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Thread: Musicologist Question: Do Composers Have A Fave Length Of Time?

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    Default Musicologist Question: Do Composers Have A Fave Length Of Time?

    I posted this in the 'General' area and got zilch. Since this seems to be the place to be for 'serious' questions, I thought I'd try again. If that's impolite, feel free to delete...

    I'm looking for some 'scholarly research'. I want to know how to find out if anyone has done the following study: Mapped the frequency distribution or average length of a movement or composition by composer.

    Background: Many of us have noticed that most guys seem to want to play at the same tempi over and over for a given style. (In my case, I will almost always fall into 123bpm for one style, 96 for another, 71 for a third. I've compared recordings of myself over the past 30 years and it's -amazing- how consistent this is.) I'm almost sure -everyone- has a similar internal 'metronome'.

    Well I've expanded this... I now wonder if most composers tend to write the same -length- of sonata movement or minute or aria or rondo or whatever over and over. IOW: if we all have a baked-in 'favourite length of time' within a certain genre.

    Some examples: Does Beethoven have a certain length (in minutes/seconds) that he uses over and over for the majority of his scherzos. Or do most Bach organ preludes tend to have the same length. Do Verdi arias tend to be the same length?

    No scholar me... but based on the arcane subjects I've read about in the past, I think it likely that -some- grad student -somewhere- has done research like this for some thesis. My suspicion is that there is a spreadsheet with a 'frequency distribution' laid out in very fancy statistical terms by composer, period, type of music, etc.

    So... how would I find out? Is there some central 'repository' for such papers? And if so, how does a non-academic gain access?

    TIA.

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    Senior Member GreenMamba's Avatar
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    Maybe there isn't any research into it. Just casual listening would suggest that, e.g., Beethoven does not have a certain length that he uses over and over for his scherzos.

    I'm curious about your claim in paragraph three. Do most guys want to play at the same tempi? Any research done?

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    No scholar, me either. I have preferred maximum lengths. Symphonies 40 minutes. Concerti 30 minutes. Chamber, solo 20 minutes. In concert attendance, I've been known to walk out, if the budgeted time is exceeded. Au contraire, if the times are undercut, I've been known to yell, "I want more!" I have exceptions, but those are a secret.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GreenMamba View Post
    Maybe there isn't any research into it. Just casual listening would suggest that, e.g., Beethoven does not have a certain length that he uses over and over for his scherzos.

    I'm curious about your claim in paragraph three. Do most guys want to play at the same tempi? Any research done?
    Yeah, Beethoven may be the exception to just about everything. An old music prof of mine suggested that it should be 'easy' to go to Amazon or some place and cut n paste the timings from albums and 'do your own research'. Yeah, right.

    But really it shouldn't be too tough to make a spreadsheet of timings by composer/genre. The trick is grouping things.

    AFA my 'claim'. Yes. This is a game I've played with musicians since I was a kid. If you sit -most- people down and ask them to play a piece (or improvise in a certain style) they will tend fall into the same tempo almost every time. This is only my anecdotal/empirical observation but since almost -everyone- I've met seems to conform to it, I'm pretty sure it's true. No one has ever told me it's NOT... or offered evidence to disprove.

    You can easily test it yourself if you have recordings of yourself playing the same piece over a period of years. We tend to do things the same way over and over UNLESS we are consciously trying to work against that tendency.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaneyes View Post
    No scholar, me either. I have preferred maximum lengths. Symphonies 40 minutes. Concerti 30 minutes. Chamber, solo 20 minutes. In concert attendance, I've been known to walk out, if the budgeted time is exceeded. Au contraire, if the times are undercut, I've been known to yell, "I want more!" I have exceptions, but those are a secret.
    I had a prof. in college who felt that concerts should not last much longer than 90 minutes. He felt strongly that there was -something- in that 90 minute time period that is baked into human nature. You can do longer things (opera) but that's because there are intermissions--and even then it's 'dangerous'.

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    Senior Member GreenMamba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by suntower View Post
    AFA my 'claim'. Yes. This is a game I've played with musicians since I was a kid. If you sit -most- people down and ask them to play a piece (or improvise in a certain style) they will tend fall into the same tempo almost every time. This is only my anecdotal/empirical observation but since almost -everyone- I've met seems to conform to it, I'm pretty sure it's true. No one has ever told me it's NOT... or offered evidence to disprove..
    Well, it's not up to them to disprove your thesis, it's up to you to prove it. Still, if you ask someone to play any piece, then yes, I can see them hitting the same tempo. There's an unthinking element to it. But the act of composition is more deliberate

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    10 minutes is a good time for a short piece in one movement. If it's multi-movement, each one could be around 5 minutes. For a longer 3-movement work, 30 minutes. I wish Mahler and Wagner had reigned it in a little bit.
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    I wish Mahler and Wagner had reigned it in a little bit.
    I couldn't agree more. I -never- listen to Mahler. But you'll hear snippets used in movies all the time and they always sound great. So I go back and give it a try and then it goes on and on and I make another mental note... no more Mahler. But the truth is that nearly ALL his ideas are fantastic. I drop the needle at any moment and I think 'fabulous'. But taken as a whole unit, there's simply too much.

    But back to the original question, what I had hoped was that some grad student had a spreadsheet somewhere with the timings of every movement of all Mahler symphonies (and Song of Earth) organised by tempo (presto, andante, etc.) And then repeated for another 100 famous composers. My -guess- is that within each guy, there would be a consistent length.

    In short, I think we're each wired to write a certain length like we each have an innate respiration. Mahler was clearly like those free divers who hold their breath for 5 minutes.

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