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Mozart Requiem Tempo issues: Why so Slow?!?

 
I have a discussion question which we won't be able to solve but I wanted to hear from more experienced and knowledgable parties.  I am troubled lately by a performance practice question in late 18th-century music.  When composers use the C-slash (i.e. cut time) time signature and give a tempo indication, does that indication apply to the half-note pulse?  Otherwise, why use cut-time? 
 
Let's take the Tuba mirum of the Mozart Requiem for example: (there are other appropriate examples in the music of Mozart and Haydn)
The Tuba Mirum is in cut time with an Andante tempo.
I sang the Levin and Sussmeyer versions of this piece and have listened to dozens of recordings of this movement and none of them come close to achieving anything above half-note=46.  So, did Mozart intend Andante to apply to the quarter-note pulse rather than the half-note, or has a tradition of milking that dramatic trombone and bass opening caused us all to ignore the tempo and time signature markings in favor of what's pleasing to our ears?  Granted, the trombone arpeggios will be the limiting factor on the high side of our tempo range.
 
I don't want to get sidetracked into discussions of exactly what tempo Mozart's Andante is on a modern metronome because that is somewhat fruitless.  Let's just accept 'appropriate tempo' is largely subjective and contains a range of tempos.  That being said, I think that most modern conductors approach the Tuba Mirum from a 'quarter-note centric' viewpoint.  I'm wondering if this is one of those times where convention dictates modern practice?
 
I'd love to hear of other examples of this issue.
I welcome your thoughts and hopefully someone can point me to a recording where it's a little more peppy,
rw.
Replies (25): Threaded | Chronological
on June 7, 2012 9:48am
What a fabulous discussion!  I've skimmed it again and hope I'm not repeating too much of what's been said.
 
I thnk we HAVE to take the cut time marking as having some meaning, and we all  struggle with just what that meaning is.  Maybe, sometimes, perhaps (enough qualifiers?)  we shoudl think more about the pulse of the harmonic rhythm than the pulse of the tempo.  If we look at Ave verum or lacrymosa the harmonic rhythm is very slow, which allows for a slightly faster tempo perhaps?  I FEEL the Ave verum in two but I sure don't always conduct it in two, and I sure don't always conduct it in the same pattern all the way through the piece.  I love the opening in 2 - it's just one chord really and I really love the way the whole piece unfolds in 2, and how the phrases move.   Cujus moves to latus better in two, for me.  perfor- moves to ratum, unda moves to fluxit, all that sort of stuff.  I have come to really hate the Ave verum too slow.  I think we see/hear the minutiae but not the beauty of Mozart's phrases.
 
I can't imagine any longer, since the days of vinyl, the Lacrymosa in 12.  Again, minutiae over shape, and the harmonic motion is too slow.
 
The tuba mirum is MUCH harder for me, and maybe it's years of hearing the trombone slow, as someone said.  The last time I did the Mozart I struggled and struggled with this movement.  When the tenor comes in at Mors Stupebit I definitely feel two as the prevailing "pulse," though it's not a pulse I can easily control in two, at least not to start.  But at whatever tempo I ultimately choose, it seems counter-musical to me to conduct "cum resurrget" in 4.  So I start with that and then go back to the opening.  I think it's definitely a cut-time movement - phrasing, harmonic rhythm, the whoel thing - that I often conduct in 4.  I'd LOVE for us to ask trombonists how THEY feel it!  I'll bet they play more musically thinking in 2.
 
Ah, the Hostias. It's the same thing,  Way more elgant thinking/feeling in 1, no matter what I wind up conducting.  I think I always conduct in three.  But I also dance a waltz in three and feel it in one (assuming I coudl actually dance a waltz).  Isn't it the same?  Too slow, it loses elgance and gracefullness and that opening I chord and then V chord last forever! (:-)  I think the last time I did it (3 weeks ago) I started in 3 and by "et preces tibi" I was in 1.  It just sings better for me!
 
Sorry to be so long-winded but I can't stand it when the phrases don't hang together.
 
Shoudl we now tackle the first movement of the B Minor Mass? (:-)  I think Karl Richeter's opening movement took the entire side of a record!
 
David
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 11, 2012 6:13am
Couldn't agree more, Lucy.  "Academic" tempi that our performers can't perform well or that the room can't handle well ultimately make no sense.  We all find ourselves adjusting tempi when we leave our stufy and move into rehearsal, and often again when we leave rehearsal and move into the concert hall or cathedral or wherever.  Dry hall vs. live hall, outside vs. inside, all these are taken into account (or should be!) when we get closer to performance.  But as you say, we have to start with what we think makes the best musical sense given our understanding of the composer's markings (4/4/ vs. 2/2, for instance), the period, the style, and so on.  I suspect John Howell will agree with this next statement, as we had the same teachers.  If there is noe thing I learned from Julius HErford and Fiora Contino in combination, it was to learn absolutely everything possible about the composer, the period, the style, the instruments, the forces, and so on, and THEN be as musical as you can possibly be.  If there's one thing I learned from 7 summers with Helmuth Rilling, it's to know all that (and my god he does!) and then conduct in 2012, not in 1723.
 
Sorry, dont' mean to sound so preachy!
 
And the Laudate is another excellent example of a piece where tempi often go astray, isn't it.
 
David
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 11, 2012 10:21am
David:  Amen!  I can't remember whether you were in the Saturday Seminar with Juli when he said about Fiora, "She studies the score and knows exactly what is there, and then she performs it exactly as she wants to!"  And he said it admiringly!!
 
John
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 11, 2012 3:12pm
And then Juli added:  But she's SO Italian.  Not necessariily so admiringly! (:-)
on June 11, 2012 4:06pm
I love this response, Robert!  And I'm not sure Helmuth was half-joking!
 
I make my conducting students conduct Palestrina Sicut Cervus or Byrd Ave Verum (or something similar) and use the half-note as the beat AND conduct the prhases and not the alleged meter and it drives them crazy, which I love!  I say things like, that phrase is in three, why are you still in two, and they go "huh?"  It sure changes their perception.
 
D
on June 11, 2012 10:03pm
David:  Yes, I did the Byrd "Ave verum" this spring (with a very small vocal consort), and made my own edition to get rid of the barlines and to bar it (without bar lines but with bar numbers!) in changing meters.  And of course with the halfnote as the taktus.  But even so, once we started rehearsing it I discovered that I'd misjudged some of the meters and ended up conducting the music, not even my own edition!
 
Those composers and their choristers were trained in chant, and I feel that most of the contrpuntal music works best approached as chant, in alternating 2s and 3s.
John
Applauded by an audience of 1
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