How to choose the right tempo for the pieces you play – Mozart flute concerto example
Ory’s Flute Tips
How to choose the right tempo for the pieces you play
Mozart G Major concerto, second movement example
There’s probably no one universal tempo that would fit to the current piece you are playing and many players and teachers might have very different opinions regarding the tempo of a specific movement/piece.
Nevertheless, there are some parameters that can contribute to your final decision of the tempo of the movement/piece you play and I’d like to discuss few of them (which you might have already considered or might be new for you):
The composer instructions:
At the very beginning of each piece/movement there are 2 indications written by the composer, in order to help us determining the tempo: the tempo instruction (for example “Allegro con brio”, “Andante ma non troppo” etc.) and the meter (such as 3/4, 4/4, 2/2, 6/8 etc.).
These 2 instructions go in fact hand in hand and together they can help us understand better the composers intentions. As an example, very often the students who participate in my intensive masterclasses play the second movement from the Concerto in G Major by Mozart and I’m often surprised by the choices of the tempi they take – very often it’s very slow.
Mozart wrote for us “Adagio ma non troppo” (Adagio but not too much) and in addition, he wrote the movement in 4/4, which indicates that the pulsation should be in quavers (quarter notes). Therefore, the “Adagio ma non troppo” refers to how quick/slow the quavers in the movement should be.
Too often we are very focused on our flute part and forget completely that actually there are many other voices written, which might help us to determining the ideal tempo for the piece/movement.
In Baroque music very often the basso continuo lines and rhythms can provide us important hints of what the tempo should be. In classical period music (such as the Mozart’s concerto), there are accompaniment patterns, often played by the second violins or the violas, that can help us. Here are 2 examples of the second violins and violas lines:
These kind of figures with the broken chords as these 2 examples show, have a very clear musical gesture and if played too slow, it will become very hard to play this gesture comfortably. I promise you, you’ll start making a lot of new friends in the second violins and violas if you consider their parts… 😉
Before starting the movement sing to yourself these accompaniment figures and get the feeling of the tempo that will help these figures to be played lightly and gently.
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Length of phrases
Pieces that were written originally for the flute had to be written by the composers having on their minds our need to take breaths. Very often the phrasing is pretty clear and the possibilities to breath are quite logical. If you find yourself struggling with holding your breaths till the end of the phrases, you might want to reconsider your choice of tempo – maybe the tempo you’ve chosen is simply too slow.
Which tempo would I suggest for Mozart’s second movement?
I thought I shouldn’t conclude this article without mentioning the tempo I’d choose to play the second movement of Mozart’s concerto in G major. My recommendation is to choose a tempo around a quaver= 36-38. I think this tempo really allows all the accompaniment lines to flow and at the same time, you can easily feel the music in 4 and not in 8.
You’re more than welcome to leave your comments and questions.
Enjoy practicing, Ory
Ory Schneor is a principal flutist with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, Tongyeong Festival Orchestra and member of the Geneva Camerata. He is teaching masterclasses around the world and he is the founder and instructor at FLUTEinWIEN