Overview of all courses

Aesthetics of Classical Piano Performance

– 20th Century Schools, Styles and Trends

Study Levels: Undergraduate, Postgraduate
Faculty: Emil Gryesten and guest lecturers from Global Conservatoire partner institutions
Royal Danish Academy of Music

Tentative online meeting dates in 2022: October 11, November 8, December 1

Emil Gryesten introduces Aesthetics of Classical Piano Performance

Aesthetics of Classical Piano Performance – 20th Century Schools, Styles and Trends


In this course we will examine the aesthetic currents that have led to the eclectic and pluralistic piano performance culture of today.
The course will give insight into the divergent approaches that characterize today’s music culture and will help you to better understand and formulate your thoughts on differing and sometimes conflicting opinions on interpretation.
Through the various analytical and critical approaches explored in the course, you will become more aware of the newer history of piano performance aesthetics and develop tools to analyse and describe stylistic and artistic choices in interpretation and performance.
The core activity of the course will be examining, sometimes in great detail, the recorded performances of pianists representing different pianistic schools, styles and trends.



By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of various classical piano performance styles and traditions from c. 1945 until the present
  • Explain how particular performances relate to their stylistic and/or historical context
  • Apply an understanding of diverging performance traditions in analysing and comparing different interpretations
  • Discuss and evaluate performances in a manner that is both open-minded and referencing contextualized sources
  • Use knowledge and inspiration gained from studying performance aesthetics to enhance one’s own artistic practice



The course will be graded based on an assignment portfolio.

The assignment portfolio is the collection of the assignments submitted during the course:

  1. The review of a German pianist
  2. The assignment on the Bilson lectures on Historically Informed Performance
  3. Group presentation in live session 2
  4. Short essay or video on a French or Italian pianist
  5. Final assignment

The options for the final assessment will be:

  • A written essay analysing and comparing different performances of one work (at least 500 words)
  • A written essay diving deeper into a topic covered during the course or a related topic (at least 500 words)
  • A written review, in the style of a newspaper or journal review, of one or more performances (at least 500 words)
  • A video presentation analysing and comparing different performances of one work (approximately 15 min., including only short musical excerpts)
  • A video presentation diving deeper into a topic covered during the course or a related topic (approximately 15 min., including only short musical excerpts)

The various assignments of the assignment portfolio will not be graded individually, but students will receive feedback during the course.

At the end of the course, the completed assignment portfolio will be graded. The assignment portfolio accounts for 75% of the final grade, attendance and completion 25%.



The Aesthetics of Classical Piano Performance course is scheduled from 3 October to 9 Dec 2022.

The course is open to undergraduate and postgraduate piano students.

Consisting of 7 asynchronous learning modules and 3 live online sessions, the course will employ a range of teaching formats such as:

  • Video lectures
  • Presentations and interviews with guest lecturers
  • Short reading assignments
  • Class discussions – online discussion boards or in live sessions
  • Listening exercises
  • Writing small reviews
  • Group assignments such as joint presentation of a topic
  • Interactive online activities such as quizzes, “blind tasting” of recordings and exercises with flashcards

Independent study will involve some short reading assignments and watching documentaries. In connection with the final paper or presentation, more extensive independent study will be needed.

The course instructor will provide a bibliography of optional, suggested reading.



The course combines traditional liberal arts approaches such as criticism, study of source materials, historiography and biography, with empirical investigations using technical tools such as Sonic Visualiser.

The seven asynchronous modules cover the following topics (sometimes in depth, sometimes more cursory):

  • National schools and traditions from around World War II to the present: French, Italian, Austro-Germanic, Russian schools, British traditions, teaching traditions of the Eastern USA, various Asian traditions
  • Historically Informed Performance
  • Bach on the modern piano
  • Rhetorical versus modernist performance styles
  • The great competitions: Warsaw Chopin Competition, Tchaikovsky Competition, Van Cliburn Competition
  • Stars of today: Argerich, Lang Lang, Trifonov, Yuja Wang, and others

To provide a general framework for understanding the subject of piano performance aesthetics, we will take a brief look at some ideas from critical theory, including David Hume’s notion of the ideal critic, Michel Foucault’s genealogical method, pluralism, and postmodernism.

The three live online sessions cover the following topics:

Session 1 – Tuesday, October 11, 4PM-6PM Central European Time

  • Introduction to methods, close and distant listening, subjective criticism and empirical analysis
  • Listening exercises and discussion

Session 2 – Tuesday, November 8, 4PM-6PM Central European Time

  • Group presentations diving deeper into one of the topics covered so far in the course

Session 3 – Thursday, December 1, 4PM-6PM Central European Time

  • Talk, and discussion with guest lecturer
  • Taking stock: The current state of affairs of the classical piano tradition
  • Discussion: How can/should the performance tradition evolve in the future?

The syllabus is intended to instantiate the Global Conservatoire values of diversity and inclusion. For instance, many female pianists will be featured in the course; and while European traditions will be covered in depth, a number of pianists of non-Western origin will also be given emphasis.


The course instructor will be available for consultation or to answer queries on Zoom during weekly office hours. Prior to the final assessment individual supervision will be offered.

All course activities will be carried out with respect to differences in students’ background in terms of culture and language skills. While a secure grasp of written and spoken English will be useful in this course, the focus during the course and in the final assessment will be the subject matter of piano performance and not the finer details of language and presentation.