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

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Schubert: Song "Du bist die Ruh”

Interpretation Class
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Abigail Lee (soprano) with Yuan Wang (piano)

“The song always comes from the words, from experience. You have to experience the words and allow the music to color them. Get inside the words. Get inside the idea, and then you’ll be able to reveal it.”

— Benjamin Zander

Transcript

(Music playing and singing)

Benjamin: Very beautiful, well done. Now, Abigail, could you tell that not everybody in the audience is fluent in German. Not everyone. So could you tell them what the song is about?

Abigail:  Yeah, it’s saying, “You are tranquility and peace. I dedicate to you to my eyes and my heart as a dwelling place. The vision in your eyes is so great.”

Benjamin:  I don’t think, probably, if I ask this gentleman here what this song is about, he would be able to tell me. And it’s not his fault. If people don’t understand what you’re saying, it’s not their fault. Do you realize that’s always true. If people don’t understand, or if you don’t understand what somebody is saying, it’s not your fault. It’s always their fault. So can you be sure that you really care that this gentleman knows what the song is about?

Abigail: It’s about intimacy. Maybe between two people. Whatever brings you peace and brings you into that quiet place and about love and devotion. 

Benjamin: That gives us some idea. There are two people. There are usually two people, and in this case, there are two people. One of them is in despair. And the other brings light and pleasure and love; and the one who’s in despair is offering a prayer to the person who is bringing light and love, pleading with her to come into his life.

It’s a plea from the bottom of his heart or her heart it doesn’t matter which one. You understand the sadness. This is always the case in Schubert, and it’s true of Mahler too. But it’s particularly true with Schubert that it’s always sad even in the most cheerful music, it’s always sad. There’s always a sadness there. And although this appears on the surface to be full of love and calm and peace and joy and so on, underneath the surface, it is something very traumatic, actually. So, in the crucial verse, “drive other pain out of this breast.” She’s asking this person, “drive the pain that I’m feeling out of my breast. May my heart be full with your pleasure. May my heart be full with your pleasure. I depend on you.”

Then in the final verse, he says the “tabernacle of my eyes by your radiance alone is illuminated.” It’s only when you’re there to illuminate my heart that I can have radiance in my life. Without you, it’s darkness. And then she says finally, “Oh, fill it completely.” Isn’t that amazing? I mean, it’s a great outpouring of love for this person and desire and hope. Just so. Alright, you got it now. What it’s about. Great. Now, here’s the problem. Everything depends on the pianist. Because you’re playing in a very square, very straight, and I don’t want to make fun of it, but it’s a little bit like Gilbert and Sullivan, you know what I mean?

(Piano Playing)

It’s too square. All right now, I’m going to give you a clue for the rest of your life; All romantic music, all romantic music, is in one. That may not be true, but it’s true enough. It’s true enough for this situation. So if that’s okay, this is three: one two three, one two three, one two three. (Piano Playing)

And I’m not saying you’re playing like that, but it’s in that direction. If it’s all in one, (piano playing).

See this bar 2 is joined with that one. Schubert helps by writing a slower over the two bars, doesn’t he? He does it here, too. (Piano playing)

And that enables you to be very free with six with the sixteenths. Very free. So try that.

(Piano playing)

I want you to notice the body has become much freer. Her body has suddenly begun to be free, and what I call “one buttock playing.” One buttock is when you play on one buttock or the other buttock. Swaying from side to side. So, now let me recommend to you that you play one fraction faster so that it will sound slower. Play it faster so that it will sound slower. Do you understand that? Because if you’re playing it not fast enough, da da da da da da. It’s drawn out. Whereas, if you play a little faster, it’ll be da-da-da-da-da, and you’ll hear a larger impulse. You’ll hear a bar instead of a note. Alright, so a little faster.

(Piano playing)

Alright, beautiful. But because this feeling is very deep-felt and very tender and very sad, he marks it pianissimo. So, can you do that? Very soft. This is a hard piano to deal with, I understand.

(Piano playing)

See, already you’ve created a beautiful mood for her. Isn’t that great? That’s beautiful. And now, there’s another thing, which is this, an accompanying voice maybe? A viola? This is a cello. This is the main voice, so, if you can, play it like a beautiful cello. You try. Yeah, this is a little square. Can I just show you one last thing? If you make this a little more flexible.

(Piano playing)

Now, you’re a pianist; I’m not a pianist. But it has nothing to do with piano technique. It has to do with wanting it enough. (Piano Playing)

You really want to play as soft as you can in one bar cello. (humming)

(Piano Playing and singing)

Okay, now you have a big issue which I want you to take with you. Do not sing the notes that Schubert wrote. You cut them short. Your job is to sing what he wrote, okay? So keep the line. (Humming)

Oh, that’s a very long note, and you cut it way short. The breath. You know, I’ll tell you something very funny, my father was a lawyer in a small town in Germany called Erfurt. And one day, he was sitting in his law office and the soprano from the local opera – because you know, in Germany every town had an opera house and in Erfurt, there was an opera house – and the Soprano came to his office one day in a state of apoplectic fury. She wanted to take a libel action suit against the local music critic who, she said, wrote in the paper that she couldn’t sing the Queen of the Night aria. And she said, “Does he think that if I could sing it, I’d be here in Erfurt? I’d be in Vienna!” So, after that, in our home, if somebody said something like that, my father would just say “Vienna.” You wouldn’t be here if you could sing this, do this you understand? You’d be out in the world! But this is to try. Alright, really attempt to hold those notes full-length. You set her up beautifully, and you can help her very much by playing a little bit faster because then she doesn’t have such a long time to sing.

(Piano playing)

One and one and a bar look, (piano playing).

(Singing)

You did it! You did it brilliantly.

(Applause)

Now, my view is I was helping you, alright? Because I was thinking about your breath, and I was moving it along to help you. Alright, here we go.

(Piano playing and singing)

It’s not difficult at all. Isn’t that interesting? It was beautiful. You do need a pianist to understand that. It’s one in a bar because if it’s too slow, you can’t keep that going. But that was really very beautiful.

I was just in Malaysia, and we did the Mahler Second Symphony with a choir of a hundred and twenty young Malaysians. And it was very interesting because they had a coach who worked for three months on getting their German pronunciation. It was fascinating because he told me most German sounds don’t exist in Malaysia or Chinese. They simply don’t exist. So he had to teach them from the ground like they were babies. Every sound had to be created, and you need some work on your German sounds. Do you have a German coach? 

Yeah.

You do, great, give yourself to the German coach with all your heart because there are many words you are not pronouncing in a German way, and that’s your job to learn to sing those words. But that was much better. Should we try one more time to give her the upbeat?

(Humming)

(Piano playing and singing)

Underneath the soft surface is deep despair. You feel that deep despair. And part of it comes from singing very softly. When somebody sings softly with that kind of intensity very softly, we feel the deep sadness of it. So four notes.

(Piano playing and singing)

From love and pain. Those words are so powerful. Can I just say one general thing to you? A lot of singers do that. They sing as if there was a dot in the wall that they’re trying to follow it. But actually, when you think of it, you’ve got an audience in front of you. There are actual people out there. So do you think you could sing in such a way that you communicate with the people in the room? Because they have deep feelings, too. And you’re trying to connect with their deep feelings. You’re trying to remind them of love lost or of deep pain that they can’t resolve, and so sing as a priest would speak to the audience. Can you do that? Try that. Beautiful. It’s coming along. it’s coming very well. Four notes.

(Piano playing and singing)

Oh, I’m so happy you sang then. Right through to the end. There was such a relief. Because before, you stopped every note. And a part of it comes from the pianos. Isn’t that nice? Good. Now, you’re actually saying to this young person, “Please come to me and close the door.” And what he’s saying is, “Come live with me. Come live with me and close quietly behind you the gates.” This is an invitation. Please come join me. I need you in my life. Alright, so should we just do the accompaniment so that you can convey to them what you’re feeling.

(Piano playing and singing)

Can you take away what I’m feeling? Take away the pain and suffering that I’m feeling. Drive out the pain. Out of this breast and fill my heart with pleasure. Can you get that feeling into your voice? Into the sadness of your voice, even in pianissimo. It’s fascinating Schubert expresses the deepest pain in the softest possible voice. It’s very hard to do. Only the greatest singers can do that. But it’s something to try for. Beautiful. Let’s do, “Come live with me. Be with me. Please come live with me and close quietly behind you the gates. And take away, drive out the pain from my breast.” Beautiful idea, isn’t it? So, try the upbeat again.

(Piano playing and humming)

Can I just make a suggestion.

(Piano playing and humming)

Then it will be one whole phrase.

(Piano playing and humming)

Now.

(Singing)

That’s beautiful. That’s really beautiful what you did. You were talking about pleasure, and yet our eyes were streaming with tears. Heartbreaking. Heartbreakingly beautiful. And you had a beautiful voice. You were holding sostenuto throughout the notes. It was great. It was great. Hard to do, isn’t it. This is very hard, but you’re on the way. You’re on the way. Get inside the words. Get inside the idea, and then you’ll be able to reveal it. So, one more time. We’re going to do this first, and then we’re going to go on, and this time, when you transform from talking about the pain, and drive the pain out of my breast, you’re saying may my heart be full of your pleasure. Isn’t that amazing? This person understands that the other person is the source of her joy. Her happiness. Her, sven life. An amazing idea. It’s a beautiful idea, and that you’re touched by that idea is very beautiful. Now, put it in the music, okay? One more time.

(Humming and piano playing)

Move as much as possible.

Yes, now.

(Piano playing and singing)

Oh, that’s a very important note. This time, it is the sadness. So make something special. Two bars before that. Now, Schubert asks you to do something very extraordinary. All the way through, right to the end. And you can help her by playing not in three but in one. “My eyes are filled by your radiance. Only by your radiance are my eyes filled.” And then, she says, “Fill it completely.” And that’s her way of demonstrating filling it. And my suggestion is you make it a common image. (Piano playing and humming)

My suggestion is you make it as big as you can.

(Piano playing and humming)

Now, yeah. And you hold it right at the end.Wait she’s going to do one bar before.

(Piano playing and singing)

Yes, a little applause.

(Applause)

You know it’s very interesting, the applause. Because it isn’t for you. It’s for them. As if they’re saying, “Thank you for taking us to that place where we realize that our joy comes from somebody else’s love.” That’s an amazing idea. And this is a beautiful musical representation of that idea. Should we do it one more time? Save yourself for the A, and he gives you one bar to resonate before the silence.

(Piano playing)

Sure, but don’t be a 3.

(Piano playing and singing)

Bravo, beautiful.

(Applause)

Beautiful, great.

So, there are two real things that I want to leave you with. One is that the song always comes from the words, from experience. You have to experience the words and allow the music to color the words because Schubert and all those great composers like Schumann and Wolff and Brahms and all these people took poems that they loved. And Schubert loved Rückert. And so did Mahler. Mahler wrote the kindertotenlieder. Do you know the songs of the death of children? Rückert’s last two children. He wrote four hundred poems on the death of children. I mean, that’s how deeply he felt about this, and Mahler took that. Schubert took several songs to evoke that love, and then he created these poems in music, and you have to come from the words. That’s the first thing.

And the other thing is to make sure that the pianist understands that this is not about sixteenth notes. It’s about one beat per bar. That’s what makes that phrase possible at the end because you notice how much she was moving it. It made it possible for you to sing it. So those are two very, very crucial things. Great. I think that’s enough because we have other people to play. But, well done!

(Applause)

Great, thank you!

Shu Ping Wang
'Benjamin Zander : outstanding teacher, excellent conductor, first rate communicator, intelligent, witty and musical person.'
Sávio Faschet
'Good to see a masterclass of a student that is not almost in a opera super star level, singing a ultra hard aria This is truly helpful (Like Debbie Voigt once said in "Living The Classical life": "Everyone want's to do Norma, no one want's to learn 24 Italian songs and arias"). We need this kind of masterclass in here.'
CP Tse
'What a precious gift from God that these students can attend a life changing class like no other classes.'
MC Media
'I love every episode it has an addictive effect on me.. through his teaching I learn a lot about classical music though I am not a musician'
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