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Course Descriptions

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More than standard music history or theory classes, the new Curtis Coursera courses will educate students through the school's unique performance-based learning philosophy. Performances by students and faculty will be used to illustrate the concepts and techniques discussed in class. Designed for students of all backgrounds, these classes do not require prior knowledge of an instrument or music theory. All classes offered by Coursera are presented free of charge.

A key factor in the design of the Coursera system is the extensive use of interactive exercises. Within videos, there are multiple opportunities for interactions: The video frequently stops and students are asked to answer a simple question to test whether they are tracking the material. There will also be stand-alone homework that is not part of video lectures. Students can watch the lectures at their leisure, but the classes are structured with regular deadlines and each student will receive a statement of accomplishment at the end of the series.

All Curtis content will be produced in-house, using the state-of-the-art, high-performance audio and video equipment installed in Lenfest Hall, which opened in 2011.


Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas

One of the youngest professors at Curtis, Jonathan Biss joined the faculty in 2011 and holds the Neubauer Family Foundation Chair in Piano Studies. He designed Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas as an exploration of these great works from the perspective of a performer, attempting to locate the source of the tremendous psychological power of Beethoven's music.

Course description

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.

This course takes an inside-out look at the 32 piano sonatas from the point of view of a performer. Each lecture will focus on one sonata and an aspect of Beethoven's music exemplified by it. (These might include: the relationship between Beethoven the pianist and Beethoven the composer; the critical role improvisation plays in his highly structured music; his mixing of extremely refined music with rougher elements; and the often surprising ways in which the events of his life influenced his compositional process and the character of the music he was writing.) The course will feature some analysis and historical background, but its perspective is that of a player, not a musicologist. Its main aim is to explore and demystify the work of the performer, even while embracing the eternal mystery of Beethoven's music itself.


From the Repertoire: Western Music History through Performance

Jonathan Coopersmith, chair of Musical Studies at Curtis, and David Ludwig, Gie and Lisa Liem Artistic Chair of Performance Studies, composition faculty member, and 20/21 Ensemble artistic director, will focus on six important works from the Western classical-music repertoire that represent different eras and genres throughout history. The course will observe performances of this music recorded at Curtis and interactive discussions will explore each work's historical context, musical significance, and compositional design.

Course description

A survey of music history begins with those works of music that convey the artistic trends, innovations, and compositional techniques representative of their time. Rather than offer a discussion of Western music focusing on a succession of composers, this course will look at key works throughout history: from early music composed as much as a thousand years ago, to contemporary concert music written just in the past decade. Through interactive historical presentations and performances, students will learn how Western music has developed throughout the ages into the rich and diverse repertoire that we have today.

What makes this music truly special and important? Distinguished members of the Curtis faculty will provide their unique insights. Performances by Curtis students, alumni, and faculty will enhance the learning experience by demonstrating the form and design of the material in a creative and vital way.

Two course presentations each week will offer different perspectives on the same work: one that focuses on historical context and description for students with little or no prior experience in music theory; and one that goes more in-depth into musical structure and formal design.


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