Tuesday, February 20, 2007

pick a tempo

An anonymous commenter writes:
We're in trouble here, Matt. The second movement of Beethoven 5 has a metronome mark from the composer of eighth=92. So why were you presenting it at an audition almost 25% more slowly than that? That's bad, dude, and it's no wonder the guy said what he did....

Just to review, I admitted playing a tempo of 72 in that excerpt - guilty as charged. And tempo can make a huge difference in an audition, since it is one of the quickest ways to reveal inexperience. Committees hear lots of basically solid candidates, and have to make subtle distinctions between players, so if you come in and play a wildly inaccurate tempo, you hand them an easy excuse to eliminate you. No one wants an ignorant player in their section.

And besides that, a faulty tempo can make an excerpt much more difficult to play. That's especially true of this excerpt, with its forte dynamic, long slurs, need for smooth string crossings. Once I got it up to tempo, all those things came off with much more facility.

So I'm taking my anonymous commenter's advice to heart. In preparing for my next audition, which is for the Calgary Philharmonic on March 31st, I've been collecting tempos for all the excerpts. I'll start with Beethoven 5:

    Beethoven 5th Symphony, 3rd movement

  • Beethoven's tempo: dotted half = 96
  • Barenboim / Staatskapelle Berlin: Scherzo=72 in pp, 78 in f; Trio=76
  • Haitink / Concertgebuow: Scherzo=84 in pp, 90 in f; Trio=84
  • Harnoncourt / Chamber Orchestra of Europe: Scherzo=82 in pp, 96 in f; Trio=80
  • Karajan / Berlin Philharmonic: Scherzo=82 in pp, 90 in f; Trio=84
  • Rattle / Vienna Philharmonic: Scherzo=80 in pp, 88 in f; Trio=90
  • Thielemann / Philharmonia: Scherzo=74 in pp, 80 in f; Trio=74
  • Vanska / Minnesota Orchestra: Scherzo=80 in pp, 90 in f; Trio=90

Harnoncourt's recording was the only one that reached Beethoven's tempo, and that was only for certain sections. Like all the others, Harnoncourt went faster in the loud sections of the Scherzo, and relaxed in the softer ones. Probably the Haitink recording is the closest to a median in terms of tempi.

Here's what I found for the 1st movement of Mendelssohn's 4th Symphony:

  • Blomstedt / San Francisco: Dotted quarter=148
  • Flor / Bamberger: 138
  • Solti / Chicago: 156

All three interpretations seemed convincing to me - the differences were in the character and articulation of the repeated 8th notes. The winds really establish this sound, and so the wide range might reflect different styles of wind playing. I'm not sure, but I'd like to hear more recordings of this one. For a while the slower Bamberger tempo felt better to me, but lately I find Blomstedt's tempo works well.


Anonymous said...

wow, what an idiot. It's pretty common knowledge that those tempos are whacky.
At least you have thoroughly shut that guy down (well done).

Anonymous said...

I meant the printed tempos in the beethoven part. just to clarify...

J. Palmeter said...

Dear Matt,

I am a teacher in Connecticut who uses the New York Times as a current events portion of an independent study with a high school senior. My student and I were glad to read your interview with the Times; it provided us with insight into the orchestral breeding grounds in America. My student is currently auditioning at Maryland, Eastman, Juilliard, NEC, BU, Michigan, Ithaca, Temple and Curtis. Thanks for the encouragement, despite the whole tempo issue...it's okay and no one will remember this article in a month, except me who has copied it for my files for future students' reference. Cheers, J. Palmeter, Chair, Killingly Public Schools Music Department