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


Haydn: String Quartet, op. 74 no. 3 "The Rider" - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Recorded January 26, 2019 at the Boston Public Library

Don’t ever grow up, because music is about dancing and singing. And this is definitely a dancing piece. So if your body can dance, you’ll play it much better.

— Benjamin Zander


Ben Zander: Good, very good. Wonderful. One of the things musicians have to do is decide whether a bar is a heavy bar or a light bar. Obviously, all the bars can’t be heavy. Otherwise, it would be very boring.

And you haven’t always decided whether it’s a heavy bar or a light bar. Sometimes it’s absolutely obvious, and there’s no argument about it.

So if you take the end, for instance, the last few bars, just play the last few. One, two, three, four, five. Five bars. Oh, actually, you could do less than that. Do you have the bar numbers? Okay. So it’s obvious. Which one is the heavy one? The first one is heavy; the second one is light; the third one is heavy; the fourth one is light, the fifth one So do it one more time.

One, two, and

Heavy, light. Light. Right in there. Boom. It hits then shock. Okay. So there’s no doubt there. It’s not as if there’s an argument. However, certain things get in the way of the heavy light, and one of them is if there’s a sequence. If there’s a sequence, it takes precedence over heavy and light.

There are lots of examples. So when you do that, just do that passage. When the first time it comes. Right, exactly. That’s the second theme. So you can do it with the upbeat if you like, but you don’t need to.

One, two, three, One.

Do you see how silly it would be if you did heavy, light, heavy there? Just do that, where you do heavy on the first bar, light on the second, and heavy again on the third.

One, two, and

Yeah, you can’t even do it because it’s so silly, isn’t it? Every musician realizes that “No, this doesn’t apply here.” But it’s very important to know what you’re doing. So when there’s a sequence, give up any suggestion that you are playing heavy and light. So now do it where you do it as it must be, with an impulse on each one; a real sense of the sequence.

One, two, three

All right, it’s very clear—no big argument about that. But there are several bars where there’s little confusion, where you’re not quite sure. So let’s see. What about the beginning? Do the beginning.

Clearly, you can’t do heavy and light there, right? You couldn’t possibly. So it has to be the point about that is that it’s actually very rude. Quite funny. It is a really peculiar way of coming to a party. Imagine you were at a party and somebody came in like that. They’d make themselves a real nuisance. It would draw attention from everybody. Everybody would have to look at them, and they’d say, “What’s happened to him? Is he drunk? Is he trying to make a fool of himself here?”

So the more aggressive, the wilder, the more out of control, and the faster you can play. Because what you were doing was so polite. It was like going to a party and fancy dress and hiding in a closet. If you’re going to wear a fancy dress and look ridiculous, do it.

And I’d say, let’s try it. One, two, three, two, two, three.

And it’s such a shock that he takes two bars to recover. And he says, “Oh, my God. What?” But if you don’t do something really weird, there’s no point having two bars of rest. Otherwise, it sounds as though you’ve forgotten what to do. So you’re allowing people to recover. Okay?

And the point about an acciaccatura, which is what that grace note is, is that it should be as fast as possible. So do it again and get really wild.

One, two, three, two, two


Exactly. Now we have a little problem, because what is heavy and what is light? Your figure goes up. Have you thought about that? Don’t think about coming away, do the first bar as a heavy bar.

This is a rule. In music, the first bar of a phrase is a heavy bar. End of story. That’s how music works. The first bar is heavy; the second bar is light; the third bar is heavy, but it’s not as heavy as the first bar, and the fourth bar is light again. That’s the way classical music grammar works.

If you have any doubt about it, just try that. Heavy, light. Heavy, light. And the language works that way. Do you notice? If a composer wants to surprise you, they accent the weak beat. Otherwise, it’s heavy. So that would, for the rest of your life, give you the answer. Incidentally, not all musicians agree that what happens in a bar is the same as what happens in a phrase.

Many people don’t realize that a phrase works exactly the same way as a bar. The first bar is heavy; the second bar is light; the third bar is heavy; the fourth bar is light, just like that. If you go faster (singing).
If you go faster, you got a full bar phrase. It works exactly the same way. All right. So now you’ve got something for the rest of your life when you are teaching. And it’s a great help when you’re in a quartet, and the other three people don’t agree with you. And you’ll put can put your foot down and say, “I know how this goes. Okay?”

So your first bar is heavy. And then the answer in the Viola is the light bar, right? You just do it from where you come in. Bar 11. And remember, it’s an allegro. It’s not an andante. So we have to really move it along.

One, two, three, four, five.

When you have a line, a slur over notes, and two dots, that means as close to legato as you can play. It’s called portato.

All right. Now we’ve got a series of sequences. So no heavy and light. You do heavy, light. Heavy. Light. Everybody else carries on that heavy and light procedure, as long as this is going, until here. All right, so good. 11 once again.

And two, and

Good. So it’s heavy, light. Heavy, light. Got it? And if you all agree about that, and gradually as you get more and more experience with the language of music, you’ll get it in your bloodstream. So you don’t even have to think about it. It’ll happen when you sight-read; at the moment, you haven’t got it sorted out yet enough. All right? You’re doing great.

Do it one more time. One, four, fourth

Why do I say four, five, six instead of one, two, three? Four, five, six, and one, two, and three are in three. So why do I say four, five, six? Because it’s the two-bar phrase. Always think in two-bar phrases. Never think in one because there is no such thing as a one-bar phrase. There have to be two bars, four bars, six bars, or eight bars. It has to be a larger unit.

Can I suggest something? You’re not listening to them because they’re going, and you’re going. But because of that, you need to make that a little bit more legato.
Three, four.

Good. Unfortunately, what we found is a little faster tempo than you do it. So this is faster than you are quite comfortable playing the triples here. The answer to that is practice. Okay? That’s why we practice. We practice in order to enable ourselves to be ready to play the music that we choose to play.

And it needs to be a little fast. And this is very virtuosic, this piece, but I won’t allow you to play less fast because music won’t come alive. Now the music is alive.

Now, if you could actually pretend you were having a good time while you were playing and not look quite so shell-shocked, it would be great because the music would come alive. Can we try it? I’ll give you three, four Notice I’m now doing three, four, which makes no sense because the piece is in three, except if you’re thinking in four-bar phrases.

Three, four

Yeah, be careful you don’t hold back the impulse. Please don’t leave. You have the right one. Right, now it’s going. Now we’re alive. The piece has come alive.
Okay, great.

And you notice how sometimes it’s heavy, light, heavy, light? This is a sequence, sequence, sequence.
And when you are released from a sequence, it’s always a feeling of relief. And you got a heavy and a light.

Good. So let’s try them.

The brain limits the technique. The fingers will only do what the brain asks us to do. So if you have a tempo that doesn’t work, it’s too slow like this one, your fingers actually won’t do it. The moment the music takes over, the fingers somehow work better, which is a good thing. Better than the opposite.

Do you notice when you get to bar 20 that it’s actually really the end of a phrase? Each one of those is separate. Do you see? And it very often happens that music is built in threes.

One, two, and the third one has so much energy it takes you further. That’s what happens here. So should we try 20? I’ll do one, and you do the upbeat.

And one

Can you really do that? So you take the audience through that. Here we go. All right, one, and one
Now more

Two, three, four

Do you dance? Do you like to dance? You don’t. Ah, well, now we have to go back. When you were a child, did you dance? Yes, of course, you did. What happened? You grew up, I suspect. That was a big mistake. Don’t ever grow up, because music is about dancing and singing. And this is definitely dancing. So if your body can dance, you’ll play much better.

That was very good, incidentally. So now you know what to practice. Now you’re going to have to practice like crazy. If you’re going to play this piece, you’re going to have to play it at this tempo because this is Haydn’s tempo. How do I know? I’ve talked to him. I talked to Beethoven. And he told me that this was Haydn’s tempo.

No, the thing with music is, there isn’t only one tempo at which music works except with Beethoven. It’s so unusual. And it’s so unexpected. It isn’t instinctive. It’s counterintuitive, his music, but this isn’t country dance music.

Just to go from there for the second theme, with the upbeat. One, two, three, four.

Did you notice he writes dolce there? That’s just for you. It doesn’t bother with the first violin, just the second one. And I would suggest you slightly delay that 16th node. It’s obviously country music. It’s not professorial. It’s dance music, so be a little free with it.

Once again. Doesn’t that feel nice?

One, two, three, four, five, six

Heavy, light. Heavy, light. Heavy, lig

That’s the whole exposition. One theme is followed by a second theme. That’s the exposition. Then you go back and repeat it, but we will not do that. But that idea, right? And that’s a beautiful tempo. It’s one in a bar, not three in a bar. Okay?

That was very beautiful. How are we doing? We’re doing fine—a few more minutes. Now the next bar is very shocking. Can you do the next bar? That’s about 79. Yeah, that wasn’t shocking. Yes, like that. So you see everything in this aristocratic world. Do you know how they would dress? Can you imagine with the wig? And the buckles on their shoe? An elegant and, “Look I’m in first position. I don’t know how I got into first position. It’s just” That’s what that is.

All right. So let’s just do the bowing before. So that would be where cello comes at 71. And it’s heavy, light, heavy, light, heavy, light, heavy, light, and then wild.

Okay? One, and two, and

Should we try again, once again?

And each time, give a nice energy to the first downbeat. And then the release on the upbeat.

One, two. Yeah, these two could be a little bit more elegant. A little dress. A little elegance in your dress.

Once again. Four, five, six.

Yes. Right there. You’ve got the idea. Haydn was a tremendous humorous. He was probably the funniest composer who ever lived. And he had great fun because he knows that the way he’s written the end of that exposition is Lulling people into a kind of trance of elegant charm. And then, suddenly, he shocks them out of their wits. So you have to be willing to shock.

Should we do it one more time? I don’t care how ugly it is. Okay?

I don’t think Haydn cared that much. Some composers don’t care if your sound is ugly. They care that the idea, and the character, and the mood, and the drama are there. And Haydn is one of those. The surprise.
So should we try the same place again?

And I love the way you did that.

Which composer other than Mahler would write music like that? He just goes on and on, being crazy. So be crazy. But that was good. I would say that was about 42 percent of your capacity—that fortissimo.
So you should try that. And when the cellos You have to be the cellos and the Viola as much as the whole quartet was at the beginning of the piece.

So should we do the second half? And we probably have to stop in a minute, but we’re getting the idea here—everything in extremes. Extreme character, I’ll give you two bars.

One, two, and

Heavy. Light. Finish. That’s the idea.

You’ve entered into this amazing world of Haydn. Imagine if Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven hadn’t lived. Haydn would be the greatest composer that we know.

But he’s off to the side because Mozart so overshadows him. But Mozart would never do anything that Haydn was doing this morning. Haydn was a terrific character, and you had to bring that out. And we’ve got a great tempo. Now everything’s working.

And you’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m really glad you brought it out. Because so often, we hear pieces when they’re ready to be performed, and they’re polished, and everything all the work’s been done. This is actually more interesting because this is a work in progress. And you’ve got a lot to work on. I wish we had more time, but it’s the kind of thing. You could spend four hours on this movement and never get bored for a moment. And I recommend you do that.

The thing about a quartet is it’s the perfect unit for human communication. It has everything. It’s better than a marriage because there are four people. So it’s all spread out.

It’s the perfect thing. It has the base, the top, the middle. It has everything. I mean, there’s a reason why all the great composers wrote for the string quartet—every single one of them.

It’s like the symphony and the quartet. And Beethoven wrote 18, and he wrote 80, and you know 82 of them.

And this is beautiful. And I wish we could do the last movement is the Huntsman; that’s what got the name.
Have you done the last movement yet? When you do, play it like horse riding. That’s what it is. The imitation of horse riding. It’s a great piece of music.

I listened to several quartets this morning because I’ve heard the piece, but I hadn’t really thought about it. And I came across a performance by a quartet called Takács. Fabulous quartet. I mean, all four of them, such personalities. Such natural, great performers. Humorous, passionate, deep feeling. The way it should be. So I was very excited when I heard that.

I’m a great believer in listening to the great performers who’ve brought something special to the performance. And they’re not the only ones. It’s just one I heard this morning was wonderful. I had a couple of thoughts. I would just recommend playing it like a routine, but they were getting more of these characters.

So do you feel encouraged now to look more deeply? Great, terrific. Well done. Beautiful. Thank you for coming.

Jay Suryavanshi
'Great masterclass, maestro Zander. Loved your child-like enthusiasm and music-teaching ability'
Larry Kile
'I could listen to him talk about music all day.'
Ray Lanthier
'Zander transforms these youngsters from awkward musicians to skilled performers.'
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