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


Beethoven: String Quartet no. 11 "Serioso" - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Janny Joo (violin), Emile Campanelli (violin), Sam Kelder (viola), Tim Paek (cello)

“The world that Beethoven lives in is a world of extremes. He had access to an extremity of expression that was given to very few people.”

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander: Great. Beautiful playing, wonderful. Bravo. Very good. Wonderful.

(Audience applauds)

Ben Zander: I’m going to be a disruptor. You’re a great quartet you play fantastically well, there’s a very high energy level, and all the good qualities of quartet playing are there. So, all I can do is ask you to consider a possibility. I’m not putting this down as the right way, but I’m putting it down as a way to think.

Ben Zander: As you probably know and have followed, Beethoven was fascinated by the metronome. It was invented by a friend of his and he loved it. In fact, he wrote that it was essential to follow the metronome marks. “Forget about the Italian markings,” he said, “they don’t say anything.” The thing that really makes the mood of the piece clear is the metronome mark. He became very adamant about it because he actually said at one point that the reason the performance of the 9th symphony in Berlin was a success was that they followed the metronome marks. I mean, he took it that far.

Ben Zander: So, the quartets are all metronomed, as you know. You’ve probably been thinking about it, and you’ve probably taken a look at the metronome mark and said, “Well, that’s impossible.” It’s certainly very, very extreme. It’s very extreme. But it does teach us something and what it teaches us is that the world that Beethoven lives in is a world of extremes.

Ben Zander: At this point, Op. 95, he’d finished the middle period, he finished the earlier period, he was just about to begin the late period. This is part of the late period expression. He was, at this point, virtually deaf. He didn’t go completely deaf for another four, or five years. But he was virtually deaf. He was struggling with it and his level of frustration and anguish was an extreme form. He was also ill, he was cut off from the world, there were just so many things about Beethoven’s life that were intolerable and unbearable. Sometimes he expressed it with great joy and optimism and hope and said to the world, “Listen.” And this is one of those times when he did that.

Ben Zander: I don’t know whether you want to actually do Beethoven’s metronome mark, but my goodness, it would be very exciting if you tried.

Ben Zander: It’s like the ‘”Hammerklavier.” The “Hammerklavier” tempo is Only one pianist that I know of has tried to actually play to the temp It’s probably too fast. But it gives you an idea of where Should we try and see where he goes? The extremity of those gestures? It makes the rests extraordinarily important because they’re filled with power and with protest and with anguish and despair and storm. Now, the only keys The key to the storm in the Pastoral Symphony, do you know what that is?

Student 1: Yep.

Ben Zander: What is it? F minor, same key. The Appassionata Sonata, what key is it in? F minor and this one. So, F minor is a very special key. He saved it for the most stormy and concise and powerful and defiant moments. Let’s try it. He said I’ll quote something which won’t please you ladies, but things have changed. He said, “Sentiment is only for females. Music must ignite a man’s spirit.” Those were the days, right? What he meant was he wanted musicians and people to be like you guys.

Ben Zander: It’s even more, listen. One, two. One, two, three. That’s right. That’s exactly right. Ready? One, two, three.

Ben Zander: He was bipolar. Beethoven was bipolar. That’s the way. That’s extreme. Isn’t that great? Let’s try. One, two, three.

Ben Zander: I want you to look at that man’s face. He comes from India. I said, “Why are you here?” He said, “My parents called from India. They say, ‘You’ve got to go to this class.'” And he’s sitting there going. That’s what Beethoven did to the world. Beethoven probably changed the world more than any other person and they think Napoleon. No, Beethoven. Because he had access to an extremity of expression that was given to very few people.

Ben Zander: Now, there are two possible things we could say. Beethoven is up there saying, “Who are these stupid people? Why did they?” I didn’t really mean it. Or he’s saying, “Thank goodness at last. Somebody takes me seriously.” Now, I tell you one thing that’s really amazing and this is a great compliment to you for It actually improves your playing. So, people used to say this was impossible. What you just did was impossible. Unplayable. It clearly is not unplayable. I’m just about to record the 9th Symphony of Beethoven in London with the Philharmonia and I’m partly terrified and partly incredibly excited because some of the tempi are like this. Incredibly difficult to do. Will they be able to do it? Will people like it? In the end, I don’t care.

Ben Zander: I don’t care because I met Beethoven once. Did I tell you? Yeah. Oh yeah. I met him. He said, “Benjamin,” He was in German, of course. He said, “My tempi are correct. My dynamics are correct and they’re counterintuitive.” That’s the crucial word. You don’t come to them by nature. You don’t say, “Oh, let’s see. Let’s look at this piece.” No, you have to have some special message from Beethoven which says, “No.” Like that and you say, “Oh, wow.”

Ben Zander: You are young, you are brave, you’ve got nothing at stake because you’ve got your whole life in front of you. I would say give it a try and see what happens. If you get a bad review, great. The bad reviews are just as good as the good ones.

Ben Zander: I have a friend who puts all his bad reviews on his website. Yeah, every time he gets Yes, he puts it all up there. So, let’s be free, let’s have fun, let’s see what could the master have meant? Isn’t that a great way of doing it? There’s another way of approaching it which is to say, “Well, the famous people don’t do it so I better not.” Good luck.

Ben Zander: I just don’t take that view. Just because famous people do it, everybody plays it slower than that. But you are great, and I’d love to Let’s just for fun It’s five to 12 and the piece lasts four minutes, it’s the shortest movement that Beethoven ever wrote. Are you ready? Fasten your seat belts, everybody. Here we go.

Ben Zander: They’re not actually clapping you. What they’re clapping is about their permission it gives them to lead their life at the edge. That’s why they’re so enthusiastic Look at her eyes. She’s a freshman, she drove up from Connecticut today. Two hours this morning in order to get eyes like that. Where’s that camera? Do you get the camera? And look at her mom, look at her eyes. That’s why we do this, is to get this Look at him. He’s about to explode.

Ben Zander: That’s what this music does. It’s that power and they say, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for reminding me how I can live my life.” That’s Beethoven’s gift, in spite of the fact that he was deaf and suffered unbelievable suffering. But he took us to a place that nobody else could bring us. That’s a beautiful gift and you have the gift of being able to realize it and you should be really proud of yourself. They’re saying, “Thank you for taking us to that place. We couldn’t have got there without you.” You got that? Beautiful, thank you. And it took four minutes exactly.

Ben Zander: We just performed Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony, which is one of the saddest, most tragic pieces of music ever written. You’d think that people would be upset and sad, but no. Music somehow lifts our spirits even when we go through a traumatic experience like that song Aufenthalt or the terror of the experience of the young girl who discovers love for the first time. It just lifts our spirits. It’s an amazing thing, which is why we keep coming back and doing more and more and more and more of it and never want to give it up because it’s great. What a gift. Thank you so much for coming. Thank you.

'I can watch this over and over again. To see how the Maestro transforms these already talented young musicians, who have just played an absolutely wonderful Beethoven opus, into a mature, inspiring, satisfying and, now, unrivalled, quartet -- is just incredible! And it's all done right before our eyes. Thank God for Maestro Benjamin Zander who, like the acrobat at the bottom of an acrobatic team, propels his students into astronomical heights.'
Roger V
'Whoever that wonderful family from Connecticut is, thank you for being there. I enjoyed watching your faces and reactions as much as the music.'
Ft Wong
'The moment Mr. Zander increased the tempo from 144 to 164 bpm, the colors of the whole world completely changed! This change has made this quartet become so powerful and outstanding, that world famous quartets like Alban Berg Quartet、Emerson String Quartet cannot compare (just this movement). Isn’t it a miracle? Isn’t it a big miracle of both music interpretation and music education? I believe Beethoven in heaven will be very happy and grateful to Mr. Zander, who made his music so powerful that it moves people and changes the world!'
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