Seymour: An Introduction

02 Apr

Seymour: An Introduction – directed by Ethan Hawke. Documentary. 84 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: Hawke memoirs the life and work of the great classical piano teacher Seymour Bernstein, 87.


What do we have here but a visit with a fountain!

He sits and talks with his friends, his students, his director. He plays – and plays divinely – in the great romantic repertoire – in which he concertized successfully until he was 54. Giving up the concert stage once he had passed beyond his fear of it and his dislike of its commercial restrictions, he turned to a long life of teaching. So what?

So his students love him, and we love him too, as he takes the details of half-keying the the approach to a Beethoven sonata or the minutiae of the first chords of the Rachmaninoff 2nd and opens them up to the young ones about to play them in public.

His approach to music is as his approach to life, generous, telling, devoted. He envies no one. He honors the honorable. If music is a divinity, we must hear it from someone like him. What is in his eyes is so simple, so loving. As we see him in master classes elucidating the mantra beat of a Mozart piece and suggesting when to let go the emphasis on a repeat.

When to let go of the emphasis.

So life goes too. What applies to the left hand resounds in the right. And we have a sense of a life unified, no longer compartmentalized, but rich, talented. and fun.

He is happy to think he helped get Clifford Curzon knighted, and we are treated to a delicious recital of Curzon, who was his teacher. And we are also treated to a run-down of the playing of that nut-case Glenn Gould whose eccentricities were more interesting than his Bach.

What we get here is a kindliness crowning a great art. What we get is an earned wisdom, which it is our privilege to sit at the feet of. To hear him go through the pianos in Steinway Hall to find the right one – well, did you ever think you would find yourself this close to a master? And just hear what he says about it. Just hear what he says about pianos.

And, finally, just hear him play the final movement of the Schumann Op 17. Playing it, and explaining it, and playing it.

So, my dears, don’t hold back. Betake yourself to Seymour. He’ll be glad you introduced yourself to him. And so will you.

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