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

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Mozart: Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano "Kegelstatt" - 1st mvt

Interpretation Class
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Somin Lee (clarinet), Kevonna Shuford (viola), Jingxuan Zhang (piano)

Make Mozart’s way of being your guide. Some people follow Christ, and some people, follow Buddha; I recommend Mozart. I really recommend Mozart.

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander: Good. So now, look, this is a very, very, very interesting moment. I’ve been waiting for this moment for about 30 years, so I’m very excited. So what I’d like to do is to have you turn around, and we’re going to have a little conversation.

Ben Zander: I want to say two things to you. The first thing is very, very simple and straightforward, and terribly important, and that is, Mozart’s character was unlike anybody else’s, in that he was pathologically optimistic. He refused to accept anything other than joy, even when terrible things happened to him. He expressed himself in the most positive terms. There are 600 letters of Mozart, and it’s almost impossible to find a depressing sentence. Even when he had a catastrophe, or he had a concert and nobody showed up, he said, “It was a triumph.” And then he would add, “There were only 10 people there.” But he could not focus on anything else except joy.

Ben Zander: And incredibly enough, in his last year, and this was written very close to his last year, in his last year when he had lost four children to death, had had a disastrous illness, and one catastrophe financially and career after another, his optimism actually grew, which is an amazing thing to realize. I have a word for that. I call it Amadeity. And I really believe that Amadeity is the most important quality that we have as human beings. To shower the world with joy, and with optimism, and with openheartedness whatever happens.

Ben Zander: And so every time we play a piece of music, and I think it should spread out to other composers, the enthusiasm and joy which you are experiencing and expressing physically should be a gift to everybody in the world. And I must say, Jingxuan, you are a great representative of Amadeity. You look joyful, you play joyful, and your body expresses. The two of you are more in the, “I wonder whether I’m going to be successful,” category. “I wonder whether people will like me.” Right. Mozart never doubted for a moment that he would be successful. Not for one single moment. Do you get that? The thought of failure never crossed his mind. And that’s quite an interesting thing to take on as a way of being. It’s almost impossible in a conservatory as a professional musician trying to make a career. And if you have anything else of a problem in your life, it becomes overwhelming. But if you could make Amadeity or Mozart’s way of being your guide

Ben Zander: I mean, some people follow Christ, and some people Buddha, I recommend Mozart. I really recommend Mozart. And read those letters, and have so much fun reading. And notice that he wrote about a concert in which, one disaster after another, he called it a triumph. He said, “It was a disaster financially and very few people came, but it was such a triumph that they’ve invited me back next week.” And they will invite you back next week even if it’s a terrible failure. That’s the way life works. All right. So if we can learn nothing else from Mozart but his way of being in the world under all circumstances.

Ben Zander: And if you think you have troubles, take a look at Mozart’s life. He was dead at 35. Okay. Did you get that? In utter poverty. And yet, what did he give us? Joy. That’s what we know him for. And the gratitude which we should feel to Mozart should be at least as great as the gratitude we feel for Jesus Christ. At least as great. Jesus Christ gave us a lot too. I’m not a believer, but my father said a lovely thing as a Jew, he said, “Either the Christian story is true, in which case it’s the greatest event in the history of the world, or else it’s just the greatest tragic poem.” And I love that because it is a great tragic poem. The idea of somebody giving their lives on the cross to save others. It’s such a beautiful idea. And there are many other things about his life and other people’s lives, but I don’t know anybody more inspiring than Mozart.

Ben Zander: I had a friend, great musician, Boris Goldovsky. Some of you know the name. He used to be the person who gave the story for the Metropolitan Opera on Sunday afternoons. And he had a house, a big house, and he had many rooms in it. One room was devoted entirely to Mozart. Nothing in that room was allowed if it wasn’t about Mozart. Isn’t that beautiful? So if we can rediscover a reverence for this incredible composer and for his life, and for his attitude, and for his values, and the gentleman who drove up from New York, he’s going home with a greater understanding of his life because of Mozart. Just the stories, the beauty. So that’s the first thing. And I think you’re good but you are nowhere near adequate yet for what Mozart has to offer. That’s the first thing. We’ll put that aside.

Ben Zander: Now the other thing is absolutely fascinating. I woke up this morning at six o’clock. Actually, I woke up at four o’clock, to tell you the truth, but I got up at six o’clock, because I thought, “Oh, what happens if they’ve solved the piece and there’s nothing to say?” And so I got up and I went on the internet and I listened to all the performances of the Kegelstatt Trio first movement that are on the internet, about 10 of them, and I was relieved to discover that none of them have discovered what I’m about to reveal. And I discovered it about 30 years ago, and I’ve actually shared it with a few people, and I thought that by now people would have discovered what it is that I discovered, but not at all.

Ben Zander: And the reason is this, tradition is extraordinarily powerful, and also quite detrimental. Mahler said about tradition. “Tradition is schlamperei” he said. That means rubbish. Because people just take on what they’ve heard without thinking and they perpetuate it, and then other people do it, and other people do it, and other people do it, and now with the internet everybody does it.

Ben Zander: So today we are going to turn that tide around about this piece at last. This is going to be a very exciting moment because this piece has been played wrong for 200 years, apparently every time it’s played. Are you interested in finding out? Okay. Great. This figure, which appears 67 times in the first movement is played wrong every single time, and the reason is, you are playing it half too slow. Just begin. I was very tempted. When they played the opening, I almost stopped them immediately. Just play the opening. This was the very first time they played it. Good. And I was going to stop them right there and say, “Thank you very much.”

Ben Zander: So now, eighth note. That’s the eighth note, right? 16th note 32nd note Now sing the 64ths. It’s impossible. It’s absolutely impossible to do what Mozart wrote at that tempo, and yet everybody thinks they can do it. And they make nonsense of it in lots of different ways. I heard one performance where they added a beat. They went one, two, three Made the fourth beat in order to make it work. It cannot work. All right. And I was thrilled when you were playing, at your beauty of sound, at your rhythm, at your beautiful clarinet playing and everything, and I said, “Great. I can’t get to work on this piece to begin to restore this piece to its real meaning.”

Ben Zander: So now, let’s go back. Clearly what’s played is impossible. Nobody can play It’s not possible, and it makes no sense. So let’s find out what Mozart might have meant. Now it’s an andante. What other andantes do we know? Where is Scott? Are you there? Scott, go and play This is an andante from the 40th symphony of Mozart, the slow movement andante, played by a very, very great Mozartian conductor, Otto Klemperer. Okay. What you are just about to hear, is the opening of the slow movement.

Ben Zander: Okay. Now you notice that the Those fast notes are 30 seconds. Okay. Now I don’t think anybody in this room would find that odd in any way. It’s very, very, very beautiful. Would you mind, Scott? Would you do it one more time? Just begin it again.

Ben Zander: Those are 30 seconds, which come over as quite fast notes. That tempo that Klemperer is taking is 76. Now, one of the problems with Mozart is we have no idea what tempo to take. We have no idea. Why? Because he didn’t leave us any metronomes. So it’s every man for himself. But when you are dealing with this, it’s not every man for himself because there’s a mathematical impossibility. You cannot play 64th notes.

Ben Zander: And the reason I handed you the score is I wanted you to realize what a 64th looks like. It’s one line, and then another line, and another line, and another line. Right. So it’s four lines. And Mozart wrote 67 of them in this one movement, and if he hadn’t meant it, he would have saved himself an awful lot of trouble. I also want to show you, and maybe I’ll just show the camera. This is a page Come and look, Dave. This is a page of the 39th symphony, in which there are 16th notes, 32nd notes, and 64th notes, all in one page. Do you see? See. 64th, 32nd, and 16th.

Ben Zander: Mozart apparently knew what he was doing. Apparently. Now he wrote over 600 pieces and he never made a single mistake in any of them, so it’s very unlikely that this is a mistake. It’s possible that all the clarinetists, violists, and pianists in the world are right and Mozart is wrong, but it’s not very likely. Okay. Now, if we start from Klemperer That probably is a little too slow. And fortunately, in modern-day performances of Mozart, I think we all have realized that those very slow tempo are not really, really relevant.

Ben Zander: So, if you just play this Just play this the way you would play it if you were sight-reading it, Jingxuan. That’s very, very fast. Do you remember what he just said? Just get up. In other words, he was doing Like that. So now it is more Something like that is more normal. Should we do that? I’m looking for my glasses. Not so staccato. They are not staccato. Viola Do you know the 40th symphony?

Jingxuan Zhang: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Yeah. I love you. A little applause, please. Thank you. He was sight-reading. Oh, my glasses. Great. Thank you. Now, that tempo that Jingxuan was taking was 108. Okay. And he just did that out of his own musicality, a little help from me.

Ben Zander: Now we have a very interesting piece of historical knowledge, which I suspect most people in this room don’t know, and that is, when Hummel, Josef Nepomuk Hummel, was a little boy Do you know the composer Hummel? He lived in Mozart’s house. And he helped him. He was an assistant. He lived there. He was like a son. And when he was older he made an arrangement of the Mozart symphonies for piano, flute, violin, and cello. And do you know what happened between the time Mozart wrote the piece and Nepomuk Hummel arranged it? The metronome was invented. Except it went like that. And he wasn’t deaf like Beethoven, so you couldn’t complain that he couldn’t see the metronome. And look what Nepomuk Hummel wrote there. No, here. This is the piano part of his version. What does it say?

Jingxuan Zhang: 116.

Ben Zander: 116 to the eighth note. What was Klemperer? 76. That’s a huge long distance. What were you doing at the beginning? Probably 132. In other words, you were playing it twice too fast. Wow. Now, let’s see. How would it be if we took Hummel’s tempo and played it at his tempo? I mean, it could be a little faster, a little slower, but approximately like that. Should we just try that? So that means that your turn is going to come after the third. So one Should we do Hummel’s? Not that we’re bound by it but as a guide. Should we just try it? And you are very excited. You are like Shackleton going into the Antarctic. You are the first people to do it.

Ben Zander: All right. So I’ll give you one, two, three, four, five, and Oh, you came too early. You actually To get used to it You’re really wonderful because you’ve got it immediately, but each time you play that figure, what it turns out is that it’s not a throwaway but actually something very expressive. And then you have this wonderful rest. And then the answer Should we try it from the beginning? Four, five, six. Two, three No, no, no. One, two, three Two, three One, two, three Two, three Two, three Two, three Oh, so beautiful. Two, three.

Ben Zander: Beautiful. Somin, Somin, Somin, do it again. Just wait. Do it again. Do it again. Stand up a moment. Stand up. Imagine you are a singer in a Mozart opera, and you have this wonderful aria, and this is your aria. Should we just try to it? Can you do the lead-in? Where are we? Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. Okay. From there. Yeah. Now, can you fill yourself with Mozartian joy, with love, with openheartedness? Look, you’ve got all these people, and behind them, there are 500,000 more, all around the world. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that exciting? She immediately says, “Oh my God.” I would say, “Wow. Great.” You’re going to spread Mozartian joy all over the world through this beautiful instrument.

Ben Zander: And you know that Mozart fell in love with the clarinet right at the end of his life because he met a great clarinetist. He didn’t know about the clarinet because the clarinet was a new instrument. Well, most of the pieces, the 40th symphony, he wrote it originally without clarinets, just with oboes, and then when he discovered the clarinet, he rewrote the whole thing and put clarinets in there. He loved them so much. And then he wrote this piece, and the concerto, and the quintet and it was the fulfillment of his gift to the world. And you are now carrying that in this beautiful instrument. And you’ve got the whole world listening to you. Isn’t that exciting? Are you amazed? Are you thrilled?

Somin Lee: Yes.

Ben Zander: Great. You see, there are two ways of accepting that. You say, “Oh my God. I’m not good enough. I’ll never make it.” Or you could say, “Wow. That is such a privilege. Thank you for giving me this privilege.” These cameras are giving this gift to people in China and in Korea. I get letters from Malaysia and from Isn’t that thrilling? And Mozart is speaking to those people through this instrument, which he loved before he died at 35.

Ben Zander: I would use every moment of this. Don’t rush a thing, even that turn. No. Let’s try it. Three, four, five. Just before we begin. Should we just remember, if Mr. Hummel were here? Because Hummel was a child next to Mozart. So Hummel knew Mozart, and this is what he told us. It’s quite slow, isn’t it? No, it’s actually a little too slow. There we go. There. Okay. Are you ready? One, two With love. That first note, that first note, it’s like a flower opening up. Isn’t that beautiful? It’s like somebody pleading, and then you are pleading with him to be with you. One more time. Everything in Mozart is an opera. Everything in an opera. And if it isn’t an opera, make an opera. This is Pamina pleading to have Tamino come back. 

Ben Zander: Beautiful. I want a little applause, please. A little applause. And Somin, I want you to know that when you did that turn, these two people, instinctively together went It was amazing. And they didn’t talk about it, they just They felt it. They suddenly realized what that turn was. It was love. It was a turn of love. Not but And you know, you’ve got a great pianist because instead of playing the piano he was playing the cello. He was going I heard it in the left hand. He was imitating the cello. Should we try it one more time for the world? By now it’s a million people listening. Open your heart. Open everything you have to this great beauty.

Ben Zander: No, no, you came too early, because you One, two, three. Isn’t that amazing? That’s beautiful. And I think standing makes a lot of sense because you don’t need to sit. I mean, he needs to sit. The cellos need to sit. Okay. It was beautiful. Beautiful. And your role is so Do you know Mozart played the viola? Did you know that?

Kevonna Shuford: Yes, I did.

Ben Zander: It was his instrument.

Kevonna Shuford: Right.

Ben Zander: In fact, all the good composers played viola. Beethoven, and Dvorak, Schoenberg. They all played. No, Schoenberg played cello. I’m sorry. That’s a mistake. Okay. So here we go. We’re going to set up the piano. But this is beautiful. It’s going great. So, should we try one more time? And imagine, Somin, that this is actually the last thing you are ever going to play in your life. I mean, you could do worse. I think it’s not a bad way of living actually.

Ben Zander: I had this experience with a wonderful woman. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard me tell this story because I love to tell it. I met a woman who survived Auschwitz. She went to Auschwitz when she was 15 years old, and her brother was eight, and they were on their way to Auschwitz and the parents were lost, they were alone on the train, and suddenly she looked down and saw that her brother had lost his shoe. And she was so angry. You know, 15-year-old with an eight-year-old brother, “Why are you stupid? Can’t you keep your things together? Can’t you pull yourself together?” Essentially she was saying. She was nervous, and it was understandable. The trouble was, it was the last thing she ever said to him because she never saw him again. He didn’t survive. And so when she came out of Auschwitz, she told me this story. She said, “I walked out of Auschwitz into life,” is what she said. She said, “I made a vow, I made a vow that I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say.”

Ben Zander: Imagine living that way. That the only things you say are the things that could stand as the last thing you ever say. We can’t actually do that but what a possibility to live into. So as musicians, I think that’s the way we should play. I even think that’s the way we should practice as if it was the This is my last chance, and a million people are watching. Should we do it? Wouldn’t that be a reason to get up in the morning? Yeah. Yeah. “Here we go again. Oh, I could do it again. Oh my God. Got to do it again.” That’s not a good way of living. And you end up with disease if you have that, and that’s why it’s called disease. Okay. All right.

Ben Zander: So here we go. And now we got the two of you. Come a little closer because you love each other, right? Everybody in Mozart is in love. Here we go. Okay. Here we go. Four, five, six. Can you do better with That’s the way to speak. Speak with your clarinet the way you would speak if you were a singer. Once again. Four, five. No, I don’t like the way you begin.

Ben Zander: Now. One, two, three. No, it’s too early. That’s a habit, right? One, two, three. After the third. One, two, three. One, two, three. Yeah, you are still coming a little early. Think of it, one, two, three One, two, three One, two You might for that reason not play on the fast side of it but on the slow side of it. Try it. But this is beautiful what you’re doing. Isn’t it wonderful? And is it so beautiful? So beautiful, this music. Here we go. Two, three. There we go. One, two, three. If you were a cellist you might even play I can’t play this, but if you One, two, three And now Try that.

Ben Zander: One, two, three. Yes. Cello. Two, three No, it’s too early. It’s hard to give up those old habits, they go so far. But one, two, three One, two, three Yes. And now make it expressive. Yes. Two, three Now one of the great moments in music. Two, three

Ben Zander: Oh my God. Oh my God. Yes, my friend. Yes. The last time. Two, three. Too early. Yes.

Ben Zander: Now, here we go. The viola at last. He’s got it. First time in 200 years. Joyful. Yes, my friend. I love you too.

Ben Zander: Beautiful. Bravo. Take a bow. I’ll tell you what this bow is for, it’s because you’re wonderful musicians, it’s because you’ve restored Mozart to his truth and you’ve given it away to the world. Now, from now on, every clarinetist, violist, and pianist has got to take account of this. Now my friend, Martin Fröst Do you know who that is?

Somin Lee: Yes.

Ben Zander: He’s probably the greatest clarinetist of our time. I love him. He’s terrific. We’re good friends. And I went, I thought, “Maybe Martin’s got it right?” No, he’s got it wronger than anybody. What he does is he plays it even faster. So I’m going to send this to him tomorrow. All the clarinetists and viola players and all the musicians have got to take account of this, and they get to learn from you. Isn’t that beautiful?

Somin Lee: Yes.

Ben Zander: Isn’t that beautiful? So that’s why they are clapping. They are also very grateful because they love Mozart. And when Mozart’s music is happy, the world is happy. If only Mozart’s music They’ve come up with all sorts of ideas, and they are not proven ideas, that if you listen to Mozart, actually you get more intelligent, you get more effective. I don’t know whether that’s true. I mean, it’s not a reason to put music in the public schools, but it is something remarkable that when Mozart is in the air, come out, lifts our spirit.

Ben Zander: And you suddenly got it. When you got it about that turn You didn’t get it yet, you’re working on it. You’re still thinking that the turn belongs on the third beat. He got it completely, and when he did, everything lit up. Do you remember that moment? You suddenly had that thing. What’s next for you, to make it eloquent, not just quick. But you realize how quick you have to play in order to make it accurate. Isn’t that amazing? Imagine how inaccurately you and all your colleagues have been for the last 200 years. It’s pretty exciting. I mean, I think more than pretty exciting.

Ben Zander: It’s kind of shattering that we musicians have allowed ourselves to be so careless, that we’ve played Mozart wrong over and over and over and over again, 67 times in one piece. And we know that he couldn’t have made a mistake. There’s no way. We know enough about Mozart to know that there could not possibly have been a mistake. So it was our mistake. Thank goodness it won’t continue.

Ben Zander: Now, of course, it’s very naive of me to think that now everybody suddenly in the world is going to realize, but it’s very hard to argue with this. This is not a matter of opinion. Those notes have a certain time. And isn’t it nice that we have Nepomuk Hummel, the little boy who spent his life with Mozart in his home, and sent a little message to us? 116. Isn’t that beautiful? Because for him the metronome was available, for Mozart it wasn’t, so we are at sea a lot of the time with Mozart.

Ben Zander: But there are a lot of very thoughtful musicians out there thinking about these things and trying to make sense of it all. So many of the arias in the operas are sung at the wrong tempo. For instance, Ach, Ich Fuhl’s, we’ve done that here. Much, much too slow, and therefore not really expressing, as you just did, the beauty of the aria. It’s always an aria. You got that. Always an aria.

Ben Zander: So I’m very thrilled. I’ve been waiting for this moment for about 30 years. When I came in and I heard you playing, I went on the internet this morning to hear you because I said, “I hope he’s a great pianist,” and he is. He’s a great pianist. And I knew you were a great clarinetist because I knew about you, and I’ve known her. I said, “Thank goodness we’ve got great musicians to work on this,” because if you don’t have great musicians you can’t make it come alive, because we’re turning a tradition upside down. You understand that? From now on all the trios have got to take account of this. Pretty excited.

Ernesto Ghinaglia
'Maestro Zander, after watching this, I just can’t listen to anything different. All other versions sound sacrilegious.'
Milan Rakić
Maestro Zander, you are the only light during these dire times. Please stay safe, for you, your family, and the World. We need you. We love you.'
Rebecca Bello
'Benjamin Zander, I love how you speak about Mozart. I have read the book you mentioned of his letters and you are certainly correct. He was always upbeat and positive. What an insight into his daily life, struggles and his genius. I often reread parts just so I can spend a little time with Mozart. I am so enjoying your classes and passion for music. Thank you.'
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