“I realized that my job is to awaken possibility in others.”

BPYO - Rehearsal 3 - Recap

Benjamin Zander
Ben's Blog — November 6, 2020

Last week’s class ended with my rendition of Mozart’s Allegro in Bb, written when he was 5, as if played by a 7 year-old!

This week started appropriately enough with the new assignment: 


 Within a few minutes a list of child-like characteristics appeared on the Chat:

filled with new ideas and energy
without boundaries
they don’t care what others think

If we had gone on for longer many more characteristics would have been added:  playful, charming, mischievous, droll, creative…….

These delightful qualities tend to get smothered as the pressures of life begin to intrude, but they are all valuable, even essential, qualities for conductors, leaders and musicians.  So this week is the time to focus on those qualities.

Add them to the assignments from the previous two weeks:





Let’s stand back for a moment and think about what these assignments are designed to accomplish.

Here is what Roz Zander wrote earlier this summer to describe the assignments:


Letter from Roz Zander on Assignments

The “Assignments” are an important part of the program for BPYO. They are not mandatory: some of the students await them eagerly, others are not drawn to them, but everyone in the orchestra is framed by them and feels the results. 

The assignments are a growing medium. For the most part they are counter-intuitive, and often present a puzzle: how can you “discover gratitude? When you don’t feel grateful? How do you “imbue the static with vibrant life”? How do you “advance the human race”? Unlike most school assignments that you can check off and be done with, these stretch into the future; they are open-ended.  Having once “walked with spirit and love” you begin a new way in the world, a new habit of being.

The assignments stretch a person’s capacities in many ways: First, participants learn that they can, in fact, generate within themselves what they thought they had to wait for from without: eg. be lifted by the spirit of the season, discover gratitude, be responsible for the whole. They have the answers to some of the puzzles within them: eg. “Get in touch with someone who is lost to you” or they can act on a bigger stage than they had thought: “Be an ambassador to the world.”

The assignments are designed with no “right” answers in order to start an unconscious process. Have the Best Day Ever, was one assignment. That takes something when it is cold and wet and you are behind in your work, but you can!

When the students really engage with the assignments miracles happen. People win auditions when there was, in their mind, zero chance. People deepen relationships, find romantic partners, and let go of whatever has been holding them back.

Our job at BPYO, as we see it, is to provide an ecosystem for growth for the students such that they become used to thinking of themselves as global citizens, learn to focus beyond themselves, become naturally compassionate and responsible, and have a joyous, wonderful time in life. The assignments are a scaffolding for that ecosystem.

– Roz Zander – 

The Art of Possibility and Pathways to Possibility


Roz just sent me a picture of a gorgeous oil painting of a road in Maine, she she finished this week:

Next we watched a video from my Interpretation Class on the slow movement of Mozart’s Clarinet concerto. It explores the tension between the fixed structure of the phrase and the instinctive forces that draw us as performers.

Also how, when you feel the motion “one in an bar,” (so beautifully accomplished by Dina on the piano), the music flows naturally into longer phrases and the clarinet, like a great singer in an Italian opera, is liberated!

This is hard to explain in words, but quite easy to understand when you see and hear it. (13 minutes).

Mozart Clarinet Concerto, Second Movement





Next came a detailed investigation into the Exposition of the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th as seen from the point of view of a conductor.

What does a conductor have to decide?


Here’s a story:

I was in the First Class lounge of British Airways in Cape Town. My cell phone rang. “Hello, this is the Editor of Knopf Publishing. “Would you consider to write a book for us called The First Four Notes?” It didn’t take a moment for me to realize what he was asking. He wanted a book about Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Da Da Da daaaaaa!

I went around the Lounge and randomly asked about 25 people: “The First Four Notes, what does that mean to you?”  To my astonishment more than half answered, “Beethoven’s Fifth?”

Well, what other notes could it refer to?

Is there any work of music that can be identified so succinctly?

The reason they had asked me to write the book was that the Knopf Editor had heard my Telarc recording of the Fifth (and 7th) with the Philharmonia and, especially, the full-length CD on which I explain Beethoven’s style, especially his tempi.  Fortunately I had the wisdom to turn down the offer, so they asked Boston Globe Music Journalist Mathew Guerrieri who proceeded to write a marvelous book about Beethoven, called, yes…….

I highly recommend it.

Before we get to work here’s a funny story about my attempt some years ago to get Beethoven’s 5th into the hands of every man, woman, and child on the planet. Click here.


Now let’s look at the first page again.


I pointed out Beethoven’s words that I had written on top of the score: Rührung ist nur für Frauenzimmer, dem Mann muss Musik Feuer aus dem Geiste schlagen

“Sentiment is for the women’s quarters, for a man music must strike fire from the soul.”

(It would seem to go without saying that men and women have the same emotional range. But, as unbelievable as it may seem, in Beethoven’s day, sterling emotions were seen as the exclusive province of men, while delicate emotions were considered the exclusive province of women.)

All the strings, plus the clarinets, enter with the “hammer blows of fate”.


Here’s Leopold Stokowski (8 seconds): Click here.

It’s now almost universally agreed that what Stokowski did, although common in his day, is not what Beethoven intended, but what did he intend?

Amazingly enough, we don’t know!

Even assuming that we agree that we must play the opening at or near the tempo that Beethoven indicated, (i.e. 108 bpm), there is still no agreement as to whether the first bar is an up-beat or a down-beat. I have always taken it as an up-beat and I have performed and taught it that way for four decades:

The three repeated eighth notes going to a long note must, surely, indicate a ferociously driven gesture, like throwing down a gauntlet.

Moreover, if you look at the first ending it seems to put the matter beyond doubt:

Count from bar 110 –

And the last three notes (going back to the beginning) are an up beat.  No question about it.

That proves the opening must be an up-beat. Right?



Well, yes, but that may not be the end of the story.

Here’s another story:

I was very taken aback when I was introduced to Leonard Bernstein for the first time after his performance of Mahler 9th in London, because instead of saying something polite like: “Hello, Nice to meet you…”or some such, he said, without missing a beat:  “How come you never call me?”   I was so astonished that I couldn’t reply, and then, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to say, he added: “You’re wrong, you know!”

I had always assumed he had heard about my radical view of Beethoven’s tempi, but now I am wondering if he meant the opening of the Fifth.  Because he didn’t agree that it was an up-beat, he apparently thought it was a down-beat.

I want you try it both ways and see what you think.

1. Count 1  2  3  4… in tempo (say around MM=96-100) and then sing and conduct the first 4 notes (da da da daaa), making them lead with maximum propulsion into the long note. Then, after you have held the long note for a bit (but not too long) and while the long note is still ff, raise your hand high and bring it down on the following rest, so that now the three eighth notes lead to an even longer note.

2. As you count 1 2 3 4 in tempo, raise your hand and then crash it down on the first beat of bar 1, i.e. on the rest.  With the impulse on the first beat, the three eighth notes won’t lead to the long note, they will “come from” the rest. This will give a totally different affect to the opening notes and it will feel free. Indeed the only way to keep the orchestra together is by sheer force of gesture and will-power.

The first person to describe the opening this way was Felix Weingartner*, a great conductor, student of Liszt and author of a wonderful book on the Beethoven symphonies. Most importantly, he was a classically minded conductor, in the Toscanini mold – far from the Romantic style of Wagner and Furtwaengler. He thought of the first two bars as a 2-bar period complete in itself.  Bars 3 to 5 repeat the gesture in elongated form and bar 6 is then an up-beat into the movement proper.

It is not important for you to master this, or to learn to conduct it, but it’s interesting for you to realize that these are the issues that conductors have to wrestle with.  Also, please show some sympathy for the conductor, if you ever play this symphony. It is one of the hardest openings to conduct in the entire repertoire.  Many a famous conductor has been humiliated by being unable to conduct the opening of Beethoven’s 5th.  Even Mahler, who was one of the greatest conductors ever, kept the players of the Vienna Philharmonic for an extra hour of rehearsal of the opening till they got so frustrated that they were close to mutiny. “Keep your outrage until tonight,” he said, “then we shall have the right performance”!

I do not recommend this version, but it is very amusing: click here.

*The name Weingartner was very familiar to me growing up, because my father often told stories about Felix Weingartner’s son, Peter, who was my father’s regular piano 4-hand partner.  When a new work, say a Brahms symphony, appeared in print, they rushed to the piano to get to know it, the way we might rush to Spotify or Youtube. They had nothing else! One lovely story was of the occasion when Brahms’s Third had just appeared in the Simrock edition for 4 hands (I still have his own copy). As usual they played it through from beginning to end.  Peter’s mother exclaimed in amazement: “It’s unbelievable that you two kids can play completely new music at sight like that”  “Oh”, replied Peter, by way of explanation, “It’s all written down!”


I have often thought that if Beethoven had written the movement in 16th notes, orchestral musicians would have immediately understood the phraseology and the reason for the very fast tempo.


Imagine that Händel had written it that way, with an Italian marking such as Allegro molto (or even Presto, which was Beethoven’s original tempo designation for the movement) you would probably automatically play it at around 108.

What is revealed is that the movement is not about eighth notes at all  – da da da DAAA, but rather a beautiful flowing song in quarter notes.

That becomes abundantly clear in the beautiful codetta for winds at bar 482 between bassoon, clarinet and oboe. (NB conductors have to learn the different clefs so that you can read: Bassoon G, Eb in tenor clef, Ab, G, Eb, C, in the Clarinet, and the exquisite Ab, G, in the oboe.


If Beethoven had written it that way, 200 years of misunderstanding and arguments about the tempo of this movement could have been avoided. It would, of course, have involved multiple time signatures whenever there were extra bars, which was not common usage at that time.

There are a myriad of details in the exposition that are rarely realized in performance but it would be tiresome to point them out in print, moreover if you take a close look at my score you will see most of the main issues marked up.  But I do want to point out one interesting thing with broader implications: the two horns in bar 34 have a crescendo. Seen in isolation in their parts, it looks as though they are supposed to make a big swell on that one note – and most horn players do. But when you look at the score you see that the horns are just part of the gradual crescendo in ALL the instruments, of which the horns are just one.

There is NO WAY for the horn players to know that unless they have the score, so it’s up to the conductor to tell them.   Maybe one day it will be common practice for orchestral players to bring scores with their iPads to rehearsal or even to play concerts from an iPad like so many chamber music players do today. It would make playing in an orchestra infinitely more interesting, especially for players who have long rests to count!


When we get to the second theme there is another controversy.

Is the horn Fanfare in bar 59:


For the average orchestral musician these matters may seem of small significance – “If you tell me with your stick what you want, I’ll do it – frankly, I want to get home to feed my cat, and put bulbs in for next spring” – but for many deeply dedicated and passionate musicians, on, or in front of the podium, they can be a source of both endless fascination and paramount importance.

Imagine you are a “deeply dedicated” and “passionate” horn player, you would want to know if Beethoven intended you to make bar 60 the heavy bar, or if he wanted you to add two bars and lead through to the dominant Bb in bar 62, which becomes a 13-bar pedal point. I used to think the former and now I think the latter.

As for the controversy over the “extra measure” in the Development of Beethoven 5, it took the composer and analyst Andrew Imbrie, eleven closely argued pages in a book called Beethoven Studies to unravel the implication of a single bar for the structure of the whole movement.

For the deeply committed and passionate amongst you, here are those 11 fascinating pages: click here.


When I read the essay it changed my mind about the bar structure of such a large section of the movement that I had to buy a new score so that I could mark it up in the new way.

For those of you who have only a passing interest in such matters, it might be worth opening it up, so that you can at least look at it. Maybe, one day you will be drawn into it some more.

Incidentally, anyone who wants to discuss further this, or the bar structure of any other passage, please feel free to e-mail or call me at any time (though not between 2 am and 4 a.m.).  You will find a ready ear.

I am, of course, always in doubt as to how much of all this kind of thing I should share with our BPYO group. It can become awfully tedious if it gets too detailed, but on the other hand it is only when we get deeply into the matter that it becomes truly fascinating.

15-year-old cellist, Brian, who played the Beethoven 5th excerpt so beautifully two weeks ago, presented the issue clearly in a white sheet:

Hi Mr. Zander, 

I am really enjoying the weekly BPYO Zoom sessions. These Saturday rehearsals are becoming a highlight of my week, and I am so thankful that I get the opportunity to just delve into music for hours and not have to worry about anything else. My school Zoom meetings have become very tedious and tiring, however your enthusiasm and passion make BPYO Zoom meetings so different from school. I know that this is a new experience for all of us, and I just wanted to let you know that you are doing an unbelievably great job leading these weekly Zoom sessions. You mentioned today that as much as you love the positive feedback, you would also appreciate any “negative” feedback; I think the one thing that could be beneficial is to not get stuck on one topic, and keep the flow of the meeting – it was very interesting to look at Beethoven’s 5th from a conductor’s viewpoint today, but it can sometimes be challenging to study a dense score for a long period of time over Zoom. Other than that, I genuinely mean it when I say that online BPYO rehearsals have been a great success so far, and I have enjoyed every single moment of it. I am looking forward to next week’s rehearsal as well!



That is very helpful. I will try to do my utmost to keep the material flowing, but please keep telling me when you feel we go off track.

I was encouraged when I received an email this morning from our newest addition to the group, 13-year-old Alex from New Jersey:

Dear Maestro,

I enjoyed last Saturday’s class very much. I have been trying to apply the system of the four bar phrase in everything that I play. For example, while playing Bach’s Prelude from the Second Cello Suite in D minor, I saw that the first bar was heavy, the second bar was light, the third bar was heavy but lighter than the first, and the fourth bar was light. This was very fascinating to me because this system naturally gave the structure to the prelude.

I also enjoyed looking at your full score of Beethoven’s 5th last week. I loved watching what all of the parts were doing and I found it very interesting to see your markings on the page. I really wish that we could see more of this in the classes with you.

Thank you very much.  Looking forward to seeing you soon.


This communication from a 13 year-old gives me courage to persevere with our unusual “journey.” Please keep thinking and communicating about ways we can make this forum really valuable for all participants, even if it is, perforce, somewhat hard going sometimes.


Finally, here is a comparison of performances.

I don’t want this to be a forum for making famous conductors wrong – that can be a zero-sum-game, whatever that means – but I will occasionally compare performances, if I feel it is illuminating in a general way.

Here is the exposition of the Fifth performed by one of the all-time-great orchestras, the Vienna Philharmonic, with my favorite conductor of the modern era, Carlos Kleiber. You will notice that the horns make the ill-fated crescendo! Strange, isn’t it, with musicians of such experience and sophistication! Has nobody noticed this before at the Vienna Philharmonic?

Also, you may feel, as I do, that the long notes in bar 2 and bar 5 are too long.  You will notice also that they are about the same length, instead of differentiated, as Beethoven specifically indicates.  In his original manuscript he wrote them as equal and then added the extra bar with the pause later, which meant that he had to take the trouble to go through the whole movement and change it each time it appears and in every part – and he wasn’t working with Sibelius. Rather ink, quill and razor blade on paper!

Of course it is not dictated anywhere how long any particular pause should be, but it is unlikely that Beethoven intended it to add four times the length of a regular half note.  A slight hold with maximum intensity before it hurtles on, is what the man who lived to “strike fire from the soul”  (“Feuer aus dem Geiste”) –most likely intended.

Incidentally, what a different world we would be living in if one of the players in the orchestra in Vienna, say a thoughtful and retiring second violinist, had been allowed to write on a “white sheet” during a rehearsal with Carlos Kleiber:

“Maestro, I am having the most thrilling time playing the Fifth with you. I predict that it will be a performance for the ages that music lovers will treasure for centuries.  Danke schoen!  

It occurred to me that if you were to shorten the pauses at the beginning a little, it would create even more tension – a greater sense of Beethovian impatience, with the second one slightly longer to increase the intensity.

Incidentally, I also noticed that our horns keep making an individual (and meaningless) crescendo in bar 34 because they don’t seem to realize that they are merely part of a general crescendo that goes for many bars. Thank you for what you are bringing to the world with your unique vision. 

Albrecht Freund 2nd violin

But the most fundamental issue is, as so often, the matter of tempo. Kleiber chooses a traditional tempo, somewhat slower than Beethoven’s marked tempo (MM = 94-98), but well able to convey the drama of the movement. I propose to go into the whole issue of tempo in greater depth a week from tomorrow, but for now let’s just focus on this one section – the Exposition. Kleiber brings out brilliantly the interplay between the different sections of the movement, as well as the drama. The musicians have time to play everything with character, beauty and control. It’s fantastic playing!

Carlos Kleiber: click here.

(NB I feel sure Beethoven would have been furious with a performance that shortens the exposition by one bar (beat) before going back to the beginning.  Count it out. There’s one beat missing!)


But is it possible that Beethoven wanted something more impetuous, something less controlled – on the edge, dangerous – a music that “strikes fire from the soul”?

Here is my recording with the Philharmonia on Telarc.


Listen to both performances a few times, back to back, and think:

“Was Beethoven standing at a time in history, deaf, angry isolated and looking into the abyss of political chaos in Vienna, during the war with Napoleon?

Is it possible that he wanted us to stretch ourselves and our techniques beyond our comfort zone, where subito pianos are shocking, where accents on weak beats disrupt our sense of equilibrium, where f’s are strong and ff’s are shattering and where beauty of sound is not the primary value.


Now for completeness, here is Bernstein MM=87.

“You are wrong, you know!”

I am sorry if this all went on a bit too long in the class, but it was certainly a delight and a relief to hear Nikki play the first movement, “Obsession” from Ysaye’s 2nd sonata for solo violin. What a wonderful musician she is and so communicative. She talked a bit about the work, written for the great violinist Jacques Thibaud. Apparently he was practicing Bach’s E major Partita while they were on tour together. Ysaye couldn’t get the catchy figuration of the Bach out of his mind.

Thank you Nikki.

Daniel and Coleton did a magnificent job working through the two excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s 4th, Movement 2. We could all tell that they both care deeply about beauty of sound, so I want to wait until I have invited them record the excerpts in a more suitable setting.

Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow for a very special event with LIVE MUSICIANS in my music room!

All the best,

Ben Zander






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