‘Con discrezione’ – Tempo as a means of expression

by Reitze Smits | Het ORGEL | Year 119 | (2023) | Issue 4

Louis Couperin, Prélude à l’imitation de Mr. Froberger Het eerste akkoord opgevat als een uitgebreid arpeggio met accacciatura’s

Musicians think about tempo in very different ways. Some urge a constant tempo, with the metronome as objective standard, but others search for freedom and flexibility, driven by musical feeling. Of course both approaches have a place, depending on the style of the music. But there seems in our time to be a strong tendency to take a rigorously strict tempo as starting point for all music. This tendency probably arose in the early 20th century, as a reaction to the rubato performance style of the previous century, and also as an expression of modernity, as a choice for objectivity as against the subjectivity of romanticism. How did 18th- and 19th-century musicians think about tempo? Reitze Smits offers interesting insights using various sources.

Historical Recordings

‘Decoding Idiosyncratic Hairpins’ van Cheong Yew Choong

Explanation by pianist Seymour Bernstein (starting at 18.44)

How did Brahms play the piano?

Max Reger – Welte-recording