Beethoven: Piano Trio no. 7 "Archduke", mvt 1
Yeonji Shim (violin), Barna Károly (cello), William Hume (piano)
“Your job is to lift this audience up into a state of anti-gravity. It’s quite a responsibility. But what a thrilling thing to be able to do.”
— Benjamin Zander
Beautiful. Well done, well done. Now Leon Fleischer, the great pianist, great American pianist and teacher and conductor, said something that has stuck in my head powerfully. And he said classical music is an act of anti-gravity. It’s a beautiful thing. Classical music is an act of anti-gravity. Is there anything that can counteract the force of gravity? Very little. I mean, things fall. What he meant, and he was not talking about pop music. Pop music is very useful to get young people through puberty in one piece. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Classical music is an act of lifting. So what Beethoven is inviting you to do here is to lift the spirit. And in order to do so, you have to decide whether you are playing a heavy beat or a light beat and you haven’t decided.
It’s very interesting that a trio is something you can put together very quickly. You cannot put a string quartet together quickly. String quartets have to work for weeks and weeks and weeks. But you get an extra cellist, no problem. And that’s why trios are often made up of celebrities. Three great musicians get together. Celebrities don’t get together to make a string quartet. It’s a different activity. That’s because there’s a piano which is dominant and two soloists. So that’s what’s made up here. But you have to agree about what the music is doing. The reason I asked you to play the return is because it’s very difficult to know what this first bar is. Is it a heavy bar or is it a light bar? And you haven’t decided yet what it is. So the that’s gravity working.
So to get gravity to start to give way, you have to either go. And the question is, which is it? It’s very tempting to think it’s… because there’s a long note and musicians love to lead to long notes. Whenever you see a long note, musicians lead to it. So that’s very tempting. Then… and that is very natural. There’s another long note there. Moreover, Beethoven has put a sforzando on that note. So that makes it even more likely. However, this is the first bar and this is the second bar. And in the classical music style, the first bar is, I was about to say always heavy. It’s almost always heavy. Music always begins in the first bar. It’s very rare for a piece of music to begin with an upbeat. There are a few, there are a few. That’s an upbeat.
The way we find out whether it’s an upbeat without any doubt at all is to play the first ending. Can you go back to the first ending? And if you play the first ending from the pianissimo, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, of course it’s a 1. It has to be. Do it once again so everybody gets it. 1, 2, 3, here we go, 4, yeah. There we go. Is there any doubt? Is there a counterattack? No, it’s clearly a one. So if it’s a one, you have to make it clear that it’s a one. The way to make it clear that it’s a heavy beat, an impulse bar is you have two means. One is sound and the other is timing. Sound, timing. That’s all you have as a musician. Sound and timing, you can either play it louder or you can play it longer.
If you play it longer, what you get is what the Germans call an agogic accent, which agogic means simply leaning on. So the best way of doing this, because he says piano and he also says… Does he say dolce as well? Oh my God, dolce piano. You don’t want to play too loud. So do it simply by leaning on it and stretching the time and not leading to the second bar. Should we try that? Now, imagine that.
Now, that was beautiful. Little applause, please. Now what happens now is instead of playing… which is definitely gravity bound, you, “I love you so much,” right? And you are in one in a bar. Now the question is, what do you do about this? You want to lead, don’t you?
I think so. And there’s an ascending passage maybe and then a release.
If you haven’t made that decision, the audience is going to stay firmly placed on the bottom of their seat. So the only way of lifting them up, anti-gravity, is do it this way. Are you ready? Here we go. Now you are in an opera house and you’ve got a great singer here. Pavarotti, he’s going to come out. So you have to lead so that Pavarotti gets ready. All right, are you ready? You’re doing much better. This again, again, one… surprise. And you notice you can do that with timing and with sound. Since it’s a sforzando… Is it a rinforzando?
Rinforzando which is even more than a sforzando in the sense, it’s the whole phrase, the whole bar. So you need time and sound for that because that’s a big surprise. I would suggest you could add dolce to your sound. It’s beautiful, but it’s not gorgeously beautiful. The most beautiful thing you can imagine. Now, let’s do it without the upbeat. And it’s much more difficult with the upbeat. With the upbeat it’s easy. So conductors, when they bring people in, what they’re doing is doing that. Without that, you have to go… Do it together. And you play.
Here comes Pavarotti. Have you heard Pavarotti? Right. So do Pavarotti. And then Mirella Freni will come in and do even more than you do. And then you’ll say, “Watch me.” All right, one more time. Beautiful. Surprise. Here he comes. Now together. Now you are on the wrong bow because you are going… It should be… Sorry, I’ve lost my voice. But that was beautiful. By now, the players will say, “Well, actually it was worth coming from Kentucky.” I’m not sure about the guy from Albania, we haven’t got him yet. But do you see what I mean? Everything is alive. Everything is saying something important. So can you change your bowing. And really go… And think every bar is a beat. I say it again. Every bar is a beat in a four bar phrase. Don’t think… but…
And actually, I’ll tell you something else, every bar is one half of a beat. Surprise. If you surprise yourself, they’ll be surprised. If you don’t surprise yourself, they’ll say, “Well, it wasn’t that big a deal.” All right, we’re going to do it one more time. Are you ready? From the beginning, two, three. And yeah, William, you have to change who you are. I’ll tell you, whoever we are will never be enough of this music. I promise, whoever we are. You have to get in a state of ecstasy, generosity, warmth, giving, love. Can you do those things? You don’t do those things on an hourly basis because you work in an office and you have jobs to do and so on. Unfortunately, that won’t give you access. You have to go somewhere else to a different well to get those qualities. And if you haven’t experienced those things, change your life because if you don’t get easy access to love and expression and warmth and joy, then you are not going to be able to provide those things for Beethoven. He needs you. He needs you in all your fullness.
So before you begin, expand your whole being, your heart, your energy, your warmth, your passion, and your desire to communicate. Can you do that? That’s what that upbeat is. I’ll help you. Ready? Altogether. And now a Beethoven pianissimo is a shock, always a shock. How soft is pianissimo? Well, play silent. Do from the pianissimo, right? Play pianissimo. Now I’m going to conduct you, but you are not going to come in. All right, ready? Right. Now, play slightly louder than that. Ready? Yeah. Even softer. It helps, do you know Menahem Pressler. Pressler was the trio, the Beaux Arts trio. Do you know who that is, pianist to the Beaux Arts? He’s 99. He’s 99. And he does an adorable thing. When he plays pianissimo him, he looks like a drowning fish because he’s playing. And then he goes like this, he goes… It helps to get softer.
Try the drowning fish thing. It’s useful. Do right on the pianissimo. Do the strings pianissimo without the piano. Can you play that soft? No, you can’t. But try. Yeah. Not slower. Now, if you had a terrific technique, which you don’t, if you was Sviatoslav Richter or one of those great pianists or Benjamin Britten or somebody… Sviatoslav Richter said, “Thank goodness Benjamin Britten is a composer, because otherwise he’d be playing concerts and I’d be out of work,” because he considered Benjamin Britten to be the greatest pianist of the day. But thank goodness he only played one concert a year. So that was fine. But anyway, those pianists have incredible control, which you have to work on. But that’s the idea. And things are built in threes. Second time. The third time is the difference. Should we go right from there?
Now let’s go into that pianissimo. And when you get to it, it’ll be too loud. Whatever you do, it’ll be too loud. But try. So let’s go into it. How about we do it from the beginning? Many. Now your job is to lift this audience up into a state of anti-gravity. It’s quite a responsibility, isn’t it, actually? But what a thrilling thing to be able to do. And it takes all of us. You played your solo beautifully and you didn’t inspire Youngji, is that right approximately? Youngji. You didn’t inspire her to outdo what you were doing. She played very well, but it wasn’t… So that’s up to you. Your job is to inspire your colleagues to play even more beautifully than they think they know how to. When you’ve done that, then you join together as a couple and we all go, “Ah, isn’t that great?” From the beginning. Ready? Think of the upbeat, three, four.
Yeah, it’s beautiful, but it’s not dolce. It’s hard. It’s very hard to do that. Imagine a string quartet of strings playing the upper voice. It’s very hard for pianists to play like string players. But if you could do that, it would be gorgeous. Three. You didn’t surprise yourself. You knew it was going to happen. I get to help. All right? That’s why we have conductors. They help. Okay, here we go. Three. Second time, third time. Yeah. Now this is like a cadenza, so you can be very free, very, very free. And that’s why a slightly faster tempo is better because you’re not stuck in… That’s why being one in a bar is usually the secret to a performance of a piece of music. You’re getting it. You have to practice a lot to be up to that. And everybody spends their time doing different things and you are spending your time on bringing music to children, outreach and all those things.
This kind of playing takes five, six hours… Do you know that Serkin, Rudolph Serkin practiced seven or eight hours a day? You’d think he’d know it by then. Always did it even when he was very old. So this music, Beethoven was the greatest pianist in Europe. Apparently he was so far ahead of anybody else that people just… It was a different category, Beethoven. Isn’t that amazing? Thank goodness he went deaf. Well, otherwise he would’ve played more concerts and he wouldn’t have composed as much. Have you ever thought of that? That’s like Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff didn’t go deaf and he played endless concerts conducting piano, piano. And he didn’t ever get to be the greatest composer he could be. Beethoven did. But imagine 10 more pieces by Beethoven.
But you’re doing great. Let’s do from the… Where should we go? Pianissimo. And keep it one in a bar, one and… Pianissimo. Now… Now wait. Would you allow her a little bit more space? Imagine she was playing the Beethoven violin concerto. She wants more space. Can you go from there? You say… That’s gravity pulling us down. Now do it again. And one, wait, wait, one… one… Yeah, can you smile and play the violin at the same time? You look awfully serious. Music is joyful and this music is incredibly joyful. So do it again. And one and then two, and then two, three… Beautiful. What’s happening here?
I’m feeling maybe that I could be listening more to-
No, no. What’s happening in the music?
There’s some kind of a syncopation.
Yeah. What’s the syncopation doing? It’s expectation because what’s coming next is the second theme, right? So what’s the theme going to be? What is it going to do? What kind of theme? Is it going to be wild? Is it going to be strong? Is it going to be funny? All of that’s in the expectation? So keep the syncopation going. That was very nearly, almost slightly better. And that as a compliment, you understand? This is so difficult, this music, and you’re doing something beyond where… Your technique is not there yet, but dreaming, dreaming. And you can do it. You can do it. So did you get that? Yeah. And then back in tempo. Exactly. Yeah. Can you do that without looking at the music? All right. I want to turn you into a soloist, somebody who’s paid lots of money and travels to big cities and stands in front of orchestras and plays… I’m really important.
Do it again. One, here we go. Better. This is interesting. This is not a diminuendo. It’s forte for a whole bar and piano for a whole bar. Isn’t this a great tempo for that passage? The only possible tempo for that. But do right on the forte. Keep forte for one bar and then subito piano right on it. Now syncopation. What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen? Oh, that’s it. That’s what we need to do. Something wonderfully funny. That’s a big sforzando there. Have fun. Beethoven drank beer as well. He was a fun-loving guy. Do from…
Great, great. That was terrific. And it can still be more. You are great and you’ve got lots of character, lots of personality, and we want even more. But that’s the right idea. Should we do yours again? And don’t give away the sforzando. Real surprise. And now the buffoon. Now I get to shock you. I get to shock you because you think it’s… How could it be anything else? It’s obvious. The music goes up. There’s a long note. It’s the same trick. It comes from the one, so down bow. Isn’t that interesting? So often we go with the obvious. Beethoven rarely goes with the obvious. So always look out for the unobvious. It’s a four bar phrase. It starts at the beginning. Start right on that theme. Down bow.
Now the interesting thing is, the music goes up. But that doesn’t mean that the second bar is lighter. You understand? It’s a weak bar. You get it? Three, four. No, no, no, no, no. Do it again. Never… Every note in music is going somewhere or coming from somewhere. Every note except as we all know one. I always say this, except Mahler one. The A at the beginning of Mahler one has been there for eternity. And at the beginning of Mahler one, God turns up the volume a little bit and you hear the A.
But everything, direction. Direction is the lifeblood of music. Good. This needs a lot of work as you can see. But we’re on the way. So you are doing great with your solo. You separate yourself. I don’t know whether you do that in life in general, but I suspect you do because you have a great partner here. And you don’t tell him that you think he’s a great partner. Your body doesn’t tell him that. And I don’t mean you have to be passionately in love with him, although it helps. But you could at least pretend. And the other thing is when you see the great players like Schneider and those people, they look as though they just adore their partners. It just shines out of their… You know that. And many of the young people today are taught to keep their emotions suppressed. I would strongly recommend the opposite.
Be as expressive and as generous as you possibly can and let everybody around you, including your audience, know that you love them, you think it’s a huge privilege to be with them and to give this music to them. Can you do that in your being rather than saying, “I hope I’m good enough and then I’ll get the job,” or whatever is going on in your head. It’s not a competition. In other words, it’s all about love. Can you really get that in your… It’s all about love. You could put a sign on your mirror when you wake up in the morning. “It’s all about love.” Wow. That’ll give you a good day.
Try from… Could you do one buttock playing there? You know that. One buttock. Now third time. Now the coda. Two back, three, three, four. We got it! We got it! Bravo. Youngji, come here, come here, come here. Youngji, this is a class in relationship. You have 120 people trying to tell you that they love you and they thank you and they admire you and they’re grateful. Can you show that you understand that? Could you try the applause again? The thing is, Youngji, this gentleman here is a farmer from Kentucky. Do you know how far Kentucky is from Boston? It’s very far. And he came a couple of weeks because we had a class, but I canceled it at the last moment because I had Covid. But he didn’t get angry and say, “Oh, I’m not going there.” He came again. And he didn’t come to hear you play the violin. He came to hear you reveal your heart. Do you get that?
He could have stayed in Kentucky and watched any number of great violinists play the violin well. But it was only here that he could hear you play this gorgeous music and move him. I don’t know whether you can notice it, but he’s actually crying. Thank you. Yes, thank you. Thank you for coming. Thank you for being available because being available is the secret of life. That is the secret of life. Be available. And this is availability on a grand scale, somebody who’s willing to make outrageous sacrifices of time and energy and money and inconvenience. Can you imagine what it takes to get from Kentucky to Boston or from Albania or from Birmingham?
You see, he’s a music teacher. He came all the way from Birmingham to be here for this moment so that he could go back and give that to his students. It’s a huge both responsibility and joy. And you’ve spent so much time learning the violin and being told when you play the wrong note or pushing you faster or louder or whatever it is. And nobody said to you, “You are on this planet to give joy and love.” Did you get it? Great. So don’t practice. Give joy and love in everything you do. Every conversation you have with people in the street, or do you have any children in your life close by? No children. Don’t have any right now, no kids. But find some children.
In my class at the conservatory, I used to say everybody has to have students. So get students. If you don’t have students, pay them. If you want a student, pay somebody to teach them because it’s when you give it away that it counts. You feel it in your heart because most of the time playing the violin, we don’t feel it in our heart and we feel it in our fingers after five hours of practice. Anyway, this is a special message for you and I love you. And I think first of all you are here and it’s wonderful that you’ve come here. But you came to get something slightly different than you expected. You get that? Okay, great. Beautiful. Thank you.