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Defining the String Quartet II: Beethoven

Enrollment is Closed


This is an archived course. If you would like to earn a Statement of Accomplishment for the course, please enroll in the new, self-paced offering of the course.

About This Course

This course aims to enhance your understanding and appreciation of Ludwig van Beethoven’s music by exploring a genre at the very core of his development as a composer: the string quartet. Evenly distributed among the periods into which his life and work are customarily divided, his 16 quartets offer a broadly representative record of his changing musical language. The six quartets of the first period follow closely in the footsteps of Beethoven's teacher Haydn, the acknowledged “father" of the genre; the five quartets of the middle period significantly expand musical form as well as the range of dramatic expression; the remaining five quartets, written in the composer's idiosyncratic "late style," take the genre to unheard-of levels of innovation.

Taught by music historian and Stanford Professor Stephen Hinton in collaboration with the university's ensemble-in-residence, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, you’ll be given a critical overview of Beethoven’s quartets and their reception history. Using a mix of lectures, discussions and copious demonstrations, Professor Hinton will focus in detail on three complete quartets: one early, one middle, and one late. As a special course feature, you’ll view live performances by the SLSQ recorded in Stanford's Bing Concert Hall.

You will learn:

  • About Beethoven’s transformative achievements in the realm of the string quartet
  • Strategies for describing, analyzing, and interpreting Beethoven’s music
  • How Beethoven’s compositions evolved during his career and how they have been viewed throughout history


Defining the String Quartet II is designed to appeal to participants from different musical backgrounds, regardless of your musical literacy. You do not need the ability to read music, although we do occasionally supply musical notation for those who can. You can take this course at either a basic or an advanced level, depending on your familiarity with musical study. Upon completion of the course, you will earn a Statement of Accomplishment based on the level you chose.

Course Staff

Stephen Hinton

Stephen Hinton

Stephen Hinton is the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Music and, by courtesy, of German Studies at Stanford University. Since coming to Stanford in 1994, he has held the positions of chair of the Department of Music, Senior Associate Dean for Humanities and Arts, and, most recently, Denning Family Director of the Stanford Arts Institute. A leading authority on the composer Kurt Weill, he has published widely on many aspects of modern German music history, with contributions to publications such as Cambridge Opera Handbooks, Handwörterbuch der musikalischen Terminologie, New Grove Dictionary of Opera, New Grove Dictionary of Music, Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, and Funkkolleg Musikgeschichte. He has also served as editor of the journal Beethoven Forum. His recent book, Weill’s Musical Theater: Stages of Reform (University of California Press: Berkeley, 2012), the first musicological study of Weill’s complete stage works, received the 2013 Kurt Weill Book Prize for outstanding scholarship in music theater since 1900. He is an avid amateur chamber musician who regrets having too little time to practice his two instruments (viola and piano).

St. Lawrence String Quartet

St. Lawrence String Quartet

The St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ) enters its second quarter century of growth and worldwide concert-giving with acclaim from audiences, critics and the music community alike. “It's a modern string quartet that brings flexibility, dramatic fire and a hint of rock 'n' roll energy,” writes the Los Angeles Times. “Player for player, this is a superb group,” writes the New York Times...“[conveying] the excitement of playing whatever is on their stands at the moment.”

In recent seasons, the SLSQ has made a specialty of the 68 string quartets of Joseph Haydn. In the Quartet's opinion, the true genius of Haydn often suffers from a formulaic and glossed-over familiarity on concert programs. In response, the SLSQ's interpretations of Haydn lay down a new standard for gripping, tender, hilarious, wicked, and charming performances of these masterpieces. The SLSQ often performs “Haydn Discovery” programs, which provide audiences with an engaging guided tour through the moment-to-moment architecture of his quartets to encourage active listening. A recording of Haydn's Symphony no. 102 (in its crisp arrangement for chamber ensemble by Salomon) has recently been released by the SLSQ, and a recording of the six groundbreaking quartets of Op. 20 is expected to be completed in 2016.

Violinist Geoff Nuttall and violist Lesley Robertson founded the quartet in Canada in 1989. Cellist Christopher Costanza joined the group in 2003, and violinist Owen Dalby is the most recent member. With its appointment as faculty members in the Department of Music and as ensemble-in-residence at Stanford University for almost two decades, the SLSQ is deeply involved in teaching musicians from all academic backgrounds and disciplines. Its seminars, masterclasses and interdisciplinary collaborations attract students from around the world. Cultivating a wide repertoire that embraces the great works of the classical literature, off-the-beaten-path composers, and new works (often written specially for the group), the SLSQ continues to engage with audiences in over one hundred concerts a year. In the words of Alex Ross of The New Yorker: "The St. Lawrence are remarkable not simply for the quality of their music making, exalted as it is, but for the joy they take in the act of connection."

For further information about the SLSQ and its members, see the Quartet's homepage at

Victoria Chang

Victoria Chang

Victoria Chang recently completed her PhD in musicology at Stanford University. In her dissertation, Musical Modernism and the Search for Second-Person Lyric, she explored how the meanings of lyric expression changed between Romanticism and Modernism and developed a theory of how lyric may provide a sort of weak redemption in conditions of trauma or moral injury. She is a vocalist and conductor specializing in sacred music, especially chant and polyphony up to 1600.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to earn a Statement of Accomplishment?

Yes! To earn a Statement of Accomplishment, you will complete activities throughout the course that are marked "graded." Your final score will be comprised of short exercises (70%), listening focuses (15%), and forum contributions (15%). Each of these will earn you a certain number of points. At the end of the course, if you have earned at least a third of the total possible points, you will earn a "Basic" Statement of Accomplishment.

Those who are feeling especially enthusiastic may want to pursue an "Advanced" Statement of Accomplishment! Throughout the course, certain activities are marked ♪♪, for "Advanced." Unlike the rest of the activities, activities marked ♪♪ assume the ability to read musical notation. You are more than welcome to try these activities whether or not you read musical notation, but only those pursuing an "Advanced" Statement of Accomplishment are required to do so. At the end of the course, if you have earned at least two-thirds of the total possible points, you will earn an "Advanced" Statement of Accomplishment.

How much time can I expect to spend on the course each week?

We think you should expect to spend three hours a week on the course. Each week will consist of about one hour of video lectures, 30-60 minutes of listening to performances, and one hour of activities, quizzes, and discussion.

How hard will this course be?

The short answer: as hard as you want it to be! In creating this course we have aimed to introduce you not only to Beethoven's compositions and their cultural and biographical context, but also to the world of scholarship and critical discourse. We don't hold anything back! Prof. Hinton will take you on a deep dive into the scholarly conversation about Beethoven, and you will find that this conversation does not shy away from some quite weighty philosophical and historical issues. At the same time, we want to empower you to engage with Beethoven's music in your own way. We have designed this rich, immersive course to be enjoyed at the level that feels right to you.

Do I need to buy a textbook?

No. All of the required course materials (lectures, musical examples, digital scores, and performances by the St. Lawrence String Quartet) are included here online.

What texts would you recommend for further study?

There are countless books on Beethoven and his quartets! Here are a few recommendations:

Where can I find out more about the St. Lawrence String Quartet, including recordings and concert schedules?

The SLSQ's website lists upcoming performances at Stanford University and around the country. It also lists information about their recordings, including upcoming releases.

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