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Brahms: Piano Quartet no. 1 - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Max Tan (violin), Ellen Shrock (viola), Lev Mamuya (cello), Harrison Li (piano)

“Right from the beginning, you are in full-blooded form, in flight, rather than starting cold. That’s what makes all the difference in music; the freedom.”

— Benjamin Zander

Transcript

Ben Zander:

Okay, just stop here. Great, it’s beautiful playing, let’s have some applause. Bravo, bravo. Wonderful. You have so much going for you, and beautiful playing, and incredible listening to each other, and attention to each other, and all of that is in great shape. So I have one thing to add, the moment, it’s almost metronomic in playing, and I have almost found my foot going up and down. Brahms is never metronomic, so there’s something very important missing from this playing that is going to open up worlds for you, and it is the fact that it you just play the very opening, the very opening of the piece. Right, Just do it again, and everybody who’s in the room, see what your toes do inside your shoes while he’s playing. All right, just go on. What their toes are doing is this, and you lock them in place with your way. Now, what Brahms gives us is lots of information. First of all, he has a slur over four notes, and then he has this magical word, espressivo. Espressivo, espressivo. Espressivo, just try that.

Good, and when you played the last note, put the pedal down so that your hands come up, but the music goes on. So espressivo, espressivo, try that. Here’s a very important thing, this is the other really important thing here, the first note of this piece is actually an end, it’s the end of music that’s happened already. There’s another great piece, you know this piece. You know the Second Piano Concerto? It’s the same thing. Try that. How you’ve found a freedom now in the timing, that gives you immense power in the music, it becomes so much more expressive. And he writes it so clearly. Should we try from here, this would be 41? And think of the first note as an end, and then go 1, 2, 3, 40, and this bar belongs to that, and then you. So should we try that?. And instead of. You’re a little bit stuck, if I could just say, it’s a little bit stuck in one slur, do the same please. Actually do another thing, which is from here. From there, you go through that’s the right.

One little thing, if I could say, it’s beautiful playing, try to avoid note by note, by note, by note. Imagine this was a string section of an orchestra, just do that alone. So the direction, two, three, four. That’s Brahms with that freedom, because it’s never note, by note, by note, by note, it’s always a song. Should we try that all together from there? Never make the notes vertical, always make them horizontal. Try from there. When you play that first F sharp, don’t play it as uh, but play it as a uhhh. Two, three, and I would suggest you think right through the moment you. Do you sing?

Student:

No.

Ben Zander:

You never sing? Even in the shower? Occasionally in the shower. So would you practice, not at the piano but in the shower? So everything is a song, if you sang that, if we got the whole audience to sing. Doesn’t matter if you have a voice or not, to sing, you don’t need a voice. All right, one second here. Three. If you put an accent on the second beat, how are you going to lead if you put an accent there? So. Did you see that? Say that, two, three, and. We took a little time and you didn’t quite take as much time, but that’s the idea, freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom. That was beautiful, bravo, felt good, right? Felt terrific. Building the phrases that way is a wonderful thing. Try one more time and see if you can exaggerate the shaping once again. Two, three, and. Be sure that when you get to the top note, you don’t hit it. It’s a song. If you were in the shower. Always singing, two, three, and.

Do you see how the first note is an end? Isn’t that beautiful? That’s the way to play the beginning. That was gorgeous, do that end once more, four bars or something, four bars before the end. Two, three, here, three bars before the end, 127. And when you get to this D, really play it as a D, and now it’s Dolce and not espressivo. Here we go, two, three, and. That’s it, bravo. Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, when you see a slur with dots under is Portato, not Staccato. So as near to Legato as you possibly. That was beautiful, feels great, isn’t it, to find that freedom just coming to the end of the exposition? Incidentally, Brahms writes a crescendo, and with the crescendo he has (singing). Make the diminuendos that he writes, and at the same time, build the crescendo. Should we try that from there? Here from F.

You can help a little bit, a little bit, Harrison, by thinking of this. So that the first note is like an end, and then the second bar is the result of it. Just try it again. Can you do that more Dolce. When you play the difference between espressivo, dole, dolce, espressivo, dolce. Now do it from dolce. Always begin this from the one. That was beautiful, there we go, one. Dolce. I got a little trick for you, whenever you have a very long note on the piano, you can’t sustain it, so you have to play it louder, otherwise this note sticks out if you do, but if you do this, can you imagine. Beautiful, even more dolce. Can you look dolce, you look a little studious? Dolce, dolce, tenderly, tenderly once again.

You look out to see if they’re together, don’t worry about them. Be Brahms, Brahms sat at the piano, he didn’t listen to the others, he sat at the piano. Dolce long, try that. Beautiful. That’s good. Without accenting every note, imagine you had a bow, finish D. That was great, beautiful, it’s feeling freer, feeling freer, feeling freer, it’s all about freedom. Would you try two bars before 259? Think of this as an end and then go to the next bar. Not too short. Not too short, Brahms and long. Separate but not staccato. That was great, now we’re feeling direction, direction and shape, we know exactly where we’re going. Do one more time from here, G minor L, 265. Two, three, and. You see how you played that, how you played that was quite different from before because you feel Look at how he’s written it, first note, and then the three.

Two, three, and. Yeah, bravo, bravo, fantastic, fantastic, bravo. It’s amazingly freer isn’t it? G, and then to G, and then to G, and then to A flat, and then to A natural, each time, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, like that. It’s so clear as it goes out, and finally the climax, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, that’s how the whole piece is constructed, 2, 3, 4,1, not 1, 2, 3, 4. Isn’t that amazing? Just do the Coda one more time and exaggerate from there, 343, and exaggerate G, and then to G, and then to G, and then to A flat, wow. Two, three, and Long way to go, long, long, long, long way to go. One and G. Finish here. There it is, wow, and now do the very opening as if you’ve been playing for quarter of an hour. Two, three and. Good. Bravo, bravo.

Here’s a secret, it’s very hard to start a piece cold, and that’s why we practice before, and you come in and you practice, and then you start and it’s cold. This is my secret, think of the middle of the movement. Right from the beginning, you are in full-blooded form, in flight, rather than starting cold, but that’s what makes all the difference in music; the freedom. Otherwise, and it stays cold, it stays outside our emotional realm. We admire it, but we’re not moved by it. If it’s absolutely metronomic. Great, well done, beautiful playing. Isn’t that incredible? Hey, you guys come here, come here. They’re clapping, they’re clapping you, and you, and you, and you. Would you try again? No, no, no, no, excuse me. Clapping, that’s not a response to clapping. They are giving their heart, look at their faces, look at this guy, he’s coming from Peabody to hear you play, and he’s excited. Look, his face is all red with excitement, so he’s clapping, he’s clapping, she’s clapping, now respond. Ah, yes.

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