Adagio, Andante and Allegro

I keep forgetting what these terms means. I should technically remember, after all I’ve seen those same musical instructions for years but yet I keep mixing them up.

‘Adagio’ generally requires playing a piece slowly. ‘Andante’ means at a walking pace and a piece of music marked with ‘Allegro’ is one that must be played briskly and lively.

Added to that is all the range of variations such as Adagietto, Andantino, Andante moderato, Allegretto, Allegro moderato and the list could on to include well over a half a dozen more.

I often wonder if composers start off playing and charting out their new piece at the desired speed or if they try out different tempos and see which one fits the music.

It has to be trial and error unless the composer hears the entire piece in his/her head and knows from the start just at what tempo the piece will be played.

I’m always intrigued at exactly how a piece of music is scored, and how many edits and corrections are made along the way, must be endless. I don’t know if I would have the patience to spend so much time determining the tempo of a piece of music.

But, establishing a tempo is something that must be done. Can you just imagine hearing your favourite piece of music played at varying tempos because the artist had complete freedom to do what he/she wanted? 

It would be utter chaos. So, some standards must be set. That way, familiarity can help people grow to learn and love music – because that piece of music was being played the at the same speed at all performances.

Of course, tempo can vary within a piece and that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Take for instance H. Villa-Lobos’ ‘Suite Populaire Bresiliene’, in particular #2 Schottish – Choro – if played any faster than stated (Modere) the entire piece would lose its’ beauty, quirkiness and sway. Contrast that with Augustin Barrios’ epic masterpiece ‘La Catedral’, the third movement is to be played Allegro Solemne. If played at a moderate or slow pace, the entire movement loses its’ intensity and sounds lifeless.

And that’s just two contrasting pieces.

I would like to hope that all the great composers spent many a long hour, labouring over not only the choice of notes, phrasing and embellishments, but also the speed of the piece(s) as well.

And truly, not an hour was wasted defining the correct tempo.

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