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Top Five Online Courses for Classical Music Fans

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Ever wish you could drop into a class on Beethoven’s works for the solo piano, or on how music affects your state of mind?

Some of the most elite universities and renowned libraries are offering classes in these subjects on the Internet. They’re called MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, free lectures that are streamed from ivy-covered halls onto your computer. We’ve sifted through the catalog of offerings to find our favorite five geared toward the interests of classical music fans.

1. The Curtis Institute

The Curtis Institute, which calls itself the most selective conservatory in the country, opens up its doors to digital denizens this spring with a pair of offerings. You don’t need to be a keyboard whiz to audit Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, taught by pianist Jonathan Biss, who is the midst of releasing recordings of the complete 32-piece set. The second course, From the Repertoire: Western Music History Through Performance, will survey six centuries of music with performances from Curtis alumni.

2. The Library of Congress

Among its many podcasts, the Library of Congress produces the Music and the Brain series, which explores the intersection of neurology and music. Available through Apple’s online college, iTunes U, the posts feature composers, critics, performers, scientists, and academics speaking about music and its effects on health, healing, psychological states and meditation. The entire series was produced between 2010 and 2011 and is still available online.


MOOC’s aren’t just a stateside phenomenon,, the digital branch of Britain’s The Open University, offers a slew of arts and humanity courses, including ones inspired by Alex Ross’s book The Rest is Noise, as well as 20th Century Composers: Making the Connections, which maps out the relationships among greatest musical minds of the last century.


Like Curtis, University of Florida offers its free curriculum on the growing MOOC site, which attracts more than 2 million education-hungry people to its site each year. One of UF’s offerings is How Music Works, a basic music theory-type class, which also looks at basic psychoacoustics, or how the brain reacts to sound. 

5. Greg Sandow Examines the Business

The critic and writer Greg Sandow has taught at Juilliard for several years about the marketing of classical music and its perceived crisis in our modern times. He posts his syllabus to the course, Classical Music in an Age of Pop, along with the reading and assignments on his website. Though the only videos available are two which Sandow links on YouTube, you can read along as he confronts classical music’s disappearing audience, the reasons why it is dwindling, and potential solutions for reversing this trend.

Weigh in: Do you have a favorite online music class? Tell us about it below.