Music Notation and Terminology


Tempo (Continued)

110. Innumerable combinations of the words defined in Sec. 109 with one another and with other words occur. Some of these combinations with their approximate meanings follow. The meaning of any such expression not found in the list may usually be arrived at by consulting the terms defined in paragraph 109 and recalling the use of certain auxiliary terms quoted in Chapter IX.

Largo assai—very slow.

Largo di molto—very slow.

Largo ma non troppo—slow, but not too slow.

Largo un poco—slow, but not so slow as largo. (Cf. larghetto.)


Lentando—with increasing slowness.

Très lentement—very slowly.

Lentissamente—very slowly.

Lentissamamente—very slowly.

Lento assai—very slowly.

Lento a capriccio—slowly but capriciously.

Lento di molto—very slowly.

Andante affettuoso—moderately slow, and with tenderness and pathos.

Andante amabile—moderately slow, and lovingly.

Andante cantabile—moderately slow, and in singing style.

Andante grazioso—moderately slow, and gracefully.

Andante maestoso—moderately slow, and majestically.

Andante con moto—slightly faster than andante.

Andante (ma) non troppo—not too slowly.

Andante pastorale—moderately slow, and in simple and unaffected style; (lit. rural, pastoral).

Andante quasi allegro—almost as rapid in tempo as allegro; (lit. an andante in the style of allegro).

Andante sostenuto—moderately slow and sustained.

Allegrissimo—much faster than allegro. (The superlative degree of allegro.)

Allegro agitato—a moderately rapid tempo, and in agitated style.

Allegro appassionata—a moderately rapid tempo, and in passionate style.

Allegro assai (very allegro)—faster than allegro.

Allegro commodo—a conveniently rapid tempo.

Allegro con brio—an allegro played in brilliant style. Faster than allegro.

Allegro con fuoco—an allegro played with fire, i.e., with extreme animation. Faster than allegro.

Allegro con spirito—an allegro performed with spirit.

Allegro con moto—faster than allegro.

Allegro di bravura—an allegro performed in brilliant style, i.e., demanding great skill in execution.

Allegro furioso (furiously)—quicker than allegro; very brilliant.

Allegro giusto—an allegro movement, but in exact rhythm.

Allegro ma grazioso—an allegro played in graceful style.

Allegro (ma) non tanto—an allegro movement, but not too rapid.

Allegro (ma) non troppo—an allegro movement, but not too rapid.

Allegro (ma) non presto—an allegro movement, but not too rapid.

Allegro moderato—slower than allegro.

Allegro vivace—faster than allegro.

Presto assai—as rapidly as possible.

Presto (ma) non troppo—a presto movement, but not too rapid.

111. There are certain terms which indicate a modification of the normal tempo of a movement, these being divided into two classes, (a) those terms which indicate in general a slower tempo, and (b) those which indicate in general a more rapid tempo. The further subdivisions of these two classes are shown below.

(a) Terms indicating a slower tempo.

1. Terms indicating a gradual retard.

Ritenente, (rit.), ritenuto (rit.), ritardando (rit.), rallentando (rall.), slentando.

2. Terms indicating a tempo which is to become definitely slower at once.

Più lento (lit. more slowly), meno mosso (lit. less movement).

3. Terms indicating a slower tempo combined with an increase in power.

Largando, allargando. These words are both derived from largo, meaning large, broad.

(For terms indicating both slower tempo and softer tone, see page 59, Sec. 127.)

The student should note the difference between groups 1 and 2 as given above: the terms in group 1 indicate that each measure, and even each pulse in the measure, is a little slower than the preceding one, while such terms as più lento and meno mosso indicate a rate of speed becoming instantly slower and extending over an entire phrase or passage. Some composers (e.g., Beethoven and Couperin) have evidently had this same distinction in mind between rallentando and ritardando on the one hand, and ritenuto and ritenente on the other, considering the former (rall. and rit.) to indicate a gradually slackening speed, and the latter (ritenuto and ritenente) to indicate a definitely slower rate. The majority of composers do not however differentiate between them in this way, and it will therefore hardly be worth while for the student to try to remember the distinction.

(b) Terms indicating a more rapid tempo.

1. Terms indicating a gradual acceleration.

Accelerando, affrettando (this term implies some degree of excitement also), stringendo, poco a poco animato.

2. Terms indicating a tempo which is to become definitely faster at once.

Più allegro, più tosto, più mosso, stretto, un poco animato.

112. After any modification in tempo (either faster or slower) has been suggested it is usual to indicate a return to the normal rate by some such expression as a tempo (lit. in time), a tempo primo (lit. in the first time), tempo primo, or tempo.

113. Tempo rubato (or a tempo rubato) means literally in robbed time, i.e., duration taken from one measure or beat and given to another, but in modern practice the term is quite generally applied to any irregularity of rhythm or tempo not definitely indicated in the score.

The terms ad libitum, (ad lib.), a piacere, and a capriccio, also indicate a modification of the tempo at the will of the performer. Ad libitum means at liberty; a piacere, at pleasure; and a capriccio, at the caprice (of the performer).

114. The term tempo giusto is the opposite of tempo rubato (and of the other terms defined in paragraph 113). It means literally in exact time. (Tempo giusto is sometimes translated quite rapidly,[29] but this is very unusual.)

115. L'istesso tempo means—at the same rate of speed. E.g., when a measure signature changes from 2/4 to 6/8 with a change in beat-note from a quarter to a dotted-quarter, but with the same tempo carried through the entire movement.

116. Tenuto (ten.) indicates that a tone or chord is to be held to its full value. This word is sometimes used after a staccato passage to show that the staccato effect is to be discontinued, but is often used merely as a warning not to slight a melody-tone—i.e., to give it its full value.

117. Veloce means—swiftly, and is applied to brilliant passages (e.g., cadenzas) which are to be played as rapidly as possible without much regard for measure rhythm. The words rapidamente, brillante and volante (flying) have the same meaning as veloce.

118. The following expressions referring to tempo are also in common use but cannot easily be classified with any of the groups already defined.

Con moto—with motion; i.e., not too slow.

Pesante—slowly, heavily.

Doppio movimento—twice as rapid as before.

Tempo ordinario—in ordinary tempo.

Tempo commodo—in convenient tempo.

Sempre lento malinconico assai—always slowly and in a very melancholy style.

Animando, animato, con anima—with animation.


119. Tempo di marcia is given by Riemann (Dictionary of Music, p. 783) as equivalent to andante, M.M. 72-84. The same writer gives tempo di menuetto as equivalent to allegretto, and tempo di valso as equivalent to allegro moderato (which he regards as indicating a more rapid tempo than allegretto).

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