Publication:
Conductors' tempo choices shed light over Beethoven's metronome

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2020-12-16
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PLOS
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During most part of Western classical music history, tempo, the speed of music, was not specified, for it was considered obvious from musical context. Only in 1815, Maelzel patented the metronome. Beethoven immediately embraced it, so much as to add tempo marks to his already published eight symphonies. However, these marks are still under dispute, as many musicians consider them too quick to be played and even unmusical, whereas others claim them as Bethoven’s supposedly written will. In this work, we develop a methodology to extract and analyze the performed tempi from 36 complete symphonic recordings by different conductors. Our results show that conductor tempo choices reveal a systematic deviation from Beethoven’s marks, which highlights the salience of “correct tempo” as a perceptive phenomenon shaped by cultural context. The hasty nature of these marks could be explained by the metronome’s ambiguous scale reading point, which Beethoven probably misinterpreted.
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Martin-Castro A., & Ucar, I. (2020). Conductors’ tempo choices shed light over Beethoven’s metronome. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0243616.