Musicians are always confronted with the problem of tempo. Composers and performers – we all struggle with the same questions. Exactly how fast should this music be played? Exactly how slowly or quickly could it be played, without losing its meaning? Should the tempo be flexible, or unrelenting?
Tempo is both tangible and intangible. You can set it with a metronome, but you can seldom guarantee that what you set will speak in every acoustic. As often as possible, I set the tempo with both a metronome marking and an indication of what the music needs to communicate. And sometimes that combination actually works.
When an incorrect note is played, it is itself – a wrong note – and, at the same time, an impediment to the line – ie, it makes the notes around it harder to understand.
But when a piece of music is played at the wrong tempo – and by “wrong,” I mean a tempo that doesn’t work for either the music or the listening space – then every note is a wrong note, because every note is in the wrong place.
Speaking of tempo indications, the Cassatt String Quartet is premiering my tempo-titled piece Brio this Saturday in the Permian Basin. Read about it here. If you happen to be there, let me know how it goes – I’m sadly going to miss it.