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Thread: Tempo in classical pieces

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    Default Tempo in classical pieces

    Hello Everyone,

    I have been struggling with tempo issues with many of the classical piano pieces I have been teaching my students. Is it my imagination that piano players overplay the tempo of so many pieces to show off what they can do. I have in mind a lot of J.SBach's works and Debussy. With Bach I get tempo indications of 16th at 144mm which in my opinion sound like a bunch of rushed garbage. I was just teaching Debussy Children Corner #1 Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum. My student had it comfortable at around 72mm and then heard a version of the same piece played at the recommended Moderato speed and it crushed the student. Actually when I heard the piece at 115-120mm I was very disappointed at how it sounded.
    Are tempos arbitrary and our choice? Any ideas on this?

    chuck rowan

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    Senior Member Edward Elgar's Avatar
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    It entirely depends on what the composer wants, Classical and Romantic tempos are sometimes debatable, but if the style is right, you are playing how the composer intended. Late Romantic and Modern pieces usually have more metronome markings. My advice is, try and make the best music possible.

    Also please note that this is my 200th post on TC
    When all the paint has been dried, when all the stone has been carved, music shall remain, and we shall work with what remains.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward Elgar View Post
    It entirely depends on what the composer wants, Classical and Romantic tempos are sometimes debatable, but if the style is right, you are playing how the composer intended. Late Romantic and Modern pieces usually have more metronome markings. My advice is, try and make the best music possible.

    Also please note that this is my 200th post on TC
    Indeed, as I have learned, many conductors often ignore the tempo markings or notes and play at the speed they personally believe matches the tone or emotion of the piece.

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    Senior Member Handel's Avatar
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    Not a note of baroque music tempo, put it is an interesting nugget.

    John Elliot Gardiner, once said:

    What I set out to recapture is that "danciness" and lightness of foot which Handel demands and which all Baroque music requires to some extent.
    The problem is that for certain orchestra leader, this danciness and lightness = speed, which is partially wrong. If you compare an 1950 orchestra to a modern specialized baroque orchestra, there is a great different. The tempi are faster. But they are probably trying to get this danciness and lightness which need some speed....

    An example:

    "Ancien time" performance of Handel's Arrival of Queen of Sheba:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHUHFLnRNwM

    "Modern time" performance of the same work:
    http://www.box.net/shared/6i1vpb5mq1
    At first, I discovered the wonders of classical music through the marvels of its baroque period and especially those from Mr. Handel, which explain my forum nickname. About 10 years ago, my interest leaned over classical period and Herr Haydn's production. The music bus recently drove me to the early 1800s. Where will it end?

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