has been examined, when it comes to pop music!)I've never seen a scientific study on the subject, but from my perspective, it would seem that many pieces in the repertoire - from concertos to symphonies - are generally played faster than they were when I was growing up last century. Of course, different artists and conductors have their individual takes on tempi, but I'm talking about an overall trend. (Incidentally, it looks like the subject
The thought hit me hard one night when I switched on the radio while driving, to find that the local classical station was playing one of my very favorite pieces, Symphony No. 1 in E minor by Jean Sibelius. It was a piece I played in youth orchestra, back in the day, and I had purchased a vinyl recording of a 1962 recording by the Philadelphia Orchestra, led by conductor Eugene Ormandy. I played that recording until the grooves nearly wore out - I loved it so much.
Happy as I was to hear this beloved piece in 2020 on my radio, I started getting a little agitated as I listened on. It was most certainly faster, and to me it just did not feel like the same music. I've found my old recording on Youtube, to show you what I mean. Listen, for example, to this excerpt from the second movement, which I've cued up, about 11:20-13:05:
This is what I hear at this particular tempo: the movement begins with a heavy heart: plodding, sorrowful, sighing, hesitant, contemplative. Then it blooms into something grand and noble; the heart throbs a bit more hopefully. Every section feels neatly tied off.
And now here is a more modern version, a 2019 performance by Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, led by David Robertson. It's not the same as the one I heard on the radio (which I can't remember!) but it definitely has the same kind of tempo and feeling: (11:27-12:56)
Still beautiful and well-played - but it feels different to me. The melody flows continuously, and it even has an impatience to it. This is not necessarily negative, but it is different. One section flows into the next - in fact in places, I'd say the new sections interrupt the old ones.
I could come up with more examples. Here's another on Youtube: the Bach Double played by David Oistrakh and Yehudi Menuhin vs. the Bach Double played by anyone in the 21st century, for example Julia Fischer and Alexander Sitkovetsky.
It may not seem like much, just a few metronome markers. But to me, there is a real difference between how a piece feels. We literally call parts of a concerto or symphony "movements," and so the speed of that movement has a real effect.
I know that not everyone has been on the planet for 50 or more years, but we all do listen to old recordings (even my old Sibelius recording was older than me!). What are your thoughts on the matter? I'm open to the idea that I'm being selective, and that tempos really haven't changed that much. But does anyone else feel this trend toward faster tempi? And whatever you feel the trend is, do you like it? Please participate in the vote, and then share your thoughts. If you agree that there is a trend, why is it happening? In what way is it happening? Do you have your own examples? Are there groups or certain conductors that you notice going faster or slower? And when do you enjoy a more brisk tempo? Is there a place for slower tempos?
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