Order of the Cynthian Palm

TEMPO

In any type of step-entry MIDI file, tempo is an important contributor to the overall effect and I don't just mean in the obvious sense of general speed of a work or section of a work. I mean rather that, just as the loudness of notes can have different degrees and shadings, so can tempo.

In many cases a single tempo can last through many measures but often notes may be drawn out more or less subtly as in the classic "tempo rubato" ("robbed time") where more time can be given in one place and then made up for by accelerating (the "payback"). 

In a piano piece such as a Chopin Nocturne or even a Mozart slow movement, for example, this can mean that the right hand goes behind or ahead while the left hand keeps strict time. The results of the hands not being together sounds sloppy to modern ears, so the left hand tempo is now generally changed to accommodate the right.

But, in fact, I have used the classic technique in a few spots (rarely in the Elgar Violin Concerto where it might be expected) such as at rehearsal number 79 in the slow movement of the Elgar Second Symphony for the oboe solo where I probably inserted the notes in realtime and then edited them. Here the high notes, mostly, and the tenuto notes, even more, hold out. Then the rest goes faster to make up the time so it finishes together with the other tracks which remain at the stricter slow-march tempo. (Elgar marks the oboe solo "molto rubato, quasi ad lib".) Also the violin solo near the end of the slow movement of the Brahms First Symphony where I did something similar.

In the Overture "In the South" there was a problem with many of the eighth notes especially those marked with tenutos. In order to make sense, they needed to be slowed down in comparison to the rest of the tempo but not to the point of distortion!

And here I'd like to make a few comments on tenuto. The meaning of the term is like its English cognate "tenacious" ("sticking" to the notes or, standard definition, holding them for their full length.). Of course, it's often used on notes in a staccato passage which are to be non-staccato and that is its most obvious meaning. But aside from that, what does Elgar mean when he marks dashes above or below the notes? Paradoxically, in practice, it seems to mean that the notes should be not quite legato unless slurs are also present!

Mainly I think it often means to slow down slightly but make the notes slightly detached. Sometimes it seems to mean a slight fermata or sometimes just less phrased. And, at other times a very slight accent is also implied. I would advise a sequencer to try to perceive the real musical meaning and to be flexible about how it is accomplished. I adopted a rather free tempo for the theme of the Enigma Variations because of the tenuti and think, at least in that brief instance, I was more expressive than, say, Adrian Boult who seems to ignore many of these markings. (Elgar's own recording is, of course, inimitable.}

I've written at length about the sequencing of the Violin Concerto cadenza and how an extra beat may be added if necessary and the actual time adjusted with tempo when a long break is desired. But in many works, shorter breaks are wanted, between sections for instance. Here, I usually use the procedure of shortening the final note or chord slightly before the break and again adjusting the tempo to increase the break time, if desired. Not doing this can give an effect similar to a run-on sentence in grammar. The tempo change can increase the held time (as in a fermata) or break time or both, depending on where and to what degree the slower tempo is inserted.

Edward Gold

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