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Sergiu Celibidache Teaching Session

Transcribed from Audio Recording


Conducted in English
Curtis Institute of Music
February 1984
This is a small glimpse of what happened during the classroom sessions at
Curtis in 1984. There were two sessions each day, each lasting two to three
hours. And this went on for about ten days. Even so, this short excerpt
presents some points fundamental to Celibidache's teaching. In particular, it
was essential to understanding Celibidache to distinguish between sound as
an acoustic phenomenon and sound as experienced by the human mind. The
fact that these two things are not the same is now completely uncontroversial.
However, it is amazing the degree to which music students continue to find it a
baffling thought!
-- Paul Henry Smith

Celibidache: If you look in an encyclopedia under


phenomenology, it is sixty pages long in order to explain it.
But what we intend under phenomenology is the approach
to the sound and all its aspects. What is sound? Not the
physical definition of sound, or the acoustical definition.
This is of no value for us. Secondly -- the main object of
phenomenological study -- how does sound work in the
human mind? And in order to make it less abstract,
yesterday I gave an example of repetition. There is not
such a thing like repetition. When we hear something we
got already fecundated. Our sensibilities are engaged; the
second time it's different. So, the third time it does not
interest us because a repetition is not a fact in itself. It finds
itself in a context. So, what about the third time? It depends
what comes. The most critical object of that view is the fact
of sequences. Bach said that more than three sequences
will let anything down. This did not stop Vivaldi from
making eleven sequences! He was a man who didn't have
any idea of harmony or whatever his style understood
under harmony. He had no idea of music.

So, on one side: the study of sound. On the other: how


does sound work on us? And the results are away from any
form of individualism. They work on you as they do on me.
For example, we have a melodic interval [descending
minor third]. It is definitely so that I hear the second
phenomenon [i.e., note] in function of the first. For the first
has left already an impression on me. This is "priority in
time." You, me and him -- it makes no difference -- we all
hear the first note first.

Due to Husserl we came away from the idea of an


objectivity in itself. And we came higher by the following
idea: I have to find myself in you and you have to find
yourself in me. The only tie that makes that objective is the
fact that it's not dependent only on me, but on you also. He
calls it, "intersubjective Betreffbarkeit."

Questions please.

Q: You spoke of the necessity to empty our minds. I recall


having read about the alpha waves from the human being
from birth to adulthood and that from birth to about age six
these alpha waves are the slowest -C: Yes, but it's not the same process. No, alpha waves cut
you away. They dominate you and cut you away from the
world. You are nearly asleep when you are in that state. It's
not it at all.

Q: That's not the emptiness you were -- ?


C: Not at all! My emptiness -- "my" ... I cannot call it "my,"
but -- the emptiness we're thinking of is the highest
activity. When Brentano says "every consciousness is a
consciousness of something" and we learn every day
through yoga that there is a consciousness that is a
consciousness of nothing, it does not make sense
intellectually. You're away. You do not want. No, no, no, no
-- in order to say a perfect yes.

Myself, for instance: Before we start a concert, if I do not


succeed in emptying myself, it will be memory. "I know the
horn starts. I know the ..." No. This is against me. It will
materialize out the function of memory. Music hasn't got
anything to do with memory. Memory is related to the past.
Hope is related to the future. Music is not related to
anything. It is a spontaneous process of creation. The
performer creates. What has the composer done? Shown
you the way: "Look, if you go over those stages, those
conflicts, you might come to this point."

Q: So, basically you're saying that you have to put yourself


-C: Yes, but if you say, "you have to put yourself" it looks
like an act of will. It is not. The more you want to get
empty, the less you are. You are possessed by a strong
wish: to be empty. That is wrong. How one comes to it

nobody will ever be able to explain.

Q: Could you describe the difference between spirit and all


the bunches of experience that make our consciousness?
C: Very complicated approach. I hate to talk about spirit
because in Germany there is nothing but spirit. And nobody
knows what spirit is. What is spirit in your idea?

Q: Well, you can relate some of my idea if you read the


bible where it says, "God created man in his own image."
Which image? Is it the nose, the hair or the eyes? Well, not
in MY mind.
C: But you still do not answer my question. What is spirit?

Q: [no reply]
C: You see, in the whole philosophical generation (I cannot
speak about the States) there is not one who will find out
what it is. We all talk about spirit. "You should think in the
spirit of Washington." "You are a man without spirit." "A
performer who sticks the visible aspect of music is not in
the spirit of Beethoven." What is spirit, finally?

This is the most devalued notion philosophically and also in


the field of phenomenology. Yes, but if I relate the facts and
if I go through the whole devaluation of that notion,
everybody is right. This is what is spirit. And when the
French say "vous avez de l'esprit," they mean you are very
funny.

So, again, the consciousness in exercise of its absolute


freedom. Now, why freedom? Because any other approach
will be influenced by your personal bunch of aversions and
acceptances. It is then that you will be able to follow the
creative processes of the composer. You know, there is no
definition for it. There is no definition for so many other
things.

Q: What sort of preparation is necessary before a


performance for one to be free and have a successful
performance?
C: Before I will find an answer for you, I will be God in
heaven! I cannot tell you more than how I do it myself. And

this is not a method to be tried! "I sleep. I do not eat. I --"


This will not touch it.

Q: I'm speaking in terms of the music and the


instrumentalist or performer, conductor or -C: Yes, but you can apply it on any field. So, when we do
music, we must bring those people out of the state of
"receivers of orders." Everyone in the orchestra is a
performer accompanied by all the possibilities of that task.
If they are not free, the whole performance will be an
imitation of something -- either the idea of the conductor, or
the idea of the score. "For me the clarinet is important
there." What is not important!? All the degrees of
importance obey a state of priority. So, I can't tell you how
we should prepare, but I can tell you one thing: the whole
study of phenomenology will show you what music is not.
What is a rehearsal? A series of no's. "No, you are too
loud." "Too quick." "Not at the point." "No, no, no!" We
never say what it is. We never say, "yes." A yes is what he
does when he matches the exigences of the piece. The
whole study is nothing but, "no, no, no, no."

Q: Is that necessary?
C: No, it's not necessary. I contend that people have never
performed the 9th of Beethoven yet, and I'm going to prove
that to you with the score. Are you content with that? Are
you content that an idiot like Toscanini ruled sixty years
long above everybody else? I am not. I am not content that
the world has not discovered that music is not an
amusement or a source of joy or satisfaction. It is much
higher than that.

Q: But what I'm trying to get at is instead of saying "no," if


you do what you did last night, then ...
C: You do not say "no," you open all the doors to a definite
and eternal "yes." You do not say "no."

Q: Well, I'm talking practically now -C: Yes, practically!

Q: Rather than say "no," say what the positive things are
that you want in order to get your ...

C: What which is positive? "I want you to be spiritual." How


does he manage that? But, if I tell him,
"Look, you are the third part of a string quartet. If you pull
on the D too much bow, the harmonics disappear. They
stay in the air. They do not mix with the others."
How could he know when they do mix?
"You should play less and on the top of the bow ... Yes, can
you hear something? Once again, 1st violin and 2nd violin
alone ...Can you see what they do? The 2nd violin
contradicts a little bit the 1st, then neutralizes, and then
finally they go together. So, you are the third part which is
supposed to back, to influence, and to put into value this
little quartet. If you pull your bow (considering your heart is
alright and the bow is not rough) and you do not hear how
much damage is done by your individual position, I could
offer you any theory and you will not buy it. But if I say, "A
bit more. No, that's too big." (All of a sudden something
comes out). Have you heard it? "Yes!" "Who played that?"
Nobody did. But you structured so perfectly well that those
values came out.
There is not one orchestra where two instruments will go
together from theis spiritual point of view. Together
rhythmically ... no problem, and America is perfect.
Technically, pitch ... perfect.

What's it all about? What is the second movement of


Eroica? Is it a march? This is good for the press and for
young, unsatisfied girls. What are you looking for, the
pleasure of C minor with G major? It is a pleasure. Nobody
will be able to destroy it. Even a military band will get it.
Even a child playing the piano gets that primitive stuff. But
how are they related to each other? From C minor to G
major what happens to the tension? Does it increase, or
does it stay the same, or does it go down? Who taught us
this? Nobody. Who taught us to find the end in the
beginning? How does that happen? Who taught us that the
essence of it is simultanaeity?

Q: It seems to me that part of what you're saying related


very closely to a sculptor who is involved with chipping
away everything that doesn't belong in order to arrive at
what does.
C: Yes, but what does not function is that the sculpture
appears to you statically, and music doesn't. Music
originates in time (whatever you understand under
"music"). This is a static idea when I say "a landscape."

"Every piece of music has a landscape." This is not correct,


but I don't have another possibility to illustrate to you that
there IS something which you cannot touch.

Q: But, perhaps it is not static to the sculptor, only to the


person who is perceiving it. So, if it is not static to the
sculptor, how would he bring the person who looks upon it
to look upon it the same way he sculpted it?
C: Yes, for the sculptor it's not static because the whole
process, the whole biography of how the piece comes into
being is a time condition. He starts somehwere. This after
that. Each alternative a time condition. For us it is "yes, I
like it" or "yes, I do not."

I cannot have the same approach to music. Where is the


fifth of Beethoven? You think on the records? My
goodness, this is the wrongest falsification of any musical
truth. There is no substitute for space. So, what you've got
is a kind of photography on the record. And then, who
makes the record? How far is that man, concerning the
structure of music? Most all of them are out. They stick to
the notes because they do not know what else to do.

So, about the static: Music hasn't got a single static


element. Even a constellation of different sounds is not
static. So, what is finally the question? The sculptor's
creative work is in time. But when he chops away the first
piece, he knows how the head should lie at the end. So,
it's identity -- end in beginning. But not for us, because we
see the final result. (But there is an American, McClosky[?],
who said that the whole biography of the scrap of hair is
alive and that you should find out where it started and
where it ends.

Q: What would be an ideal performance for you? Do you


try to communicate anything to the audience?
C: I do not have any intention to communicate anything.

Q: Why perform for an audience, then? Why are they


there?
C: Because they want to do the same as me.

Q: You would like them to experience music as you would?


C: No, no, not at all. I cannot think for them. I am one
consciousness only. If they want to do the same as I do,
they can. I cannot control what brings an individual to a
concert. But, if I judge from the short span of my life, they
try to find something which I already know. Many of them
do. Like the Queen of Hanover who said "Maestro, it IS
so." If she made that perception, then she was as free as I
was. So, I cannot animate myself by the desire to give
them something. Through my concentration (or whatever it
is) something comes into being, and they might get it.

Q: So you are just presenting them with something?


C: What is there to be presented? That's static.
Something, with your help, my help, and the musicians'
help might come into being. I follow the recommended line
of the composer and I could feel, more or less, what moved
him to do so. So, if you (the audience) can do the same,
it's all right. But I do not do it for you.