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Re: Tempo Rubato explained
Frozenicicles #1731035 08/11/11 12:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Frozenicicles
I had a teacher who told me to practise rubato with the metronome so that I could be sure I was giving back all the time I stole. It's not a completely ridiculous concept to everyone because he must have learned it somewhere.


That's not necessarily because your teacher wanted you to "give back all the time that you stole". It makes perfect sense because it will have you think about the pulse of the piece all the while.. so all your rubato would be in that context. Also, it will help you come back and reestablish that pulse. The intention of that exercise was not for you to speed up beyond the pulse of the metronome so as to "return" all the time that you stole.. I mean, how would a metronome help with that anyway (you'll probably need two metronomes.. one each for the minimum and maximum tempo, where the "real" tempo is the average of the two)? wink

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
liszt85 #1731038 08/11/11 12:43 PM
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^^ Well said. I think so too. ^^

BTW, I remember a quote from a famous pianist from long ago -- maybe Paderewski -- about rubato, "What is taken cannot always be given back. We are not so noble." That's probably not exact, but as close as I remember. I wonder if anyone will know who said it, and can find the actual quote.....

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
liszt85 #1731040 08/11/11 12:45 PM
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Originally Posted by liszt85
Originally Posted by Frozenicicles
I had a teacher who told me to practise rubato with the metronome so that I could be sure I was giving back all the time I stole. It's not a completely ridiculous concept to everyone because he must have learned it somewhere.


That's not necessarily because your teacher wanted you to "give back all the time that you stole". It makes perfect sense because it will have you think about the pulse of the piece all the while.. so all your rubato would be in that context. Also, it will help you come back and reestablish that pulse. The intention of that exercise was not for you to speed up beyond the pulse of the metronome so as to "return" all the time that you stole.. I mean, how would a metronome help with that anyway (you'll probably need two metronomes.. one each for the minimum and maximum tempo, where the "real" tempo is the average of the two)? wink

No, he made me buy a metronome that could tell me what the first beat of the bar was. Basically, you don't play exactly with the pulse but you have to make sure that your first beat aligns with the first beat of the bar at certain points.

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
EltonRach #1731183 08/11/11 04:02 PM
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This may not be a very good question, but, what makes an exceptional rubato stand out in a piece?

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
EltonRach #1731208 08/11/11 04:37 PM
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My impression of standard performance practice is that accelerandos (accelerandi?) usually do get rapaid, but ritardandos don't.

Psychologically, in listening to a performance with rubato, an accelerando that isn't offset by a subsequent ritardando leaves me feeling somehow cheated. That, for me, is the scenario where time needs to paid back, and most performers seem to oblige.

On the other hand, a lone ritardando without an accelerando feels just fine; it's as if money's been put into the bank, so to speak. There's no need to compensate for it, and most performers don't.

(Sorry, I don't have a good answer for Musicfan1979's excellent question just above.)

Last edited by MathGuy; 08/11/11 04:53 PM. Reason: Typo
Re: Tempo Rubato explained
EltonRach #1731412 08/11/11 10:44 PM
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I have my own interpretation of Chopin's tempo rubato, based on the historical record.

We know the following:

In Chopin's teenage years, when he was developing his own pianistic technique, he wrote that there were three great composers: Mozart, Hummel, and Beethoven. Beethoven stopped performing publicly around the time Chopin arrived in Vienna, but he did hear Hummel frequently and was tremendously influenced by him.

Hummel was Mozart's direct descendent in terms of the piano, having lived with the Mozarts for two years, taking lessons from Mozart, and helping him with notating orchestral parts, etc. Hummel took Mozart's piano technique and multiplied it ten times over. He was the leading piano virtuoso from 1800 to 1820, specializing in the modern brillante style popular in Vienna. His rivals, such as Clementi, Czerny, Moscheles, and Weber, were excellent pianists but not at Hummel's level of virtuosity. Hummel's music is very difficult to play, and most pianists do not bother putting in the time because they are uncertain the musical content will support such hard work.

Hummel was the first composer to fuse bel canto opera style with piano lyrical passages. He did this by introducing into the melodic line on the piano the use of short candenzas as was common with opera singers (who often improvised these lines). He also introduced the idea of two or three pages of leggiero filigree music in the right hand against a simple chordal progression in the left hand.

You can see this style of piano music in Hummel's Op. 18 Fantasie, or in any of his sonata slow movements. Chopin borrowed these ideas directly from Hummel, as you can see in his Nocturnes, the Berceuse, the last page of the Barcarolle, and the Impromptus.

Now we get to the performance part. All the written comments we have on Hummel agree on one thing - he played with very strict tempos, allowing brief ritardandos only on cadences, and these are clearly marked in his music. He had, however, to allow his lyrical cadenzas to breathe or they would not be musical or in any way imitating the voice. Therefore, these passages sped up or slowed down as the emotions dictated, all while the left hand played a strict tempo. The effect was said to be mesmerizing on audiences, and clearly affected Chopin. His best Nocturne writing is done exactly in this manner, creating a hypnotic mood for the audience.

Not surprisingly, what we have in the written record is that Chopin played his own music in relatively strict tempos, as Hummel would. The florid ornamentation was allowed to breathe fast or slow, but only against the rigid tempo. There is some indication the ornamentation could slip across bars, as long as both left and right hand ended up at the end in the same place. This is described by observers as Chopin's tempo rubato.

Today's practice of playing Chopin's rubato with a slowing down or speeding up of both right hand and left hand synchronized may not therefore represent what Chopin intended. This is not to say that Chopin never slowed down both hands together, but when he writes rubato, he wants you to keep going at the same tempo but breathe some life into the ornamentation.

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
Numerian #1731415 08/11/11 10:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Numerian
....Not surprisingly, what we have in the written record is that Chopin played his own music in relatively strict tempos, as Hummel would. The florid ornamentation was allowed to breathe fast or slow, but only against the rigid tempo.....

IMO it's not as simple as some people might read that, because we don't know how literally to take the "strict tempo" thing -- and many people (I included) think the answer is, not very.

Speaking of which, I'm pleased that you said relatively strict. thumb

Quote
....This is not to say that Chopin never slowed down both hands together....

yes

Quote
....but when he writes rubato, he wants you to keep going at the same tempo....

As per the above, I don't agree with that, unless you add something like "relatively" again -- or, if you mean "tempo" in a loose way. To me, even a very broad rubato which also to some extent involves the accompaniment doesn't change or even bend the "tempo."

(Nice post.) smile

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
EltonRach #1731417 08/11/11 10:50 PM
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If you cite all of your sources, I'll gladly agree with you.

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
EltonRach #1731434 08/11/11 11:42 PM
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I found Rachmaninoff playing Chopin nocturne Op 9 No 2 on Youtube. I feel it is a very beautiful example of "rubato."


Re: Tempo Rubato explained
BruceD #1731446 08/12/11 12:23 AM
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Originally Posted by BruceD
pianoloverus and liszt85 :

That's more or less the way I (would like to) interpret what Barenboim says. To interpret "if you borrow you must pay back" as implying a balance sheet to make up for stolen time is just - for the third use of the word - silly.

It makes much more sense to me - and certainly listening to great artists bears this out - that there is a basic tempo that a piece must adhere to, and while we may deviate from that tempo as the music of the moment may dictate - we should return to that tempo and maintain it as the basic tempo of the piece. I am not sure that that is what Barenboim is saying, but I don't see any other musical or logical way of interpreting his remark.

Regards,


I think this interpretation waters down what Barenboim said. Near the beginning of the video he described the ideal rubato* as one where the player loses and later regains synchronization with an imaginary metronome. That can only mean compensating for speeding up by slowing down later, or vice versa. That is not the same thing as requiring a return to a basic tempo, or rather it is that, yet more restrictive.

As for the "balance sheet" idea, Barenboim emphasized that the return of the stolen time must occur within a small enough duration lest the musical line be broken. He is not advocating stealing and returning time over the course of an entire piece or sonata movement.

In one of Tobias Matthay's books, there is a chapter on rubato, with examples of musical phrases with graphs showing where and how much time to steal and return over the course of the phrase. I believe Matthay thought about rubato in the same way as Barenboim.

*He also said the ideal can't always be realized.

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
EltonRach #1731487 08/12/11 02:11 AM
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I think that people, even great ones, get carried away interpreting "rubato" according to its strict Italian translation (i.e. stolen). I don't understand the "return" part. It, necessarily implies that the whole piece must be performed within a strict time frame of x minutes. Thus if you slow down somewhere, you have to accelerate (return) elsewhere.. Not very sensical, to my mind.

I do like the idea of "lingering". 'tis exactly that, IMHO of course. Now some are langorous, others barely stay.. but all must return to the tempo they set out for the piece. Yes?


Re: Tempo Rubato explained
EltonRach #1731611 08/12/11 09:10 AM
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As I have pointed out on the thread re Barenboim's nomination for the Nobel peace prize, he also said the same thing in his Reith lectures. I think he does mean that what is taken should be given back and I am pretty sure that he does not mean this strictly mathematically - no-one could calculate how many micro seconds need repaying over a few bars etc. However, I would imagine that he is referring to small changes in tempo, not rits and accels marked (or unmarked). That is, the subtle changes in time within bars or phrases that, if not at least somewhat balanced by a corresponding change in time will start to make the basic pulse unsteady.

Barenboim may be "wrong", may be in a small minority, may be calling for an unreachable goal, but I have too much respect for him to call him "silly".

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
sandalholme #1731653 08/12/11 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by sandalholme
That is, the subtle changes in time within bars or phrases that, if not at least somewhat balanced by a corresponding change in time will start to make the basic pulse unsteady.
Why would that happen?

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
pianoloverus #1731708 08/12/11 11:25 AM
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Simply that the basic pulse will be lost if there are too many shifts in pulse, say quickening, that are not somewhat compensated by holding back. Just returning to the basic pulse may not be enough to indicate the basic pulse to the listener if the faster pulse is quite frequent: which is actually the fundamental pulse?

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
sandalholme #1731747 08/12/11 12:23 PM
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Originally Posted by sandalholme
Simply that the basic pulse will be lost if there are too many shifts in pulse, say quickening, that are not somewhat compensated by holding back.....

Who's talking about 'too many'? smile

There are many ways of losing the basic pulse, most particularly a lack of adequate sense of pulse grin but I don't think this is one of them. Especially if you don't do "too" many!

(What's "too" many? The amount that would lose the pulse.) grin

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
Steve712 #1731769 08/12/11 12:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Steve712
If you cite all of your sources, I'll gladly agree with you.


Regarding Chopin's admiration for Hummel, from a letter in 1840 to Anne Caroline de Belleville:

"As for the little waltz which I had the pleasure of writing for you, I beg you to keep it for yourself. I do not wish it to be published. But I would like to hear it played by you, dear Madam, and to attend one of your elegant reunions, at which you so marvelously interpret such great masters as Mozart, Beethoven, and Hummel, the masters of all of us. The Hummel Adagio, which I heard you play a few years ago in Paris at M. Erard's, still sounds in my ears..."

Regarding Hummel's playing, a letter from the pianist Tomaschek in 1816:

"Hummel played very nicely, never losing strict tempo, a virtue that is not practiced much in these times."

Regarding Hummel's influence on Chopin, from Harold Schonberg:

"Hummel may have been a classicist, but his music verges on romanticism and contains some remarkable anticipations of Chopin. The openings of the Hummel A minor and Chopin E minor Concertos are too close to be coincidental; and the B minor Concerto has a type of brilliant, florid figuration - and exceedingly pianistic it is, too - that must have influenced the Polish composer. It also is hard to escape the notion that Chopin was very familiar with Hummel's now forgotten Op. 67, composed in 1815 - a set of twenty-four tiny preludes in all major and minor keys, starting with C major."

Here is Harold Schonberg on Chopin's rubato:

"In matters of exact, measured rhythm Chopin was, as his pupil Mikuli, said, inexorable, and he always had a metronome on the piano. Rubato should never be an invitation to license. The secret as Chopin practiced it is that the feeling of individual note values was always preserved, whatever the temporary rhythmic displacement; the rhythm would fluctuate but never the underlying metrical pulse....Indeed, Chopin's rubato, except for its broader quality, was probably not unlike Mozart's. Mozart had written that in an adagio tempo rubato the left hand should go on playing in strict time. Von Lenz, who could not have known of Mozart's letter, quotes Chopin as saying, 'The left hand is the conductor, it must not waver or lose ground; do with the right hand what you will and can. Suppose that a piece lasts a given number of minutes; it may take just so long to perform the whole, but in the details deviations may occur.'...In short, vary as much as is necessary, but never lose the basic meter."

You can see from this that Chopin's rubato was handed down from Mozart to his prized student Hummel, who influenced Chopin considerably. Chopin then added some twists to the definition of rubato, especially in his nationalistic music of Mazurkas and Polonaises, where Chopin would consistently linger on the opening beat of a bar, virtually altering the meter entirely. Nonetheless, a strict meter was maintained.

Somehow this has gotten confused with borrowing and repaying time, which has led to the modern practice in Chopin of allowing both left and right hand to slow down or speed up. There are many modern performances of Chopin's music where the tempo is lost altogether. Lang Lang is particularly guilty of this, but he has such exquisite touch that the delicacy of his playing allows the listener to forget that a consistent tempo doesn't exist in the music. Other pianists of lesser stature and tone control do not have this excuse.

The quotes can be sourced in several different scholarly publications, but all of them can be found conveniently in Harold Schonberg's The Great Pianists.

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
sandalholme #1731773 08/12/11 12:53 PM
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Originally Posted by sandalholme
Simply that the basic pulse will be lost if there are too many shifts in pulse, say quickening, that are not somewhat compensated by holding back. Just returning to the basic pulse may not be enough to indicate the basic pulse to the listener if the faster pulse is quite frequent: which is actually the fundamental pulse?
I think this is such a broad generalization that it becomes of little value.

For starters, I don't think returning to the basic tempo immediately after a slowing down type rubato or by gradually speeding up would make anything clearer to a listener about what the basic tempo is. And in many pieces, whole sections can be at somewhat different basic tempi.

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
Numerian #1731783 08/12/11 01:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Numerian
Today's practice of playing Chopin's rubato with a slowing down or speeding up of both right hand and left hand synchronized may not therefore represent what Chopin intended. This is not to say that Chopin never slowed down both hands together, but when he writes rubato, he wants you to keep going at the same tempo but breathe some life into the ornamentation.
I think that except possibly in fioritura passages lasting only a few measures the idea of the LH staying in perfect rhythm while the RH plays rubato is:

1. Not used by virtually any pianist playing today or in the past 50 years
2. Actually impossible to achieve because one hand would soon get completely out of allignment with the other and stay that way until the stolen time was given back.

Virtually all pianists play almost always with any slowing down/speeding up synchronized.


Re: Tempo Rubato explained
EltonRach #1731810 08/12/11 02:10 PM
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Actually, pianoloverus, I think you are right. Nobody plays this way today. It is a point made occasionally by Schonberg; for example, modern audiences would simply not accept Beethoven if he showed up today playing his own sonatas. He would be laughed off the stage for his limited and distorted idea of what Beethoven's music should sound like.

As to whether somebody could play this way, I suppose anything is possible, even though we might find the result strange and unmusical. When I play Hummel I try to keep a strict tempo except at marked spots (almost always cadences). This means that his lyrical passages, usually in sixteenths, need to be played rubato to make any sense - otherwise everything sounds metronomic and non-musical. Of course, this was a criticism of Hummel later in his life, but I suspect at his prime he could pull it off - strict tempo in the left hand, and gorgeous shaping of the melody rhythmically and tonally in the right hand.

Re: Tempo Rubato explained
Numerian #1731813 08/12/11 02:14 PM
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So.....you're sticking to the idea that Chopin meant it so literally, eh....

I think that's a mistake.

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