• Length:
    7 Weeks
  • Effort:
    3–6 hours per week
  • Price:

    Add a Verified Certificate for $50 USD

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  • Course Type:
    Self-paced on your time


Defining the String Quartet II is designed to appeal to participants from different musical backgrounds, regardless of musical literacy. In order to earn a Verified Certificate highlighting the knowledge and skills you gain during the course you will need to upgrade to this option and complete activities marked "graded.” Although the ability to read music is not required to take the course and earn a Certificate, we occasionally supply musical notation for those who can. The optional activities marked ♪♪ assume that ability.

Some of the terminology introduced in this course may be new to participants. Nevertheless, we think most participants will find the course highly enriching to their musical understanding, whether or not the terms and analytical concepts are familiar to them in advance. Keep in mind that music students and scholars today find themselves constantly in the process of looking up unfamiliar terms, right up to the level of professors attending conferences, and we believe that developing this skill is an important part of musical education. We encourage you to soak in the discourse, use dictionaries and online resources, and learn through dialogue with fellow participants.

About this course

Skip About this course

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.

What you'll learn

Skip What you'll 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

Meet your instructors

Stephen Hinton
Professor of Music
Stanford University

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Frequently asked questions

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

We think each module should take about three hours to complete. Each module consists 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.

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.

What texts would you recommend for further study?

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