[Smt-talk] Pieces with improvisatory openings

Michael Morse mwmorse at bell.net
Mon Oct 24 18:43:42 PDT 2011

  The terminological clarification is interesting and helpful. But I wonder if it doesn't refocus the problem. The transition from no tempo, or something that feels like no tempo, into tempo takes a great many forms. Perhaps the most archetypal is the shift from speech rhythm to measured beat; in Béla Bartók's terms, from parlando rubato to tempo giusto. As many have mentioned, recitative and aria is a case, as is verse and chorus in Broadway show tunes, where the functional shift in rhythmic form is even clearer, because the character(s) speak, often speak for a few chords of musical introduction, then move to parlando, and finally fully measured song. The rhythmic shift, in other words, is (also?) semantic and declamatory.
  Although Beethoven was a celebrated improviser, and some of the pieces cited may be expressions of this side of his musical imagination in written form, I think most of the non-tempo to tempo transitions would be based in or on the rhetorical formal schema aforementioned. I think these passages can feel quasi-improvisatory, simply because the pulse is loose or notional. But the actual formal model at work in the transition is just that, a formal model, and not a function of spontaneity, despite how much the music seems to evoke it.
MW MorseTrent UniversityPeterborough, Oshawa

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