[Smt-talk] Classical metric fakeouts

gzar at mail2.gis.net gzar at mail2.gis.net
Sun Mar 27 13:42:36 PDT 2011

Dear List,

What interesting questions!

My preference would be for a conductor to lead only whichever "beats" 
the music expresses -- thereby preserving such a possible initial 
surprise. I particularly like the Beethoven Corilolanus opening for 
sounding like its own Introduction -- until it isn't! The "Allegro 
con brio" beats (or any others) needn't be conducted until they are 

Just as an Intro might return before subsequent Development and Recap 
parts -- maybe even to begin a Coda -- so do the returns of the MT of 
the Coriolanus suggest returns of an Intro. Even though we have heard 
fast beats galore, the returns still needn't also be conducted fast.

Even if a conductor does beat fast throughout (or if we simply see 
the tempo labeled in the concert program!), we still get to 
experience the mismatch between that supposed tempo and what we are 
hearing. (Perhaps that's what really long notes are about.) And, of 
course, the Coriolanus offers its own share of metric surprises -- 
expansions, contractions, etc -- the climax of which has to be the 
return to the slow tempo for depicting Coriolanus's death at the end 
(but it doesn't hold a candle to the metric death-throes in the 

Speaking of the Eroica, the conductor Benjamin Zander has pointed out 
that the written tempo of the second movement (whether "Adagio assai" 
or "8th=80") perhaps should give way to a more truly funeral-march 
beat, around MM 20 -- that is, each two-bar hypermeasure expressing 
the step and pause of such a march. In later episodes of the 
movement, the quarter and eighth beats may become relevant -- but 
perhaps not for the opening or for the metrically-amazing closing.

Best regards,


Gerald Zaritzky
Faculty, Department of Music Theory
New England Conservatory of Music
290 Huntington Avenue (Room JH 325)
Boston, Massachusetts 02115  USA
617-585-1373; fax: 617-585-1301
gerald.zaritzky at necmusic.edu

At 15:09 -0400 3/27/11, Mark.AnsonCartwright at qc.cuny.edu wrote:
>Dear Stephen and readers of SMT-talk,
>Examples from the orchestral literature should be regarded with 
>caution, since the tempo may well be "revealed" by the conductor's 
>gestures, even if listeners who keep their eyes closed don't observe 
>those cues.
>We tend to assume that inferences about meter are solely to be drawn 
>from sonic evidence; but let's not forget that the "Classical 
>repertoire," including music as late as 1900, was written before the 
>age of recorded sound.
>Mark Anson-Cartwright
>Aaron Copland School of Music
>Queens College, CUNY
>Mark.AnsonCartwright at qc.cuny.edu

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