Transcribed from Audio Recording
Curtis Institute of
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
-- 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
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."
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?
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,
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
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
Q: I'm speaking in
terms of the music and the instrumentalist or performer, conductor
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
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
Q: Well, I'm talking
practically now --
Q: Rather than say
"no," say what the positive things are that you want in order to get
C: What which is positive?
"I want you to be spiritual." How does he manage that? But, if I
"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
How could he know when they
"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
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 ...
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.