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I was listening to a few performances of Beethoven's sonata 8 (Pathétique) on my Amazon Prime Music account and noticed a thing:

With all four performances I listened to, I noticed a drastic tempo change in the 2nd movement, the Adagio cantabile, in measure 37, where the RH starts with the 16ths triplets. All four pianists increased the tempo quite a bit at that point.

Now, this being the free music streaming that's included in Amazon Prime, I couldn't find many recordings by the big names (I guess you have to actually buy their recordings).

The only name I recognized was Alfred Brendel. He started the Adagio at ~55 BPM for the eighth notes. Then in measure 37 he increased the speed to 80 BPM for the eighths for a short while, then settled down to about 70 BPM - still a lot faster than the 54 BPM he played before.

Similar with the performance by Mélodie Zhao. She played the first part at ~53 BPM for the eighths, then increased to ~70 BPM in measure 37.

Tom Beghin had a very unsteady speed (lots of rubato etc.) from the beginning and gyrated around between 55-65 in the beginning, then increased to 65-80 from measure 37.

Finally, Wilhelm Kempff was the one with the most steady speed. His first part was around 60+BPM if I remember correctly and he only sped up slightly in measure 37, also to around 70BPM I think.

(Again: All of these BPMs for the eighth notes.)

So what's up with that? There's no indication of a tempo change in my Henle edition. Is there such an indication in other editions? Or where does this come from? Has it just "developed" over time that pianists think it sounds better if played that way?


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Originally Posted by JoBert

Has it just "developed" over time that pianists think it sounds better if played that way?


Sort of? It's complicated, and I don't know for sure... But often times, there are cases of things being performed a certain way, because a number of earlier recordings take more liberties, and I think that is dangerous, or at least not the best way to go about figuring out how something should sound. I do not believe one should not just make tempo changes merely based on the pianist feeling that way, if the tempo changes aren't marked. On the other hand, who is to tell Kempff or Brendel how to play Beethoven? They are both iconic Beethoven performers.

But since I am nowhere near the level of those artists, I don't think I can just take artistic liberties just because I hear all the professionals do it... Whenever I play this, I actually keep the tempo the same (at least, I think that's what I always did! It's been a while). I would keep it the same tempo, at least for now. Maybe don't start the movement too slowly? That is something that I've heard people do, at least for my taste.

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According to Anton Schindler the tempo indications of Beethoven sonata movements apply only to the opening measures.

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Richard Goode stays rock-steady at eighth=60.
Peter Takacs speeds up only slightly, from 66 to 72, then returns to 66 at the return of the theme with triplet accompaniment.
Andras Schiff actually slows down significantly so what are you gonna do.
I think tempo is just one of many options available for differentiating between sections. (I happen to prefer a steadier overall tempo, but to use more fluctuations in that section.)


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Beethoven uses those triplets to accompany the last recurrence of the the main theme, it would be strange to play an other tempo, I never heard any pianist speed up before and slow down afterwards, I keep a strict tempo, it works.


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dolce do you have any insight or ideas about why Brendel might do as he does?


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hreichgott, I fear that that way of playing is an atavism of the old days...


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Originally Posted by dolce sfogato
hreichgott, I fear that that way of playing is an atavism of the old days...


Or perhaps he just hears it that way. There is no accounting for taste, and never was.

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laguna, there is no accounting for taste indeed, there is however for tempo, and L.v.B. doesn't prescribe any fluctuation, so let us not be better than Him lol


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Originally Posted by dolce sfogato
laguna, there is no accounting for taste indeed, there is however for tempo, and L.v.B. doesn't prescribe any fluctuation, so let us not be better than Him lol



Well, tell that to Alfred Brendel. He's still alive, so give it a try.

Then duck.

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Nice to see that you're still around, Laguna. I haven't had time to check the web site out recently, but hadn't seen anything from you. I've always enjoyed your insightful and intelligent additions to the conversations here; also, Happy Thanksgiving...

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Thanks for the kind words! I've been busy and am having some seasonal time off now.

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Originally Posted by dolce sfogato
laguna, there is no accounting for taste indeed, there is however for tempo, and L.v.B. doesn't prescribe any fluctuation, so let us not be better than Him lol

On the other hand, Beethoven does not prescribe NOT to change the tempo. Adagio Cantabile can be interpreted in many ways.

In my opinion, as longs as it works musically, anything goes.


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Originally Posted by patH
Originally Posted by dolce sfogato
laguna, there is no accounting for taste indeed, there is however for tempo, and L.v.B. doesn't prescribe any fluctuation, so let us not be better than Him lol

On the other hand, Beethoven does not prescribe NOT to change the tempo. Adagio Cantabile can be interpreted in many ways.

In my opinion, as longs as it works musically, anything goes.


The problem with that is that history does not agree. The style for the period dictates that tempi don't change unless the composer indicates, or there's a very good reason to do so such as a tradition of doing so in a da capo aria in an opera for example.

And the thing of it is that when I hear this piece, I want to hear good Beethoven rather than bad Schumann, which is what it could easily sound like with that tempo change.

...just sayin'...

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Originally Posted by laguna_greg
Originally Posted by patH
Originally Posted by dolce sfogato
laguna, there is no accounting for taste indeed, there is however for tempo, and L.v.B. doesn't prescribe any fluctuation, so let us not be better than Him lol

On the other hand, Beethoven does not prescribe NOT to change the tempo. Adagio Cantabile can be interpreted in many ways.

In my opinion, as longs as it works musically, anything goes.


The problem with that is that history does not agree. The style for the period dictates that tempi don't change unless the composer indicates, or there's a very good reason to do so such as a tradition of doing so in a da capo aria in an opera for example.

And the thing of it is that when I hear this piece, I want to hear good Beethoven rather than bad Schumann, which is what it could easily sound like with that tempo change.

...just sayin'...


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Originally Posted by laguna_greg
The problem with that is that history does not agree. The style for the period dictates that tempi don't change unless the composer indicates, or there's a very good reason to do so such as a tradition of doing so in a da capo aria in an opera for example.

And the thing of it is that when I hear this piece, I want to hear good Beethoven rather than bad Schumann, which is what it could easily sound like with that tempo change.

...just sayin'...
If you want a historically accurate performance, you need to use historically accurate instruments. But nowadays it's hard to get hold of a pianoforte of Beethoven's time.

And we don't know if Beethoven would have played a steady tempo if he had had a 21st century piano to make his music.

So I guess as long as the performer can justify their performance musically, it should be up to them.

BTW when I play this piece I try to keep the tempo.


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Pat,

You are certainly entitled to your opinion, which his held by a fair few. However, one can still get a stylistically correct performance from a modern instrument, which has nothing to do with instrumental acoustics and everything to do with period practice- rubato, tempi, phrasing, articulation, dynamic color, et cetera. One can make Bach, Scarlatti and Mozart sound like "Bach", "Scarlatti" and "Mozart" on modern instruments simply by following what we know about period style and practice.

This is especially true with Beethoven as many of the modern, progressive innovations in instrument design come from his demands made to instrument makers of the time. He was extremely disappointed with contemporaneous instruments and did his best to persuade piano makers he knew to meet his sonic demands. As I understand it, we owe the adoption of triple stringing the treble to him and all his nagging, for one thing.

And most people agree with this sentiment. I'm quite certain that, after reading all his correspondence and conversation books on the subject, he would in no way object.

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In the beginning of the first movement of the b flat Concerto by Tchaikovsky, right there where piano continues solo (diminished seventh chords and arpeggios upward), almost every pianist forgets the triplet time measurement.


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