By the time we reach Beethoven the students have had the maps of classical forms outlined for them so many times that they can begin to follow the structure of individual movements. They can also, in a small way, understand the fact that every Classical ("Classical" with a capital "C" refers to the Classical Period) piece they hear deviates in some way from what we might call the "norm." They also have a small-but-functional vocabulary of musical terms, so that when I point out something that is fugal, for example, they understand what I'm talking about.
I like to introduce Beethoven to my students by way of his string quartets, outlining circumstances in his life and work from Opus 18 through Opus 135. Then, in the next class, we go on to his piano music. We usually start with the Pathetique Sonata because it is in the textbook (at least the first movement is, but we listen to the whole thing), and then we usually listen to a couple of songs, and a few excerpts from piano concertos, violin sonatas, and other chamber music. Since I found this performance of the first movement of Opus 111 played by Sviatoslav Richter, I thought it would be nice to follow the structure of the String Quartet class and let them hear Beethoven's last piano sonata.
Listening to this performance is like reading (and understanding) Faust in the original, or watching a great performance of King Lear. And then we followed it with this wonderful performance of Coriolan conducted by Carlos Klieber. I felt a little guilty about filling my students' hearts and minds with such substance (particularly the students in the 8:00 class), but I did wonder if during the rest of the day some of them--or even one of them--might have had the fugue subject of Opus 111 pounding in his or her head and heart like it did in mine. And maybe yours.