethoven