Brahms: Clarinet Sonata no. 1 - 2nd movement
Milos Bjelica (clarinet), Kalden Alexander (piano)
“Your job is to take people on a journey. And if you can take them to a place they never go, they’ll be eternally grateful to you.”
— Benjamin Zander
Ben Zander: Beautiful. Bravo. Bravo. You’re a wonderful, wonderful musician. And you had everybody listening with total focus and concentration. It’s beautiful. And I’m sure some of them were saying, well, I wonder what he’s going to say about that. He won’t have anything to say. And it’s true. This is an artist, and you are both artists, and you’ve got a beautiful performance. And so what I think is preventing it from being truly great is something very simple and very crucial. Do you know from memory, what Brahms wrote, what the Italian marking is? At the beginning of the piece, you remember what he wrote, without looking, do you remember what he wrote?
Milos Bjelica: For the second one?
Ben Zander: No, for this movement. Yeah.
Milos Bjelica: Andante
Ben Zander: Yeah. Andante ma un poco adagio. Brahms lived in a world of ambiguity. He loved ambiguity. And in fact, he was mesmerized by ambiguity. I don’t know if you know about his life, but he had very difficult things to deal with. We can talk more in detail. But that ambiguity was crucial for him, and so it’s neither an andante nor an adagio, and you know that. But one thing you’ve missed, I think, in order to make this strange title, andante ma un poco adagio… Ma quasi adagio. Is that it’s in two, it’s not in four. And quite a lot of the time, it sounded like a real andante in four. The way you can always tell is what your toes are doing in your shoes. If your toes in your shoes are going like that. Let me show you a passage. No, no, you play. Play from there. What bar is that? I don’t have my glasses. Let me just-
Kalden Alexander: Eight.
Ben Zander: What?
Kalden Alexander: Eight.
Ben Zander: Bar eight. So play at bar eight. And you notice what happens in your shoes, right? Do you see how you feel? You feel. Right. So what I would like you to start thinking is two beats in a bar, and actually only one impulse for two bars. Right? So just play your opening. Play the opening phrase.
Ben Zander: Wait, wait. That’s enough. What you got is correct. So what you are actually doing is one impulse, which carries you for two bars. And because it’s a very expressive gesture, you can actually be quite free with it. Just do it again. And do it the way you feel. And make the second bar absolutely the result of the first bar. Now, wait, wait. Don’t even do the second part. Now leave out the next note. But you notice your second bar is as strong as the first one. The second bar could not happen without the first—no new energy.
Ben Zander: Stop. And now the next one. Got it? Did everybody get it? It’s absolutely clear. Right? Now the little notes are in order to reactivate the third bar. That’s their job. So do it again. Finish. Now, nobody is, in their toes, is going… Nobody. They might be doing two beats. They’re more likely to be doing one beat for a bar. Now that brings up a very interesting thing for you. Let me explain to you both how I understand rubato to everybody here and to you both. Rubato is to steal time. That’s the word rubare, which means to steal. It means you take time. And I don’t know about you, but my experience is if something is stolen, you never get it back. When we were kids, people explained that rubato is they steal time, and then you rush to give it back. Nonsense. You don’t ever rush to give it back; you just say goodbye to it.
Ben Zander: Now, you give time if something unusual happens in the music. If there’s something you are not expecting, a harmony or a dynamic or something in the music that is strange or unexpected, you pull the time like a piece of elastic to give that time. So now we’re going to find out what you do because everything is unexpected. Play this first chord. Yeah. This, we think, is going to be A-flat major, and… And that’s really strange, isn’t it?
Ben Zander: So let’s try once again from that and from the beginning. That has to be the result of that. So your second bar has to be the result of the first. And when he writes poco forte, he means forty. Poco forte, but it’s not piano. The word forte means forty, right? But that has to be less than that, right? The second bar has to be less than the first. You’ve got it beautifully now. That’s great. Brahms is so clever. Over those two bars, he has a slur over the whole thing. Right? And he writes espressivo. All right, we’ve got it and nobody’s feet, nobody, your toes weren’t going like that, right?
Ben Zander: And you can be as free, amazingly free. And I say that the more surprising the event, the more time it needs. That’s not always true, but it’s a good guideline. That note is very surprising. That’s really surprising, right? So let’s try that again. But it’s definitely in 2. And 1, and 2, and…
Ben Zander: Now, something happened to this gentleman. I didn’t know if you noticed it, but before, he was playing on two buttocks, like this, and then suddenly he became a one buttock player, like that. Because, of course, he wanted to go over the bar line like that. Okay. This is a one buttock player. Okay. Beautiful. Doesn’t that feel different? Now that feels very different. And the little notes are just to launch the next phrase. Now do it without me shouting at you, and we’ll see how it goes. So before you start, you have to think to yourself… If you can make a gesture with one hand that goes over two bars… Then you’ve got the right feel and tempo. Oh, sorry. That E-flat, that’s a real surprise, isn’t it?
Kalden Alexander: Yeah, for sure.
Ben Zander: So let’s make it very special. And if you delay it slightly, then he’ll know when to leave. But that was beautiful. The beginning was fantastic.
Ben Zander: And the third one is the biggest, right? So often, things are built in threes. 1, 2, 3. You need more time, right? Or it can be I, you, we. 1, 2, and now… Together we go. But this is a 1, 2, 3. At the top, you can take more time. But that was beautiful. You got it. Your whole body got it. See, that was what I was talking about to you. Do you see how his whole body is the music? It’s not the clarinet. His entire body is saying, “I’m in the music.” That’s the next stage for you, for you all, actually. It’s a huge thing. I mean, that’s a fully formed musical animal.
Ben Zander: That’s great. That’s great. Beautiful. So when it comes the third time… And then I’ve got a trick for you, the first note of the phrase, when you get to this, lengthen this first one and then move. If you do them metronomic, you can’t give the phrase over two. Otherwise, you’re doing great. So should we do it? I wanted to hear once again. And what’s going on in the piano is so interesting. Every one of these notes is unusually unexpected. And notice how many times he writes a slow over two bars. That’s the key, isn’t it? 3, 4, and…
Ben Zander: Bravo. That was beautiful. Now, the first one. The second one. That was great. Can we have a little applause for that? You’re not going to do that again now, but when you do this one, don’t rush these three… You can take time on the whole thing, not just on the top note, but on the whole thing. Now you have a very interesting phrase, which is over two bars and then a new one. And you are in two… You can take lots of time at the end of it. 3, 5, 3, and 2, from there. Yeah. At least that.
Ben Zander: Yes. We got in two. Isn’t that interesting? When it’s in two, you have so much more freedom than you do when it’s slow in four. I think that’s what Brahms was trying to say when he wrote, andante un poco adagio. Should we try from here? Can I suggest a little thing?
Kalden Alexander: Yeah.
Ben Zander: Dolce, but full out so that the contrast with the pianissimo was more extreme.
Kalden Alexander: For sure.
Ben Zander: Yes. And finish. Perfect. You have to be equally in two, like he was for you, with that freedom. But that was beautiful. Am I right? Yes. It was beautiful. Let’s redo that. The rubato is such a fascinating thing. Because the rubato is just pulling like that, like elastic. But the moment you let it go, it goes back into the tempo. The tempo is always there. You never have to change it. Isn’t it a fascinating thing? So, you don’t have to do anything. You just do it with flexibility. Should we do from the-
Kalden Alexander: 41?
Ben Zander: Yeah. Where he comes with the theme. And 1, 2, and… Yeah. It’s still in four because it… Let me show you how it goes. Do it again and I’ll show you why it’s in four. Play again. And 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3. You see how you are stuck in four? Now we’re going to do in two. 1, 2, and… Yes.
Ben Zander: Yeah, that’s a surprise. Isn’t it? Isn’t that a surprise? So you don’t need little time. Right. Good. Do it once again. Do you get it? In other words, when it’s in two, first of all, it’s faster, which is why he wrote andante. And it’s freer, which is why he wrote quasi adagio. So let’s just try right on the same place. Yeah, exactly. So 1, 2, and… Your job is to make him feel… To join that. You can help him… 3, 4, and…
Ben Zander: In one. Butterflies. Oh, good. That was great. Because you felt that was a special one, was you took a little extra time. I love you. That’s perfect. That’s the way music works. It’s the way you feel it, responding to the harmony. Brahms gives you how to feel.
Kalden Alexander: All the time.
Ben Zander: Right? Isn’t that amazing? But that was beautiful. We’ve really got it. I’m so exciting. Could we just go? You still haven’t quite got this idea of… Where the eighth notes go over the bar. You’re still a little stuck… So again, think of the first one as a little bit long and then move, and take that slower over two bars. And that’s why he writes espressivo. He gives you everything. But you’re doing fantastic. Should we try from here, double bar?
Kalden Alexander: Gotcha.
Milos Bjelica: Yeah.
Ben Zander: Right. And Dolce… It’s like a butterfly taking off one. But he doesn’t do that in four. Butterflies don’t go in four. Have we got a new animal into our world here? 3, 4. Why do I always say, 3, 4? I’m talking about bars. You see, 3, 4 and 1, 2. It’s in two. I’m thinking of four bar phrases. Try, 3, 4, and… Beautiful Bravo. Yes.
Ben Zander: All the time in the world, as only Brahms does it, right? Great. … from there. I wanted to give you more space. Brahms needs a lot of space, he was 320 pounds at the end. He was a big man. All right, here we go. Yeah, I loved it. I loved how you did that. Both of you, incredibly beautiful. From here, pianissimo.
Kalden Alexander: From the first one.
Ben Zander: He writes, pianissimo leggero e dolce, spaghetti bolognese, everything is in there.
Kalden Alexander: The first one. This sequence.
Ben Zander: Right. And look how the butterfly, he’s fantastic. Yeah. You come a little bit early with that one because it’s so beautiful. Don’t let any beauty pass you by. If there’s a beauty in the music, don’t rush it over. Once again, one… Now the first… Second… Good. That was great. And imagine how it was the last time you were ever going to do it, and then you were going to die. And this was the last time. Those are… The most you can do. So the people are taken to a place they don’t usually go. Your job is to take people on a journey in their life. And if you can take them to a place they never go, they’ll be eternally grateful to you. Okay.
Ben Zander: And it was great, great playing. It’s just that last one, the very last one. Everything in the rest of the piece is a result of that climax. Do you get that? All the way to the end of the movement. All right, so we’re going to do it one more time. Do more than you think I can bear when you get to the top, right? I hope I hope, I hope in my dreams, that everybody in the room heard those two bars as one. It was so beautiful. It was just… Like that. That’s the way music is supposed to be like that. I hope you heard that it’s just so beautiful. Thank you for doing that. Both of you. Incredible. One second.
Ben Zander: Yeah. I’m sorry. It wasn’t quite right. The first two bars and then use the 30 seconds to move to the next one. And join the two bars together. One, two, and…
Ben Zander: That’s it. Bravo. Beautiful. Bravo. Fantastic. Beautiful. Bravo. Great. Do you remember when I said that that climax takes you to the end of the bar… To the end of the piece, right? You remember I said that climate has to be so big that it’ll carry you all the way to the… It did it just now. And what you do for people, when you do that for the listener, is you broaden their horizon of how life is lived. Because most people live their lives one thing at a time, six o’clock news, dinner, and getting children to bed… And what Brahms teaches us is, life is a long arc of experience. And when you take us on a journey like that, you take the whole audience with you. And when they get to the end, they say, ah, I see. And they walk away a different person. That’s such a beautiful thing that we can do when we understand. But it has to be in two. You get that?
Milos Bjelica: Yeah.
Ben Zander: Yeah. And it’s so beautiful because you’re on the stage now. That’s what the artist diploma is about. You’ve reached the… You’re ready. You’ve got your business done. You know how to play the clarinet. You’ve got your business. And now you’re going into the artistry of what makes a great artist. This woman here, sitting here, they’ll never forget, we did the Mass in B minor. And the final, right at the end, she hadn’t sung a note in the whole piece, a long hour and a half piece. And she came in a white dress and sang with such depths and simplicity and beauty that people still talk about it. That was a gift, Jane. That was a gift.
Ben Zander: But that’s what we’re looking for. Always striving for something beyond what anybody can really hope for or imagine. And that’s our role. We’re explorers, like Shackleton. We want people who are willing to make that journey with us. Who are willing to see the difference between that… Which you did just now. Everybody says, thank you, thank you, thank you. Do you get it?
Milos Bjelica: Yes.
Ben Zander: Beautiful. Well, thank you for being here. This has been an amazing morning. Thank you. Wonderful. Thank you.