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Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 5, a conducting lesson by Gerard Schwarz (1st Movement)

Video transcript
(Symphony No. 5, Ludwig van Beethoven, first movement) - Did you ever wonder what the conductor's doing up there? Obviously, when a conductor's waving his hands, he's not making any sound. The musicians are making all the noise, or all the music. In this case, this great orchestra making this great performances. Well, we do have a little influence on what goes on. I thought it'd be interesting to take a few moments in this first movement of the Beethoven Fifth Symphony and tell you what I'm doing and what I'm thinking about while I'm doing it. First, I have to give you a little elementary music lesson, which, if you know it, you can skip past this. But there are a few things we need to know. If you look at the first page of the score, you'll see it says "two, four" at the beginning of the line. Two four means that there are two beats in every measure and a quarter note is getting a beat. The first question is, "What's a measure?" If you look at that score, you'll see a line. It's called a "bar line." You'll have a few notes and a bar line. That is a measure. It's either a bar or a measure. Two beats in each one of those little measures and a quarter note gets a beat. What's a quarter note? Well, you have to understand, in this case, just three note values. A quarter note, like a fraction, 1/4, it's a black note with a stem. A eighth note, which is a black note with a line and an extra flag, and a half note, which is a white note with one stem. They are fractions. How many quarter notes do you get in a half note? Well, two. How many eighth notes do you get in a half note? Four. And that's the whole point. That's it. It's very simple. The other things you need to know, you need to know what a fermata is. A fermata is a sign that a composer puts down for the conductor, performer, to hold a note longer than what's written, but without a specific amount of time. You can judge it on your own. The other thing we have is, we have a tie. A tie is where two half notes are being held together. The tie means you don't re-articulate, you don't repeat that note. To back up again: two, four, how many beats in a measure? Two. What kind of note gets a beat? That's a quarter note. You have a eighth note with a flag, quarter note, no flag, and a half note, which is white, not black. A bar, or a measure, we have a bar line. Pretty simple. Now, let's look some more at the score. It says, "Allegro con brio," which means fast, with bravura, "brio." It also says, if you see, half note equals 108. What does that mean? Well, that's the tempo, the tempo that the composer recommends. It doesn't mean you have to do that, but if I would punch a metronome in, (rhythmic beat) that's 108. There's something important about that. He says, a half note equals 108, which means that he believes that the piece should be felt per bar, one beat per bar, rather than two, even though he wrote it in two four. Okay, now you know all the fundamental material. Let's look at what I do and how it relates to the piece and the performance. The most important thing, you notice that the very first bar has two fs. That means loud, very loud, almost the loudest that we can do. It starts with this little rest. So one more thing to know is a rest. The little rest means you don't play. If you look at the first measure, or the first bar, there's a eighth rest and three eighth notes. The famous three notes, ba, ba, ba, and then it arrives on that half note, bam, with a fermata. What does the conductor have to do? He has to give a good up beat. That's when he brings his hands up. That's up beat, and then boom, down beat. So, crucial to have a good up beat and a good down beat. The up beat and down beat indicate what the tempo is going to be. Great orchestras like this one, you give a sign, like that, and they know exactly how to play. From the first time we played this through, they knew exactly what the tempo was. Then we hold that half note with intensity. We don't let it get softer. There is no decrescendo. There is no diminuendo. Beethoven says, "Keep it loud." Then he has another eighth rest. If you count to the third bar, there's another eighth rest, three more notes, going to another half note, this time tied to a second half note with a fermata indicating, probably should be a little bit longer. Okay. So the conductor, I, give a good, solid up beat. If you notice, we do it slow motion now. I begin from a downward position, I raise my hand, and I give a big, strong, down beat. This indicates the tempo and when the musicians should start. Then I hold with intensity. My hand is strong, to just reinforce the idea to the musicians that they shouldn't get softer. Then I do another wind-up, up beat, and, pht, another big down beat, to again have those four notes played fortissimo, loudly, with the fermata. (First eight notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony) The next moment is the hardest moment for the conductor. Some conductors actually cut off this half note with the fermata and they add an extra bar. So it would sound "ba, ba, ba, bom," and then "ba, ba, ba, bom," cutoff, (vocalizes melody). They add a whole bar. Many conductors do this. I don't. I think it's wrong. I think if Beethoven wanted to have an extra bar, he would have written an extra bar. The reason that some conductors do that is because, if you notice, the next entrance, if you count the bars, one, two, three, four, five, the sixth bar is marked with a "p." The p means "piano," which obviously means softly. The second violins begin, softly. The problem is that, when you play loudly and the next note, if it's soft, won't be audible. So it's very tricky to cut off the loud at the same time give a beat for the soft. What I do, I hold that second fermata with intensity, I come up, I release, and I bounce. When I bounce up, the second violins know to begin. Let's do this, first slow motion. (slowed-down beginning of Beethoven's 5th Symphony) And now see in real time. (beginning of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, normal speed) What's interesting here, I never have to tell the orchestra how I do it. I just did it, and they were perfect ... every time. Interesting. And when you get an orchestra of this caliber, which is maybe the greatest orchestra ever assembled, the conductor doesn't need to do much, because he's giving all the signs with his hands. Here we go. Now, what happens next? There are a bunch of bars that go on, it's all soft, everybody comes in with a little figure. I'm not doing much here. I don't need to do much here. I mean, I could actually stop conducting, and it wouldn't be a problem, because they would play together. So I keep time, make sure the pulse continues to go at the same speed. Then you notice, there's a piano sign and it says "cresc.", which means "crescendo," get louder, and then it goes to a forte. There are three forte chords, three bars, and another fermata. This fermata only the first violins are holding. Now, the key here is, very important, that the orchestra does not make any crescendo until that one bar. So what the conductor does is, at that bar, he'll give an explosion, or she'll give an explosion. (5th Symphony, softly) That's what I do. Then I give three big chords and a fermata for the first violins, again with intensity. We move on, and we see, again, the three note, three of the eighth rests and eighth notes going to a half note tied to another half note with a fermata, and it's the same routine again. This time, the piano, the soft entrance, is in the first violins and they begin. The next page, we see that the crescendo is over four bars. That's pretty good. That's not as hard. You watch the conductor, you'll watch me, and you can see that my motions are growing with intensity and we arrive at what we call sforzandos, and then continuous forte. Then you'll see fortissimo. What I have to do here is just remind the orchestra that this spot is louder than the one before. Not a big deal. They know it; I just reinforce it. If you watch my motions, I'm conducting forte, big, big motions, with intensity, and then I do something to make it louder and bigger. And you can see that. Again, they could do this without me. The tempo doesn't change, this is the same speed, but I'm reinforcing what's in the score. (5th Symphony, rising in intensity) Then you'll see two big chords and the horns introduce the second theme. They play "ba, ba, ba, bom, bom, bom." Then we go to the second theme, begins in the first violins. (5th Symphony, second theme) The second theme is a very lyrical theme. So my motions are not as choppy and aggressive as they were for the whole beginning. It becomes smooth. What I try to do here is, give an idea of what the phrasing should be. If you look at the violin part, it says: "piano dolce." Dolce, sweetly. You know, we know, go to a restaurant, and the Italian restaurant says "Dolce." That's about the dessert. But what Beethoven's looking for here is a sweet, beautiful quality. He doesn't indicate any dynamics. In other words, it's piano throughout. The question for the conductor is, should there be some phrasing? Should there be some ups and down, like a speech? Or should it be monotone? I like phrasing, so the phrasing I like, you can tell by my motions. It's like an up beat, "da dam," and then "da, da, de, da, da, da" (5th symphony second theme) "Da, da, de, da, da, dum." Two little emphases. The first one, of course, is after that up beat. If you look at my motions, I do that. When I was conducting the orchestra, I never said one word to them about phrasing. I never said they should phrase it this way. I did it, and they followed me. Then, if you notice, we have a little sequence which goes "la, da, di, dam, da, da, di, dam," "da, da, di, dam, da, da, da, dam." What I do is, I do a little louder (vocalizes louder), then a little softer (vocalizes softer). Then a little more (vocalizes louder), then a little less (vocalizes softer). Now, a big crescendo begins, and I start quite softly. (5th Symphony, building up to crescendo) Again, if you watch my motions, I do all of that. I've never said a word to the orchestra about what I was doing. I just did it. Beethoven doesn't indicate any of that, until the crescendo. Then the crescendo, what I do, if you notice my motions, I do the crescendo starting softer, because it's a long crescendo. It goes for 10 bars or so, and I want the crescendo to be gradual. I don't want it too soon. I want it to arrive at the fortissimo. (5th Symphony, crescendo) This fortissimo is a big moment. Again, they don't need me here. It just moves wonderfully through. If they can hear each other, if it's good acoustics in the room, there's not a problem. If you notice, a few bars later, in the cellos and basses, they now have quarter notes. If you notice, the quarter notes don't have any indication. Should they be long? Should they be short? Should they be spaced? All it says is "fortissimo." I like these long. So I have long gestures for the cellos and basses. Again, never said a word to the orchestra. I just made the gesture of long notes, and these incredible musicians just did it, the first time through. (5th Symphony, string section) Remarkable. Then we go to the next page. You'll see we arrive at a double bar with dots, double bar meaning a little thicker bar line. With those two dots, that indicates a repeat. Now, many conductors, in works by the great masters, don't do these repeats. The Beethoven Fifth repeat almost everyone does, because the movement is quite short. But in Brahms' symphonies, for example, most conductors don't do the repeats. I think they should always be done. If you ask me why, the composer wrote them. Brahms wrote a repeat. Am I greater than Brahms? Do I know more than Brahms knows? Certainly not. I do what Brahms tells me to do. On a rare occasion, if a piece is too long or a concert's too long, you can on occasion eliminate a repeat and it doesn't hurt the music. But in principle, I'm a great believer in always doing the repeats. Okay, that's the whole exposition of this great first movement. Once you do that whole repeat, and basically with the same motions and the same ideas, sometime maybe a little variety. Obviously, it's going to be a little different. It's never always going to be the same. Then we move to the development section. The development section, in this case, begins in a very dramatic way, again like the opening, but very different. It gives you the impression that something unusual is going to happen, rather than, we're going to move through this same thing at the beginning. Again, I do it very slightly slower. I mean, you won't even notice it, but it is imperceptibly slower, but with the same kind of intensity. Then, of course, with the same issue after the fermata, how to have the loud release, and with a kind of rebound, the soft begin? (5th Symphony, development section) As you watch and listen to the next section of the development, you'll see little subtle changes in my motions, but basically, it's just keeping everything together, keeping it moving, reinforcing the dynamics, reinforcing the accents that Beethoven wrote, until we get to these place of these half note chords. The half note chords go between the woodwinds and horns and the strings. Back and forth. Back and forth. (5th Symphony, woodwinds and strings) What I try to do is, have them connect. I don't believe that Beethoven intended the woodwinds to be a separate gesture from the string gesture. I mean, one could say it is, but in my estimation, these repeated chords are to be connected. So I give motions that indicate that the players should sustain those half notes full value. Again, without any decrescendo, without getting softer, until it's marked. Then you can see it says, "dimin.", diminuendo, which means, get softer. And we get softer over a period of six bars and then we arrive at a piano. Now we're at a piano. It says, "sempre piu piano." "Sempre piu piano" means always more piano. Softer, always softer. So "piu" means more. But if it says "piu piano," it means more softly. So we're getting always softer. Then it arrives at two ps, and now it's really soft. It's pianissimo. Then, all of a sudden, there's this huge fortissimo. You've gotten from the softest moment in this symphony to the loudest moment in this symphony, from pianissimo to fortissimo. Again, the conductor's job is simply to reinforce what the composer wrote. I give a big sign for that fortissimo. (5th Symphony, transition from soft to loud) Again, we have the same problem. We have to release the fortissimo and be able to hear the pianissimo, a dialog between the woodwinds and the strings. Once again, I give a big beat to indicate the reinstatement of the fortissimo, and we arrive back at the big fermatas like the beginning. (5th Symphony, repeat of first theme) It's an indication of a, what we call the recapitulation. It's all coming back. But what happens here that's a little different, the oboe takes over, leading to a little oboe cadenza. So if you watch what I do, I gesture to the oboe. Since that's the new material, I want the oboe and everyone to notice that that's what we should listen for. We've heard everything else before. But never this. So the oboe solo begins, I make a gesture towards the oboe, and then it arrives at the oboe cadenza. (5th Symphony, oboe solo) During the oboe cadenza, I never say a word. Our great oboist, John Ferrillo from the Boston Symphony, plays it magnificently. I never discussed it with him. He just played it, and it was perfection. My job, after that, is to anticipate when that last note of his ... Again, it's a note with a fermata. And if you notice this in his cadenza, it says "adagio," which means very slowly. Then, with a fermata for all of us, so we just wait for the oboe. He has an additional fermata on his last note, and then I come in with the same material that we heard from the beginning. (5th Symphony) Again, it leads to forte and then accents, and then fortissimo, and this time, the introduction of the second theme is by the bassoon rather than by the horn. So I look at the bassoon. Believe me, the bassoon could come in without me looking. On the other hand, you never know. Everyone, to have a little reinforcement doesn't hurt. Then we go back to the same second theme, the same kind of phrasing and the same crescendo, except this time, the crescendo's even longer. I think it's 14 bars. And it gets to that big fortissimo. What I do, I slow down slightly. Beethoven was known for, at the biggest moments, sometimes not forging ahead but holding back, and I hold the tempo slightly back to that fortissimo. Then immediately I do what we call "a tempo," back in the same speed that it was going before. Now we go, this whole section is quite loud, with accents. Sometimes there are some issues with what we call ensemble, so I have to give a little clear beat to make sure everyone can jump in and find their moments. (5th Symphony, entire orchestra) And then, there's this big loud note and then there's a soft "ba, ba, ba, bam" by the woodwinds. Then, there's a bar rest and then another big beat like the beginning. This is a tricky spot for the conductor because he ends big, or she ends big, then gives a little sign for the woodwinds, and then you have to be very careful not to give any sign for that bar rest so that no one jumps in. You give a big sign for when they're supposed to come in. (5th Symphony, entire orchestra comes in) And then we have this great moment for the whole ending, where I love hearing this horns playing this passage and the timpani. If you watch me, I give a sign for the horns and I give this big sign for the timpani, and the timpani actually, it's only marked forte, but I actually give the sign to indicate that he should play it louder, which he did. Again, I never said a word. I just gave a big sign for that. As we move forward, again, and the cellos, basses, and this time with the violas, these quarter notes come back in. Again, the question is, how long should they be? If you watch me, I'm indicating they should be long. Everybody played them long. Then, it gets to the real climax of the movement. Again, I hold the tempo back. Then we move to another dialog between the woodwinds and the strings (5th Symphony, woodwinds and strings) Again I try to connect, so you see in my motions that I'm holding that last quarter note of the woodwinds, holding the last note of the strings, so that we all connect and have one sentence, rather than a sentence that's chopped up. Finally, we get to the very end, again with the same gesture like the beginning, the same fermata. (5th Symphony, repeat of beginning) The coda is very short and very beautiful. It really is a section for the woodwinds, and I try to phrase that. If you watch me now, you'll see that I do a little phrasing for the woodwinds. (5th Symphony, woodwinds playing softly) And then, immediately, we're back to the fortissimo and go to the end of the movement without any slowing down, without slowing of intensity, and in a very dramatic way. So I think you've seen, in the description of what goes on, in this movement, for example, much of it can be played, the orchestra can play by themselves. But there are those moments where they need me, and my job is to be there when they need me.