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Beethoven: Cello Sonata no. 2 - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Peiyao Guo (cello) with Jayoung Kim (piano)

Remember this is a song. It’s an actual song. So, I would suggest that you imagine you were singing it.

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander: Can I stop you? Because this is such a long piece. But first of all, bravo, the two of you.

Ben Zander: Beautiful playing. You’re a great cellist. You have everything in the cello that we could possibly want. So, all I’d like to discuss is a few things about the music.

Ben Zander: The first adagio is a problem. And that problem becomes crystal clear towards the end. At the very last bar, I noticed – at the last three bars – neither of you kept the time as long as Beethoven indicated. And I don’t think Beethoven made a mistake. And I don’t blame you because it is so long. When you think about how long it is, just play the D

Ben Zander: Now, play before the end. Five bars with the upbeat.

Ben Zander: When I was a cellist many years ago, I used to play the piece as you did and like everybody does, like that. But then I looked at those rests and I said, “It’s not possible. He cannot have meant” This is why so many cellists and pianists shorten the rest. But there’s another solution. Maybe the tempo we’re taking is too slow. Here’s a very important question that musicians have to ask. When a composer writes adagio or adagio sostenuto, what is he referring to? What unit of music is adagio? In this case, what is it?

Peiyao Guo: It sounds like eighth notes.

Ben Zander: It sounds like eighth notes, but that’s not what it is. It’s quarter notes. And therefore, if you play it in quarter notes, the piece completely changes. It becomes a different animal.

Ben Zander: So, should we try that and see what happens? All right. Let’s try it from the beginning. Yeah. Can I suggest that you do a real fortepiano? The way to do this, I’m not a pianist, but you play the note and then you catch it with the pedal. Then there’s a fortepiano. And you also, you are doing a diminuendo instead of a fortepiano. Can you do that where you catch it with the pedal? Just try that alone. Yeah. Even more. You catch it. You’ll work on that. You’ll get that. It’s a nicer forte-piano effect. Yeah. Once again. So, three, four, and one.

Ben Zander: Jayoung, can I suggest that this is not pianissimo, it’s piano espressivo. So, something quite sung, you know? Let’s try it one more time from the beginning, great.

Ben Zander: Yeah. Let me just show you. Such a beautiful thing here. Look here. Do you see this? This is not upbeat. This is all in one slur. It’s rinforzando, meaning to reinforce the whole phrase. So, this is pianissimo, and then Should we try that from there? Let’s do measure five, yeah. And the crescendo is on the piano too. I think you have to make it together. Yeah. Can you make it very sung?

Ben Zander: Yeah, Peiyao. Do you see how much easier it is to sing at that tempo? Because it’s a song. It’s an actual song. And I would suggest that you imagine you were singing that alone. Look, I’m making a suggestion here for you to explore and you are going to see what you do with it. So, let’s go with this idea that this is an adagio in four, not in eight. And play that tune alone as you would sing it if you were alone.

Ben Zander: Good, beautiful. And you help him by viola and second violin in the quartet. Shall we go from there? Three, four.

Ben Zander: Good. You can help her by moving through with the 16th, so she isn’t stuck on these notes. I don’t have another piano. Also, rinforzando. So, it’s a song. Try that. And you help her out.

Ben Zander: You know what you get when that happens? You get the wonderful feeling of one long falling line. Try once again. Three Can I suggest instead of you think so you help her think through the long note.

Ben Zander: Yeah. Good, good, beautiful. Don’t hold back. It’s a song. It’s a beautiful song. And listen to this operatic accompaniment. Do it from there. Just try it once. See if you can make it. Three, four, and Yes.

Ben Zander: One thing, very important. When you have a dotted rhythm, if you take time, the little note always remains quick. Like that. Should we try from there? Right. He’ll find it.

Ben Zander: Yeah. Yeah. Nothing pretty here. Nothing but Not short. Why the short notes? Long. Good, good, good. Let’s try from here, from here one more time.

Ben Zander: Yeah, this is good. Good. Look, this is like a different cure. You are approaching the piece very clearly. You have a clear idea. I’m presenting another idea and it’s like going to a doctor and saying, “No, don’t do that. Try this cure.” Right? So, you try it. Okay. Now here, when you do this, there’s trouble with these short things. It makes it very, too You know? Do you see what I mean? They’re not Do from here.

Ben Zander: Always move. We’ll try from there. I’m sorry. I’m not a pianist so I can’t do this. So, this is an end. And then it moves from here. Yeah.

Jayoung Kim: 28?

Ben Zander: Yeah. The D flat. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 1. Pianissimo. 4, 1

Ben Zander: Okay. So, something to think about something. It’s a totally different way of approaching the piece and it may be what he has in mind. When somebody writes adagio, you have to ask the question, adagio what? In this case, an adagio quarter note. And it makes it of course an infinitely more expressive, more sung, more dramatic event then. Now you are not used to it because you haven’t heard it, but that’s one of the reasons you come here, to explore that and to find out what it might be like. Now just the beginning, we don’t have time more because we have a whole string quartet, but just do the opening. He writes allegro molto piu tosto presto. That is fast. How fast is it? As fast as you can play or as fast as your pianist can play. Three

Ben Zander: I love you my darling, don’t ever leave.

Ben Zander: Well done. Well done. Bravo. That’s the idea. If you have a pianist as good as that, why wouldn’t you play it that way? Beethoven was the greatest pianist in Europe at that time. Nobody could play as well as he could. I think you could. But the question of the adagio is very crucial because This is great. I mean, this is obviously fast, presto. The adagio in four is a different piece. You’re going to have to think about that. But when you do, think about those rests and realize how much more sense they make at that tempo, and then also Like a singer. Imagine singing. Do you sing? In the shower for instance, do you sing?

Peiyao Guo: Sometimes

Ben Zander: Yes. If you do, I doubt you would sing it at the tempo that you played it. A singer would never do that because it’s kind of unnatural to be that slow, and why actually. All right. Great. Bravo. Beautiful. Thank you. Great. Beautiful. Now, string quartet. Wow. It’s a shocking new thought.

Maaz Zafar
'Mr Zander should give recitals on occasion. He has more to offer than most virtuoso pianists. Such a beautiful man.'
Flavio Lima Música
'After 30 minutes non stop, he goes “now the string quartet!” If I can be that high energy at 80, boy, I’ll sure get busy passing on my knowledge'
David Watermeyer
'Zanders should be renamed Zenders! He's a genuine Zen master.'
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