Published: Aug. 7, 2020 By

Like many people around the world, Ludwig van Beethoven’s friends had to scrap plans for a big birthday celebration.

Musicians planned for months to hold concerts in celebration of the admired German composer’s 250th birthday. Then the pandemic brought live musical performances to a grinding halt this spring. 

To compensate, David Korevaar, professor of piano at CU Boulder’s College of Music, created the Beethoven Sonata Challenge. The goal: to upload videos of himself performing all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas on his YouTube channel in just 60 days. 

“It was actually an idea I had years ago, but never got around to it,” Korevaar said. “I decided to take this opportunity of our lives changing—and our performative juices being basically shut off—to do this project and share it with the world.”

While the product is a fun way to whittle away quarantine hours, Korevaar said the production was not.

“It was nothing but a technical difficulty,” he said. 

Amid the pandemic, it’s been a challenge for musicians to do basic things like getting pianos professionally tuned.  

So, Korevaar went old school, self-tuning his living room piano with a hammer and wedge, despite certain notes consistently slipping as he played. 

“My recording set up was also really insufficient,” he said. 

Instead of a professional studio, Korevaar had to use a USB microphone and the laptop pointed at his piano. 

“I figured people would understand.”

Defying expectations

Korevaar, who completed his 20th year at CU Boulder this spring, started playing the piano at age of six—one year younger than Beethoven himself.

“I was part of a large family and everyone else started playing before me,” Korevaar said. “It was important for me to compete with my older brothers.”

His competitive edge never faded. Korevaar actually beat his own goal, finishing all 32 sonatas—over 10 hours of music—in just 40 days, roughly two weeks before he originally planned.  

Korevaar had previously learned and taught many of Beethoven’s sonatas, so when he finished early, he decided to continue his exploration of one of history’s most complex composers.

“The sonatas are a very interesting bonding of work, but they’re not everything. I think some of his other stuff, like the Bagatelles, add a lot to the understanding of Beethoven’s music,” Korevaar said. 

David Korevaar

David Korevaar: professor of piano.

Beethoven’s Bagatelles are a collection of compositions he published late in his career, while he was exploring the countryside of Germany. 

Korevaar said the Bagatelles were among his favorite to perform, adding that they include some of Beethoven’s “weirdest” music. 

“Beethoven was trying to reconnect to the music of the people during this time,” Korevaar explained. “So, it’s essentially this attempt, by this extremely sophisticated, crafty composer, to write simple music.” 

“They’re just phenomenal, and amazing and so strange,” he said

Korevaaar ended up performing and publishing 42 pieces of Beethoven’s music in just four months. 

The work continues

After he completed his tribute to the late composer, Korevaar performed a series of virtual recitals at Grusin Hall with his colleague Charles Wetherbee, an associate professor of violin, as part of a return-to-campus proposal. 

Now, given the spotlight on racism in America, he’s beginning to explore the world of music by Black composers. 

As he was prepping to teach his course on piano literature, Korevaar realized he did not have any Black composers represented in his syllabus. 

“That’s the world we lived in. We can be very content with that world, because it’s interesting, but its more interesting when we can make that world bigger and more inclusive,” Korevaar said. 

He began researching the work of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Scott Joplin, Florence Price and several other Black composers. He plans to record himself playing these works and continue uploading them on his YouTube channel. 

“I’m going to look at the syllabus in terms of how to incorporate more music from underrepresented groups in general, including female composers,” Korevaar said.

He said classical music has been, until recently, a difficult field for women and people of color to succeed in.

Korevaar hopes to continue his virtual work as it relates to current events, expanding his knowledge and repertoire as our world continues to progress.  

For now, tune into his YouTube channel for his latest performances—from the comfort of your own home, and his.