TEMPOS IN CLASSICAL MUSIC
- The Tempo Controversy
- Czerny on choosing the Proper Tempo
- Note to Students and Teachers about Scrolling KlavarScore
Regarding pieces with tempo instructions indicated by various Italian words (Allegro, Andante, etc.), Czerny remarks:
"[In pieces marked Allegro, Andante, etc.] notes of very different value may occur. If therefore a piece marked Allegro there should occur triplets of 16th notes so that a 4-quarter measure is filled up with 24 notes; the Allegro movement must be taken somewhat slower than usual, that we may not be obliged to hurry these notes too much.
But, when common 16th notes are the quickest notes, we may take the Allegro quicker; supposing that these 16th notes do not contain any complicated harmony or passage in several parts, which for the sake of greater intelligibility and faculty of execution, ought to be played in a somewhat moderate degree of movement.
But when in the Allegro movement there occur no quicker notes than triplets of 8th notes, the time may, according to the rule, be taken somewhat faster. An Allegro may be played still quicker when no notes occur in the piece faster than 8th notes of the ordinary description." (From Czerny's Opus 500, Complete Theoretical and Practical Piano School, Volume 3, Chapter VIII)
Below is a table showing suggested BPM (Beats Per Minute) per quarter note depending upon the fastest notes which are prevalent in a piece. The tempo variance is based upon tempo variations observed in a large number of pieces which Czerny had provided metronome suggestions for. Notice how in accordance with Czerny's words above, the BPM is greater when the note values are longer. For example, it suggests that a piece marked Andante, where the fastest notes are eighth notes, might be played at 60 quarter notes per minute, whereas it would be played much faster if the piece contained mostly half notes.
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The Tempo Controversy
Some scholars believe that the music of Czerny and his contemporaries (Beethoven, Listz, etc.) is most commonly played twice as fast as it ought to be played based upon a prevalent misunderstanding of what these composers’ metronome markings meant. On the other hand, most today disagree with their premises, dismisses their evidence with counter arguments and teach that these composers used their metronome markings to mean precisely what the composers of today mean by them, viz. that each tick of the metronome represents the count for the entire note value shown in the metronome marking and not the complete period of vibration (full swing left to right and back again) to represent a full beat, as the former believes.
Regardless of which school of thought is correct, before launching into a study of these exercises, which are all mini pieces of music in their own right, all piano students should consider the following translated from Czerny's Opus 500, "Complete Theoretical and Practical Piano School" (Volume 3, Chapter VIII) on the topics of choosing the proper tempo.
Czerny on choosing the Proper Tempo
From the quiet and moderate Allegretto up to the fiery Prestissimo, there are so many different gradations as to quickness of movement, that in so great a choice, it is in fact not easy to discover the most appropriate time for each piece; particularly as all compositions are not furnished with indications on this point by means of the Metronome; and as the movements prescribed by words cannot sufficiently determine the more delicate differences which exist between them.
The best helps to the more certain discovery of the true time, may be gathered first from the character of the piece. Secondly from the number and duration of the quickest notes, which occur in any one bar.
The character of a piece which is marked Allegro, may be very various viz:
- Tranquil, soft, and coaxing.
- Thoughtful or enthusiastic.
- Sorrowful or harmoniously intricate.
- Majestic, grand and even sublime.
- Brilliant, yet without aiming at too much movement or rapidity.
- Light, cheerful and supportive.
- Hasty and resolute.
- Impassioned, excited, or fantastic and capricious.
- Stormy, hasty; in a serious as well as in a sportive sense. In this case we must generally reckon on brilliant effects.
- Extremely wild, excited, and unbridled or furious.
The player must take great care that in practicing a piece he does not deceive himself as to its real character. For all the above enumerated peculiarities of style may be indicated by the term Allegro; and although the composer generally determines more precisely the character of the piece, by some additional epithet, as moderato, vivace, maestoso, etc., yet this is not always the case, and does not extend far enough for all the passages which it may contain. Even to the Presto these same observations may apply.
In the Allegro, notes of very different value may occur. If therefore in a piece marked Allegro there should occur triplets of 16th notes so that a 4-quarter measure is filled up with 24 notes; the Allegro movement must be taken somewhat slower than usual, that we may not be obliged to hurry these notes too much. But, when common 16th notes are the quickest notes, we may take the Allegro quicker; supposing that these 16th notes do not contain any complicated harmony or passages in several parts, which for the sake of greater intelligibility and faculty of execution, ought to be played in a somewhat moderate degree of movement. But when in the Allegro movement there occur no quicker notes that triplets of 8th notes, the time may, according to the rule, be taken somewhat faster. An Allegro may be played still quicker, when no notes occur in the piece faster than 8th notes of the ordinary description.
It must of course be understood, that all this admits of many exceptions, when the peculiar character of the piece, of which we have already spoken, may make it necessary; or when the composer has expressly indicated the contrary by particular epithets.
Next to correct execution, nothing is more important than the choice of the time. The effect of the finest composition will be disturbed, if not wholly destroyed; if we either hurry it too much; or, what is still worse, play it too slow and dragging. In the first case, the hearer, particularly when he listens to it for the first time, cannot clearly understand its meaning; and in the second case, it must necessarily become tedious to him. If for example we take a piece which, according to the idea of the composer, should not at most last longer than 10 minutes; and if this piece should be executed by the player one third slower, it will of course last for 15 minutes, and by this means become much too long. This alas, but too often takes place even in compositions performed in public, which when executed in this manner, though otherwise well enough played, fail altogether in producing their proper effect. Whoever is not yet in a condition to execute such a piece before others in the proper degree of movement, should chose instead of it, one that is easier. The quicker that a piece is to be played, the more the player must endeavor to make it intelligible, by a beautiful and easy style of execution, by a ready and unlabored mastery of all its difficulties, and by a quiet and distinct volubility of finger, which is always possible, when our execution is properly cultivated, and that the piece has been sufficiently practiced.
In slow pieces containing only quiet and essential notes, the exact observance of the time once fixed upon, is more difficult than in quicker movements. To avoid this uncertainty and the occasional dragging or spinning out of the time, or the opposite fault, that of hurrying it forward; it will be necessary to the not very experienced performer, while he is playing to count, mentally at least, the minor subdivisions of the bar, such as the eighth notes or even the sixteenth notes.
Note to Students and Teachers about Scrolling KlavarScore
On our scrolling scores, we have indicated a suggested time over which in our view the individual pieces should be scrolled so as to be played at an appropriate tempo. We have carefully chosen timings which seem to well befit each exercise and which are in line with a well-researched and historically based understanding of tempo and are in line with Czerny’s words on the matter. We acknowledge that some may feel that they are a bit on the slow side and if so, our goal is not to change your mind. As stated above, the topic of correct tempo is open to debate, so feel free to change these times as you see fit, as long as you feel you may do so while at the same time observing the clear and well accepted rules set forth above in Czerny’s own words.
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