The Beethoven Piano Sonatas


The piano was, for Beethoven, his most personal means of expression.  As a young man he took Vienna by storm with his dramatic compositions and virtuoso performances and he continued to write for the piano throughout his life.  His monumental cycle of piano sonatas is one of the pinnacles of western music and they remain central to the piano repertoire. 

This course will explore these works chronologically, tracing the influences on the young Beethoven, analysing the characteristics of Beethoven’s piano writing and following the development of his music through to the extraordinary works of his later life.

Programme details

Week 0: An introduction to Teams

Week 1: Beethoven arrives in Vienna

              The first piano sonatas, Op. 2 & Op. 7

              The fortepiano c. 1800

Week 2: The Op. 10 sonatas

              Op. 13 - the Pathétique

Week 3: The first signs of deafness.

              The Op. 14 sonatas

              Op. 22, 26 and the Op. 27 sonatas (including the Moonlight)

Week 4: Op. 28 - the Pastoral

              The Op. 31 sonatas (including the Tempest and the Hunt)

              The Heiligenstadt testament

Week 5:  Erard pianos

               Op. 53 – the Waldstein

               Op. 54

Week 6: Op. 57 - the Appassionata

              Op. 78 - A Thérèse

Week 7: Op. 79

              Op. 81a - Les Adieux

              Op. 90

Week 8: Streicher pianos

              Op. 101

Week 9: The gift of a Broadwood piano

  Op. 106  - the Hammerklavier

               Op. 109

Week 10: Op. 110

               Op. 111


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course fee £220.00
Take this couse for CATS points £10.00


Jonathan Darnborough

Jonathan Darnborough is Director of Studies in Music and Departmental Lecturer in Music at Oxford University Department for Continuing Education. He is the author of Oxford University’s first two online Music courses.

Course aims

To provide students with a comprehensive overview of Beethoven’s piano music in the context of the development of the piano during his lifetime.

Course Objectives

1. To study the development of the piano during Beethoven’s lifetime.

2. To study the development of piano playing techniques during Beethoven’s lifetime.

3. To trace Beethoven’s creative development.

Teaching methods

Each class will consist of an hour of pre-recorded material - a lecture illustrated by audio and video extracts. This will be available for students to watch prior to the live element of the class which will take place using Microsoft Teams. This will be an opportunity for students to ask questions about the material in the lecture and the tutor will illustrate answers, where appropriate, from the piano.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1. Outline Beethoven’s creative development as seen through his piano music

2. Describe the ways in which developments in piano design and manufacture affected Beethoven's piano writing.

3. Give examples of particularly significant sonatas in each period of Beethoven's life.

Assessment methods

The students will be able to choose from the following options:

1. To write an account of the development of the piano during Beethoven’s lifetime.

2. To write a programme note for one of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, incorporating some biographical information and some description of the music.

3. To write an essay comparing two sonatas from different periods of Beethoven's life.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


Each course will close for enrolments 14 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (14 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)