When it comes to playing classical music, it is abundantly important to not only play the right notes, but also to understand the tempo. When you take into consideration the fact that the musical terminology for tempo is usually written in a different language such as Italian, and you can have a serious misunderstanding on your hands. Rather than just playing the notes on the page, have a greater understanding of the classical composition with some detailed translations. Here is a look at some of the most common tempos used in classical and baroque pieces.
The word adagio means slowly in Italian, and when applied to a composition, it means the piece should be played at a gradual pace. Johann Sebastian Bach had several compositions with an adagio tempo. The result of an adagio tempo is a sleepy, often haunting melody.
An allegro tempo is played quickly, merrily and with spirit. A good example of a piece that is performed in the allegro tempo is Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.” The piece is fast and played with spirit.
Allegreto is a moderately fast tempo, but less so than allegro is. Allegretto was a commonly used tempo during the classical era. Allegretto is used in Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7.”
Andante is played at a slow pace, but not sleepily. The andante tempo is played with a “walking tempo.” A walking tempo is played slowly, but with strong notes and force. A prime example of a piece played in the tempo of andante is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 21.”
Andantino is played at a slightly faster pace than andante. The tempo is slow, but approaching moderate. An example of a piece played in the andantino tempo is Franz Schubert’s “Sonata in A major.”
Grave is a tempo that is played very slowly and produces a very somber, melancholy sound. A brilliant use of the grave tempo is displayed in Frédéric François Chopin’s “Sonata No. 2 in b flat minor.”
Largo is played with long, broad notes that can often produce a slower overall tempo. A fantastic example of a composition that uses the largo tempo is Antonio Vivaldi’s “Winter” from his “Four Seasons Suite.” The sound is not at all sleepy, but on the slower side due to the broad notes.
Larghetto is also played with broad notes, but not as broad as the largo tempo. For an example of this, go no further than George Frederic Handel’s “Concerto Grosso in b minor.”
The moderato tempo is played moderately; not fast, not slow. A good example of the moderato tempo appears in Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2.” As with much of his work, “Piano Concerto No. 2” is a power piece that shows off the moderato tempo well.
The presto tempo is played very fast and with zest. One particular piece comes to mind when I think of the presto tempo and it is Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No. 14.” The piece is played in the tempo of presto agitado, which means it is played very fast and with agitated or jerky movements. One listen to Beethoven’s piece, and you will see why the tempo of presto agitado was required.
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