Saturday, April 28, 2012

How Fast, You Say?

In the classical symphony, concerto, sonata, or other genre of classical pieces, movements make up those pieces.  The classical symphony usually has four movements; the classical concerto has three movements; and chamber music pieces, such as string quartets, sonatas, etc. have various amounts of movements, determined by the composer. 

When you go to a symphony concert and look at the program of a piece, you won't just see movement 1, 2, 3, etc.   Each movement will have a description of that movement. Most of the time that description will be of the speed that the movement will be played.  For example, movement 1 might be labeled Allegro, which means fast.  Sometimes, adjectives will be added.  Like Allegro ma non troppo, which means fast, but not so much.  

These descriptions are helpful to the audience and listener of the music. But more than that, these descriptions are important to the maestros and musicians as it lets them know how the composer wants that movement to be played.   While most of the time the speed is the most prominent description of the movement, sometimes the composer adds an adjective to that speed to give an added dimension to the conductor and orchestra.  As an example, a movement labeled Allegro Maestoso, means the composer doesn't just want that movement to be played at a fast speed, but also he wants it to be played in a majestic, stately manner. 

Sometimes, besides the speed and the adjectives that are used to describe the movement, there will be a term that describes the form of the movement.   Examples ot the various forms are rondo, theme and variations, scherzo, romance, trio, etc.- many of these terms I have discussed in previous posts.

Here are just some of the speeds and adjectives that you will see movements being labeled in classical pieces.  Allegro = fast    Adagio = slow   Andante = moderately slow tempo [a little faster than adagio]    Allegreto = moderately fast [not as much as allegro]    Presto = very fast [faster than allegro]    Prestissimo = the fastest it can be played     Ma non troppo  = but not so much 
Maestoso = In a dignified, stately way   Lento = slowly  Vivace = livley  con moto = With feeling   con brio = with spirit  con bravura = with skill   con fuoco = with fire    alla marcia = like a march 
alla breve = in a short style     assai  = very much [you will ususally see Allegro assai] 
cantabile = in a singing manner   menuetto = minuete   molto = much, very

With those terms in mind on how movements are described for the audience and the orchestra, let us listen to one of my favorite composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his final symphony #41 known as "The Jupiter".  I love this great symphony. [You can cheat by looking above for the defintion of the movements]

W. A. Mozart: Symphony #41 in C Major, "the Jupiter", movement 1: Allegro Vivace:

W.A.Mozart: Symphony #41 in C Major, "the Jupiter", movement 2, Andante Cantabile:

W.A. Mozart: Symphony #41 in C Major, "The Jupiter", Movement 3 Menuetto:Allegretto-Trio:

W.A. Mozart: symphony #41 in C Major, " the Jupiter", Movment 4. Molto Allegro:

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