Bach: Flute Partita in A minor - Allemande
Carlos Aguilar (flute)
“This piece is about a great musical journey.”
— Benjamin Zander
Ben Zander: Bravo, thank you. Thank you. If I were to ask the audience, what occurs to you is the biggest problem of this piece, listening to it?
Audience: Where to take a breath.
Ben Zander: Where to take a breath. It’s a huge, huge problem. And it’s never been solved really. And he’s miserable playing it because he’s a great musician and he doesn’t understand how Bach could have been so cruel and so stupid. Right?
Carlos Aguilar: Yeah.
Ben Zander: I mean, the thought occurred to you, right? How they say, what the hell does this person think? Well, I want to show you a picture and this is a picture which most of you know, in some form, do you see this picture? And I want you to see… what do you see in this picture? What do you see in this picture?
Audience: Is it ah…
Ben Zander: Just say it.
Audience: It is like the evil person from 101 Dalmatians.
Ben Zander: Nasty old lady.
Audience: Yeah, what’s her name?
Audience: Cruella Deville.
Ben Zander: Right, exactly. Cruella De…. yes.
Audience: It’s also a beautiful lady.
Ben Zander: It’s a beautiful lady, right? It’s actually a beautiful lady. You say it’s an awful, awful old lady. I’d say it’s a beautiful lady. So the fact is that it’s both, it’s both. If you can’t see the old lady, the old lady’s mouth is here and her nose is here and her shawl is here, you’ve got the old lady? And the young lady has this beautiful eyes here and little thing, and this is her chin and so on. So the fact is, as so often like in the Arab Jewish struggle, there are two ways of looking at it. And so the reason I show you, you know this, right? So I want to ask you to think of it, not as a young lady, but as an old lady, and let’s see whether… And I’ll tell you, this came as a revelation to me, I didn’t discover it myself. I went to a class with a very dear friend, Victor Rosenbaum, who’s a wonderful musician, and he taught this piece and it suddenly, the scales fell from my eyes because I realized that we had misunderstood this piece.
Ben Zander: Now, one of the things I want you to think about is an allemande, which is a dance, a German dance, because there are three solutions here. One solution is to play it as fast as you can until you run out of breath. Make sure you (singing), and you remember that, that’s one solution, not a good solution, not a good solution. The second solution is what you did, which was kind of hide it, but you can’t really hide it. And the third solution is the one that I came across and the thing I wanted to… Before we begin, I want to just mention what an allemande is and play you a couple of allemandes by Bach, (singing). That’s an allemande, (singing) Here’s another allemande, (singing). Now, how would it be if that was the tempo (singing) breath (singing) and you’d take a breath often, more often than you think you need. So let’s try, just come a little closer to me, and we’ll work out what the phrases really are, and then see if we can make sense of this. So the first phrase, (singing) that’s clearly the first unit. So do that.
Ben Zander: Yeah, no, you’re are still a young lady, I want an old lady, (singing) good. And now a new one, (singing) good. Can I… and still a tiny little bit of young lady there. You’re going (singing) very stately. And one (singing). Now, the second phrase (singing). That goes on, it doesn’t stop there. Three… The first one, and one, (singing). Now there you’re going to take a breath. So do we have, does anybody have a pencil actually, right to hand, pencil? Right. So (singing). So next one, okay? All right, here we go from the beginning. And you have to remind yourself that it’s really slow, like (singing) one and one (singing). Right, do you see those two phrases are identical? So (singing) and then the next one (singing) right, should we do those two?
Ben Zander: Can I suggest Carlos that you give up being very musical and romantic, just rather steady. (Singing), see, I’m sorry, yeah. So from the beginning, and one (singing). Now, here’s an interesting thing (singing), that’s all one chord and now, new (singing) right, so there’s a big breath here (singing), yeah at the top there. And then a new breath here (singing), right? So should we try from five with the up B? (Singing). No, that doesn’t end. That doesn’t end. So you could take a breath after the E, see if this is possible, (singing). Can you do all that in one breath? I think so. So from here (singing) right, and you’ll have to take quite a lot of time (singing) to finish that chord. So let’s do it once again. (Singing). Now (singing).
Ben Zander: Now this resolves (singing), those three notes. And now (singing) and now it goes to C major, right. So try once again from here (singing). No, no not (singing). Good. Right. Exactly. You’re doing (singing), no, you’re doing (singing), no it’s (singing). No, no, no, no, no, (singing), no, no, no D a finish. Now, this is new (singing), do you see them? No, don’t rush it. No.
Carlos Aguilar: I’m out of breath here.
Ben Zander: (singing) Got it? (Singing) Take your time, so you’ve got plenty of time to go (singing) and listen to it once (singing). Once again (singing) and then (singing) go on (singing) to C, and then it goes again to C, and then it goes again to C, and then it goes again to C (singing). And now look at this, it isn’t (singing), it’s (singing). And then it goes to (singing), do you see that? So should we tell you, you’re doing great? From here, first of all, let’s do this one more time (singing) to C. And each time it goes to C and then to C and then to C and then to C sharp. So do from (singing). Yeah, don’t rush. You are doing this (singing) because you’re being an old lady again. So listen, listen, listen, one, and now we (singing), but now you are running out of breath, if you did this (singing), you’re playing a wooden flute with very little breath, and you just take a tiny little breath at the end of each phrase. One (singing) to C (singing).
Ben Zander: Now this is very interesting because this one (singing), it goes, resolves (singing), and then it goes to (singing) and then it goes (singing) and then it goes to (singing). And you can take a tiny little breath between each one.
Carlos Aguilar: Yeah.
Ben Zander: So should we try from, that’s 13 and one (singing), and then it goes to (singing), and then it goes to (singing), and then to (singing). You need a breath there because that’s the line going up (singing), and now new (singing), so do it from there. It’s beautiful. Wasn’t that beautiful? What you did there (singing) do from there (singing). Yes, (singing).
Ben Zander: You can go all the way from here (singing), that you can do in one. Should we just try then, and you think of it this way (singing) well, the first in (singing), that’s the way. Right. Great. Great. You’ve done it. Bravo. Bravo. Let’s see. Can we do it? I got to keep my eye on the clock because the cellist has got to go and do a wrestling match. So from the beginning, from the beginning and thinking (singing). Can I just say one thing? Don’t do the same thing, because you do (singing). No, because the second time it’s going on, right? Beautiful. Well, the first fugue is fantastic. Once again, three and (singing).
Ben Zander: Yeah. You didn’t take enough breath to get you through there, but he’s doing it brilliantly, brilliantly. Brilliant. So do from here (singing). Yeah. You went because you went (singing), but (singing), as if it was the most natural thing in the world. (Singing). Yeah. You’ve forgotten. You’ve forgotten to breathe after each one. Right? (Singing), take your time. (Singing). Yeah, now remember you’re going to breathe before the G, we’re almost there, almost there. Before here, going to the DA sharp, right? Let’s try from here, 13. (Singing), no, don’t rush. Don’t rush. (Singing) and then to D, (singing) and then to D. No, no big breath there, otherwise you’ll never get through. Right? So be willing to take your breath. So do from (singing) to D.
Carlos Aguilar: Sorry, which one?
Ben Zander: Well do from here (singing) and when get to the G don’t lengthen it because you want to get all the way to E. (Singing), now, but no, no you’re going to finish there because it’s a resolution (singing). And the new chord (singing), you have to think harmonically. Right, once again. (Singing) and now to D. (Singing) B D (singing). Yeah. It will help you, it will help you, G, G sharp, A and now to A.
Ben Zander: And now (singing), so once again, from (singing) D sharp, and now (singing) and here it comes E B D G, breath (singing). You’ve done it, well done. I knew you would. That was a laborious process in a way. But actually when you think he had to completely rethink the piece, and what’s disappeared is the problem of breathing.
Carlos Aguilar: Yeah.
Ben Zander: Isn’t that amazing? It has completely disappeared. It’s no longer a piece about breathing. It’s a piece about a great musical journey.
Carlos Aguilar: Yeah.
Ben Zander: Should we try it one more time and then I’ll let you go?
Carlos Aguilar: Sure.
Ben Zander: Are you ready? Because we just have time. From here to there, here to there. That’s right. Are you ready? And I’ll help you. Right. (Singing). And remember this, completely different approach. So not romantic, not free, but (singing), and one (singing).
Carlos Aguilar: Sorry I couldn’t do…
Ben Zander: That’s right. Good. (Singing). Great. Well done, well done. Wonderful.