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Tempo and Character in Chopin

Author(s): Thomas Higgins

Source: The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Jan., 1973), pp. 106-120
Published by: Oxford University Press
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symbols in musical notation direct their precise interpreta-

tion. Even a note

on a particular line or space represented only

an approximate pitch in the mid-nineteenth century, but earlier
than that composers had a device for the measurement of tempo.
Maelzel's metronome was constructed in 1816, and the instrument
has been in use ever since. Beethoven was the first great composer to
seize on the mechanism, and Hummel wrote in the 1820s that all
composers and performers should have one, that (metronomic)
tempos be printed on all compositions, and that students and schools
should adhere to them. If this takes place, added Hummel, the price
of audible metronomes could be brought within reach of even smalltown musicians of limited means.'
Chopin placed metronome rates in the autographs of a number
of compositions written before he left Poland in 1830. He continued
to do this for a few years after settling in Paris, but took to the
practice of adding them to the manuscript in pencil. Finally, in
1836, they stop altogether. It is interesting to speculate on Chopin's
experience with the device: both his use and his avoidance of it are
instructive. In the former case he left an exact measure, for once and
all, of many particular allegros, prestos, or lentos, and from these
rates we can establish a range of limits that is useful in deducing
allegros, prestos, and lentos of his later works.
Autographs having metronome rates include the Variations in
1 J. N. Hummel, Ausffihrliche theoretisch-practische Anweisung zum Piano-ForteSpiel, vom ersten Elementar-Unterrichte an, bis zur vollkommensten Ausbildung (2nd
ed.; Vienna: Tobias Haslinger, 1828), p. 455. This edition is identified as a second
printing, but is in reality a second edition; there is in it additional material not
present in the English and French translations of the first edition.


Tempo and Characterin Chopin


D for four hands;2 the Variations on the Swiss Boy;3 the Variations
on "La ci darem la mano," Opus 2; the sonata Opus 4; Krakowiak
Grand Concert Rondo in F major for Piano and Orchestra, Opus
14; the Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello, Opus 8; the Concerto in
F minor, Opus 21;4 seven of the studies of Opus 10 (Nos. 2, 7, 8, 9,
10, 11, 12); the Nocturne in D-flat, Opus 27, No. 2; Four Mazurkas,
Opus 24; and the studies Opus 25.5 In Opus 24 and all but No. 2 of

Opus 25 Chopin added the rates in pencil on the otherwise completed manuscripts. In Opus 25, No. 2, the metronome rate was
written in ink by the copyist. No doubt this is not a complete list:
to mention only one example, early editions of the nocturnes Opus 9
to Opus 27 bear metronome rates, which suggests that at least some
of the autographs of these compositions also bore them. Autographs
still existing from Chopin's early years not having metronome rates
include the very early Polonaise in A-flat (April 23, 1821), dedicated
and presented to Zywny, an early version of the Mazurka in A-flat,
Opus 7, No. 4, presented to Wilhelm Kolberg, the Waltz in A-flat
from the album of Emelia Elsner, the Rondo in C major (original
version for one piano), the Mazurka in B-flat, Opus 7, No. 1, and
the Nocturne in C-sharp minor.
The principal difference between these two groups of autographs
is that those having metronome rates were, except for the very youthful Variations in D for four hands, prepared for a publisher's eye.
The autograph of the work which brought Chopin early fame, the
Variations on "La ci darem la mano," Opus 2, was in fact loaded
with directions beyond the point of redundance by the earnest youth
2 The Variations in D for four hands on a theme by Moore is a very youthful composition, evidently not intended for publication. The ten-page autograph (the first
and last pages of the composition are missing) is in the Jagiellonian Library, Cracow.
3The Variations on the Swiss Boy, thought by Maurice J. E. Brown (Chopin: An
Index of His Works in Chronological Order [London, 1960], p. 12) to have been written
in 1826 and by Krystyna Kobylanska in 1830, was also not given an opus number.
Brown's date is too early for the Cracow autograph. The handwriting of the page
reproduced in Kobylanska's Chopin in His Own Land, trans. Claire Grece-Dabrowski
and Mary Filippi of Chopin w kraju: Documenty i pamiatki (Cracow, 1955) is
definitely post Opus 2.
4A partial autograph: the piano part is in Chopin's hand; the metronome rates
appear also to be.
5 In the complete manuscript of Opus 25 only Nos. 1 and 8 are autographs. Nos. 4,
5, 6, and 12 are copies by Fontana, the remainder by another copyist. All of the
copies have autograph elements, having been edited by Chopin. An earlier autograph
of the Study in A minor has the rate of I = 120 in ink, but this was changed to
I = 160 even before Chopin edited Fontana's-later copy of the work.


The Musical Quarterly

who would risk nothing to a chance misinterpretation. In contrast,

none of the autographs in the latter group was meant for a publisher.
The text of the Mazurka in B-flat, Opus 7, No. 1, shows this autograph to be an earlier version than the one eventually published.
The Rondo is a detailed early autograph. Its first page especially is
packed with symbols, mostly words (sostenuto e legato, ten., rallen.,
a temp., scherz., stacatiss., legatiss.), and on succeeding pages there
are fingerings and pedals. Yet the autograph does not have the handsome appearance of a manuscript meant for publication, and, indeed, we know that Chopin abandoned this version, immediately recasting the material into a piece for two pianos. Chopin always made
quite a distinction between the music he considered publishable and
that which he did not; therefore, the existence of the latter category
of autographs is no proof that Chopin did not consider the metronome rate a necessary detail of instruction on music that was meant
for the public.
The evidence suggests that while Chopin was using the metronome, he used it wherever he could, which was, even in his pre-Paris
days, not quite everywhere. For example, the autograph of the
Waltz in E-flat, Opus 18, written in Vienna in 1831 and later published by Schlesinger, has only the word Vivo at its head. The inference is that the different sections of the waltz would require different
metronome rates, and that Chopin did not wish to be specific about
them. The Waltz in A-flat, Opus 34, written in 1835, likewise carries
only the word Vivace at its head. By then Chopin was nearing the
point of dropping metronome rates from his compositions, yet the
Nocturne in D-flat, written a short time later, has a numbered rate.
If the rates in the first editions of all the earlier nocturnes (having
opus numbers) and in the earlier mazurkas were authorized by
Chopin, as seems likely, one can conclude that Chopin saw radical
differences in the genres of waltz, nocturne, and mazurka that are
often overlooked by performers. Some early mazurkas, notably the
two in A minor in Opus 7 and Opus 17, are frequently begun too
slowly, and in the latter case with different tempos in its various
sections. But at its prescribed rate of J = 152 it remains a dance
and no adjustments of tempo are necessary in the succeeding theme.
In many works one cannot know at what point in the compositional process Chopin decided on a tempo, or when he placed this
instruction on an autograph. But in several others there is evidence
that it was one of the last symbols to be written. In at least one case
(the study Opus 10, No. 2) where the first edition has a metronome

Tempo and Character in Chopin


rate, Chopin's corrected proof sheets do not yet include the rate.
Since these are the only proof sheets of Chopin's music to have survived, one cannot know whether Chopin habitually waited this long
to change a tempo, or to supply one where none existed in the autograph. It is interesting to review through sources the chronology of
the composer's tempos in this piece. The manuscript of November 2,
1830, the day of Chopin's departure from Warsaw, contains no
tempo desigriations of any kind. An autograph which must be presumed to have been written later has Vivace 1 6 - 69. The printed
proof sheet has no indication of tempo, and internal evidence suggests it was prepared from a source earlier than the known autograph
- either the copy of November 2, 1830, or another manuscript, now
lost. The meter is now common time, whereas it had been alla breve
in the earlier sources. On the proofs the composer corrected a number of pitches and added rests, staccatos, a contour of dynamics, and
very thorough fingerings. At the head he wrote Allegro. It was at
even a later stage that I = 144 must have been added. Evidently
when Chopin canceled the alla breve he abandoned his earlier numbered rate of 9 - 69 (or its equivalent, '1 - 138), deciding he
had to deal afresh with the question of tempo.
A comparison of the sources of the studies Opus 10 is instructive in the matter of Chopin's tempos and his attitude toward them.
There are fourteen separate manuscript sources for the studies Opus
10: copies of Nos. 1 and 2, without dynamics, fingering, pedal, or
tempo; the above-mentioned autograph of No. 2 in which the meter
is alla breve and the tempo is Vivace 9 = 69; two autographs of
No. 3: the early version,' Vivace and a detailed autograph, Vivace
ma non troppo; an autograph of No. 4,8 in which meter is alla breve
and tempo is Presto con fuoco; detailed autographs of Nos. 5 through
12: No. 5, no tempo; No. 6, no tempo; No. 7, Vivace '"= 88; No. 8,
alla breve Allegro 9 = 96; No. 9, Allegro Molto Agitato 1' = 92;
No. 10, Vivace assai 9'= 80; No. 11, Allegretto 9 = 76; and
No. 12, alla breve Allegro con fuoco I = 76.
The highly detailed and very attractive autographs of No. 3 and
6 Chopin's characteristic way of writing a note (stem on the right and descending)
is retained in this paper when autographs are referred to. When printed editions are
cited the note is thus: J
7 Dated August 25, 1832. After the fine in Chopin's later autograph, he wrote
attacca il presto con fuoco. Here then, besides the major-relative minor relationship,
which exists as well in other pairs of studies in Opus 10, there is a firm cohesion.
8 Dated August 6, 1832.


The Musical Quarterly

Nos. 5 through 12, no doubt copied from earlier versions (although

only the earlier version of No. 3 has been found), are in certain
respects the most informative and valuable of all Chopin autographs, filled with precise directions of all kinds: long and short
sforzato wedges in No. 6, varied articulation in No. 10, slurs, pedals,
and fingering throughout, and a great number of words denoting
character of mood or quality of touch. Yet it appears from the
spacing and thickness of strokes that most of the tempo designations were added to these autographs after they were otherwise
finished. One deduces that Chopin frequently puzzled - one might
say agonized - over tempo and character designations, and many
autographs show decisions that were made and rejected. Unquestionably he knew the character of his music, but frequently had to
search for the notational mot juste, and perhaps for a more precisely felt tempo, so that other players would discern it. In the
studies Opus 10, Nos. 7, 8, and 9, Chopin wrote, or began to write
Presto, then crossed this out in favor of something else which the
player would find more exact or more informative. No. 7 became
Vivace; No. 8, Allegro; No. 9, Allegro molto agitato. No. 12 was
originally Presto con fuoco and this presto was reduced to Allegro
with the con fuoco retained in the heading. All four of these designations were retained in the first editions, but the metronome rates
accompanying them were adjusted: No. 7, one metronome increment slower than the autograph; No. 8, two degrees slower (but still
very fast); No. 9, a degree faster, and No. 12 the equivalent of a degree faster (in the first edition the meter was changed from ( to C).
The rates were adjusted in two other studies in this opus as well.
No. 2 became C, Allegro, J = 144, the equivalent of a degree faster,
and No. 10 was lowered one degree to J. = 152. In No. 11, Alle- 76 was retained. Since,
gretto J
except for No. 8, the differences
in metronome rates between the autographs and first editions are
the slightest the device can measure, one can accept either and know
he is close to Chopin's ideas of tempo in these pieces.9
In the otherwise highly detailed autographs of Opus 10, Nos. 3,
9 The tempo and metronome marks are those found in the first German edition
of Kistner in Leipzig, who, according to Ewald Zimmermann, worked in close cooperation with Schlesinger of Paris, publisher of the first French edition in 1833. Chopin
was reported by Zimmermann and Zofia Lissa to have corrected the proofs of this
Paris edition very carefully (see Chopin, Etiiden, ed. Ewald Zimmermann [Munich:
G. Henle, 1961], preface, p. 6). In the Kistner edition, Opus 10, No. 2, was mistakenly rated a quarter-note at 114, but this obvious printing error was corrected to
144 in a later printing.

Tempo and Characterin Chopin


5, and 6, there are no metronome rates and, for that matter, no tempo
designations at all in Nos. 5 and 6. The famous "black key" study
has, at its head, Legieriss. et legatiss., and No. 6, con molto espressione. Chopin simply had not made up his mind, yet these studies
may have been all but completed as much as two years earlier than
these autographs were prepared. We have already seen evidence of
Chopin's changes of mind about tempo; rather than write a word
that might be misleading, he would delay. When the rates were
finally added is not known; perhaps even after the correction of
proofs, as in Opus 10, No. 2. Does this not suggest that Chopin
might have preferred to omit metronome rates for these three
pieces, and that their presence in the first editions may be owing to
a variety of possible reasons: a reluctance to change old habits, a
compulsion to make all twelve studies consistent in this respect, perhaps even at the behest of a publisher? The likeliest reason is
Chopin's sense of responsibility to his purpose. Tempo is of the
essence in a study; if a performer mistakes it, the piece not only
is of less value technically, but loses in character as well. All the
many other directions a composer might take pains to include articulation, fingering, and dynamics - have genuine relevance only
at the tempo he has in mind. And if the composer does not tell him,
will the player discern it by himself? (The majority of performances
of these studies proves that not only would he not discern these
tempos by himself, but that even with all the specific help Chopin
has given him he fails to discern it, and all too frequently goes
through great contortions to convince himself that Chopin must
have been wrong.) Chopin must have known he was giving something new to the world in Opus 10; he would make his meanings as
explicit as possible.
The case of Opus 10, No. 3, is a special one. It is believed to
have been the last of the twelve studies to be composed, and unless
Chopin's attacca il presto con fuoco at the end of the later autograph was only an afterthought, it was planned as a contrasting
study to Opus 10, No. 4, composed earlier in the same month, the
only one which kept its presto. It is the only study in Opus 10 which
has a middle section of a contrasting character to the opening and
closing theme. This middle part, beginning in measure 21, is not
static and "classical,"but develops some dynamism which culminates
in a con bravura passage (Ex. 1). There is a foretaste of this con
bravura in the earlier double note passage - the thirds and seconds
in measures 32-33 and 36-37 (Ex. 2) and the wider spaced double

The Musical Quarterly


notes from measure 38 (Ex. 3). In the later autograph Chopin

wrote before the con fuoco in measure 45 the words sempr.[e] piu.
But in the first edition these words were not retained. The con
fuoco leaves no doubt of the changed character in this middle part,
but I believe Chopin finally favored a subito con fuoco, and this
interpretation only makes sense if the whole middle section is
already fast enough, which will happen only if the opening is fast
enough. An eighth-note at 100, which is the designation in the first
French edition, startles today's listener as the piece opens, but seems
natural by the time the piece ends. The tempo of the transition to
the return is always a puzzle to pianists who have begun the piece
adagio in the manner of present-day fashions. It seems logical that it
be taken at the tempo of the ritenuto of the con bravura passage;
in this eight-measure transition no intemperate adjustment will take
place in the return to tempo primo. This composition has become
so familiar that we find it difficult to realize how new this dynamic
style was to Chopin or how different it is from the rest of Opus 10.
One can easily believe that, had he saved the E major Study for a
future opus, there probably would have been no metronome rate in
it at all.
Ex. 1







con bravura

F" ,


Tempo and Characterin Chopin


Of the autographs we have, the earlier is marked Vivace, the

later, Vivace ma non troppo. Neither has any indication of change
in measure 21. The first edition reads Lento ma non troppo J)=
100 ( J = 100, in the first German edition, is an obvious mistake),
and in measure 21, where the middle part begins, poco piA animato.
In my dissertation I theorized that when Chopin wrote Vivace and
Vivace ma non troppo in the autographs he was thinking of his
middle sections, because to my pulse this seemed right at the time.
The change in the first edition to Lento ma non troppo was surely
more descriptive of the beginning of the composition, but the change
was probably only a slight one in Chopin's mind. In the early
mazurkas Vivo ma non troppo and Lento ma non troppo are about
the same. Opus 17, No. 4, in A minor, is Lento ma non troppo, J
= 152. Vivo ma non troppo in Opus 7, No. 2, is only one notch
faster, and, as already mentioned, both are usually played too slowly
Chopin's notation in the Study in E major may not be entirely
complete. Had he prepared another autograph or corrected another
proof, we would perhaps now have an ideal blueprint of his intentions, as we have in the admirable notation of the first two studies
of Opus 25, compositions which Chopin played frequently, having
brought his thoughts to perfection both at the keyboard and at his
desk. But early autograph versions of these two studies are not so
fine: in the A-flat Study one sees that at first the melody was written
in quarter-notes; the F minor Study was in sixteenth-triplets with
the tempo presto agitato, hardly in keeping with his playing of this
piece that Schumann described: "so charming, dreamy and soft, just
as if a child were singing in his sleep."10How could Chopin even at
first append the word agitato to this calm and untroubled music?
Perhaps he was searching for a verbal description of cross rhythm:
agitato in Chopin almost always is found in passages having, as
this one, cross rhythm or syncopation." In noting such examples
one may conclude that the strain Chopin suffered getting his ideas
down was not only in recapturing his melodies and harmonies, but
in finding, often by trial and error, the notation that would leave
the player with no doubt of his meaning. In this respect he tried to
Arthur Hedley, Chopin (London, 1957), p. 121.
11The preludes in C major, F-sharp minor, and G minor; the nocturnes in C-sharp
minor, Op. 27, No. 1, beginning measure 53 and in E major, Op. 62, No. 2, beginning measure 40 - these are a few examples.


The Musical Quarterly

give the player everything he could. In the case of descriptive tempo

terms the evidence of many autographs shows that he did not arrive
at his decisions easily or quickly; as for metronome rates, one can
see even more hesitation. But if Chopin, as he matured, was reluctant to supply them, he continued to do so out of conscientiousness;
when he abandoned them, there was probably some regret on his
part that he couldn't continue to provide such specific help for the
As for an assessment of Chopin's metronome rates, let each
pianist decide for himself whether he is surprised by the speeds they
demand. One is struck by the rapidity of some autograph versions:
Opus 10, No. 8; the second variation of Opus 2, "La ci darem la
mano," which has eight notes at 96 arranged in groups of four, a
special articulation for the first tone in each group. Under this very
fast direction, the seventeen-year-old Chopin charmingly wrote
Veloce ma accuratamente. The very difficult Opus 10, No. 10, with
its off-the-beatplacing of accents and slurs, and its variety of articulation, has six notes at M. 80. Even if it is played at the one-degreeless, published tempo of J. = 152, one can see why von Biilow
wrote that it is perhaps the most difficult piece of the entire set: "He
who can play this study in a really finished manner may congratulate
himself on having climbed to the highest point of the pianist's Parnassus."12 The penciled metronome rates accompanying Chopin's
lentos in the autographs of two studies in Opus 25 are not really
slow: No. 7, 1' = 66 and the middle part of No. 10, 9 = 42. As
mentioned before, the autograph evidence of the Andante, Op. 10,
= 69 is faster than
No. 6, is lacking, but the first edition rate of
Was a mistake made
one expects. Did Chopin make a mistake here?dJ.
by someone else in the process of publication? Or is the

J. = 69

exactly what Chopin wanted? The fact that a number of tempos

seem too fast - the nocturnes Opus 15, No. 3 (first edition), and
Opus 27, No. 2 (autograph and first edition), the studies Opus 10,
Nos. 3 and 6 (first editions) --and that none seem too slow, is
vexing. Either mistakes were made all on the side of excessive speed,
which is unlikely, or else it is additional evidence that Chopin
understood the specific terms of lento and andante as representing
faster tempos than are generally taken today. This should come as
12 Hedley, Chopin, pp. 121-22, and Chopin, Klavier-Etuden, ed. Hans von Biilow,
trans. Constance Bache (Leipzig: Jos. Aibl, n.d.), p. 41.

Tempo and Characterin Chopin


no great surprise, since changes of concept with respect to tempos

are part of the history of music.
Is it to be thought, then, that Chopin's tempos were revolutionary? Unquestionably, Chopin's music and playing ushered in
a new age of piano virtuosity. His Opus 10 studies were the first
great works in this age, inspired in part by Paganini's ten concerts
in Warsaw between May and July, 1829. On the other hand,
Chopin's earlier music was anything but tame in the matter of
tempos, as the Opus 2 variations, mentioned above, show. Chopin's
understanding of the notational terms he inherited - allegro, andante, etc. - probably reflected his own time, and in some tempos
at least, an earlier generation. One recalls that the word presto was
also not much used by Mozart in keyboard works.
If a few of Chopin's tempos seem too fast for our pulses, the
great majority are entirely credible when combined with the evidence provided by the sound of the Pleyel grand,'3 and an imitation
of the soft and slender tone which marked Chopin's performances.
On some modern instruments - those with broad and heavy timbres
- some of
Chopin's left-hand arpeggiated accompaniments cannot
be played at the rates marked without distorting their character. On
a light-sounding instrument, or even an average one, almost all of
Chopin's tempos can be made to sound entirely right at this rate if
the tone is kept soft. In the first published nocturne, Opus 9, No. 1,
in B-flat minor, the word Larghetto is surely appropriate for the
melody in the middle section at this rate, and there need be no
change in basic tempo in moving from the opening through the
middle to the return. The Nocturne in C-sharpminor, Opus 27, No.
1, is marked larghetto J = 42 (first edition). Here the melody moves
in a true larghetto pace, but unless the accompaniment can be kept
soft, the whole will seem too fast. The melody in the famous Noc= 40
turne in F-sharpmajor, Opus 15, No. 2, another larghetto
(first edition), moves ideally at this pace; the middle is marked
doppio movimento, which should be read literally. Chopin had only
to choose a different metronome rate here if he meant otherwise:
witness other middle sections in nocturnes with their tempos defined by metronome rates.14This composition's shape is often dis138This subject was explained and demonstrated in my paper and tape, "Chopin
Interpretation and a Pleyel Grand of 1842," presented November 12, 1971, at the
annual meeting of the American Musicological Society in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
14Opus 15, No. 1, beginning meas. 25; Opus 27, No. 1, beginning meas. 29.


The MusicalQuarterly

torted by virtuosos who, for the sake of a meretricious effect, take

this doppio movimento too fast!
A final word or two on the metronome: first of all, one must
have faith that the composer's metronome was accurate! This is not
meant facetiously: Schumann's metronome possibly did not work
right.15 Second, in order that precise communication exist between
composer and player, the two must be using the metronome in the
same way. We cannot know how Chopin used the device. One way
of setting a rate is to time the entire composition or section, and
then make the calculations that measure the duration of the single
beat. This method gives the exact average of movement, hesitation,
natural slackenings at the end of phrases, etc., of a particular performance - everything thrown together and averaged out. The resulting rate is useless as a guide to the player who wants only the
composer's measure of the rate of movement when the flow is in
course and fairly constant. No player wants to play faster than the
metronome at the beginning of a poetic phrase so that the instrument can catch up to him at the end of it! It is therefore very doubtful that Chopin, who was an eminently practical musician and a
teacher, calculated his rates by the above method. It would seem
more reasonable to suppose that when the time came to set the
tempo, he simply began to play the piece, and then measured the
basic pulse. If this is the way Chopin used the metronome, then the
player makes a mistake to set the device and try to match its rate
over long stretches. In the B-flat minor Nocturne, Opus 9, No. 1, the
pick-up measure and the first full measure - nine beats, in other
words - are quite steady, but at the end of the poetic phrase, in
the first half of measure two, one senses a slight slowing down in
the music, just as in the natural reading of a line of poetry. If a
player observes this natural slackening, he will fall behind the
mechanism. In almost all of Chopin's music where he used the
metronome, the basic pulse is felt as steady and constant; this is what
should be measured; on the contrary, phrase endings, natural punctuation, and the charming hesitations that marked Chopin's own
playing - all should be sensibly excepted as beyond the scope of the
As for his reasons for giving up the metronome altogether, one
15 Hedley, Chopin, p. 121, and Schumann, Klavierwerke, Vol. I (Munich: G. Henle,
1959), preface by Otto von Irmer, p. 6. Hedley averred (on what evidence he did not
say) that Chopin's metronome worked reliably.

Tempo and Characterin Chopin


can only speculate. Earlier in this essay I have suggested a reason

why metronome rates are not present in the waltzes Opus 18 and
Opus 34, at a time when almost all his other published music bore
them. In another place I suggest that the character of much of his
music would undergo a change, and that the middle section of the
Study in E major, Opus 18, No. 3, offers an example of dynamism
that is alien to the idea of a steady beat. For this reason it may be
no accident that the very flexible Nocturne in B major, Opus 32,
No. 1, andante sostenuto, was the first of the published Nocturnes
to have no metronome rate. No artist could play measure 28 anything but slower than measure 27, or 30 anything but slower than
29. To see these measures side by side one recalls Beethoven's injunction in the autograph of his song Nord oder Siid: "100 according
to Maelzel - but this must be held applicable only to the first
measures, for feeling also has its tempo and this cannot entirely be
expressed in this figure."'"In the B major Nocturne the proportion
of change among these measures must remain free to the player or
Art herself is poorer.
On the other side of the question one can see the metronome as
an apt tool for the measurement of much of the later music. How
many of the Preludes spring to mind: the G major, the F-sharp
major, the C-sharp minor, the B-flat minor, the E-flat major, the
F major. But Chopin did not leave rates for these with us, and the
omission was consistent with a growing economy in the use of directions from the beginning of his career to the end.17 One can compare the first variation of Opus 2, "La ci darem la mano" with the
long finale of the Sonata in B minor, Opus 58: the former shows a
metronome rate, the words mezza voce, marcato (for the highest
part), sempre legato (for the lower right hand part) and crescendo
- all before measure 2; the latter has hardly any directions at all.
Undoubtedly, in both cases Chopin set down what he deemed
essential at the time, no more, no less.18

16 Thayer's Life of Beethoven, rev. and ed. Elliot Forbes (2 vols.; Princeton, N. J.,

1967), II, 687-88.

17See my dissertation, "Chopin Interpretation: A Study of Performance Directions
in Selected Autographs and Other Sources" (University of Iowa, 1966); University
Microfilms #67-2629, pp. 93-96.
18The original version of this article was a paper read at a meeting of the Midwest
Chapter of the American Musicological Society in Bloomington, Indiana, May, 1971.
The final version was produced with the advice of Professor Edward Lowinsky.

The Musical Quarterly


A Comparison of Tempos of Autographs and Printed Editions
Variations, "La ci darem
la mano" for piano
with orchestral accompaniment, Op. 2

Introduzione: Largo
9 = 63; poco
mosso 9 = 80 piit

1 = 58

Var. I Brillante 9 = 76
Var. II Veloce ma
1 = 92
Var. III Sempre sostenuto 9 = 63
Var. IV Con bravura
1 = 92 (pencil)
Var. V Adagio * = 69
Alla Polacca
Trio for Piano, Violin,
and Violoncello, Op. 8

Scherzo q' = 63

1 = 54



3 ..........


4 ..........


= 66
V[ivace?] '


Twelve Studies, Op. 10

No. 1 ..........
No. 2 ..........


1 = 96

Schlesinger, Paris
Largo J = 63;
poco pii
mosso J = 80
Tema: Allegretto
= 58
Var. I Brillante
Var. II Veloce
= 92
Var. III Sempre sos= 63
Var. IV Con bravura
= 92
Var. V Adagio
= 69
Alla Polacca
= 96
Schlesinger, Paris
Allegro con fuoco
J = 152
.- = 69
Adagio sostenuto
= 63
Finale: Allegretto
= 104
Schlesinger, Paris

Vivace 9 = 69
(1) Vivace
(2) Vivace ma non
Presto con fuoco


= 176
= 144

Lento ma non
= 100
Presto con fuoco
= 88

19The editions cited are those Chopin taught from and bear many of his penciled
corrections. The list includes only compositions published in Chopin's lifetime of
which autographsor copies still exist.
20 (1) early autograph; (2) later autograph.


Tempo and Character in Chopin


5 ..........


6 ..........

con molto espressione


7 ..........
8 ..........
9 ..........

Vivace 1'= 88
Allegro 4 =96
Allegro molto agitato

No. 10 ..........
No. 11 ..........
No. 12 ..........

Krakowiak, Grand Concert Rondo for Piano

and Orchestra, Op. 14

'= 92

Vivace assai 9' = 80

Allegretto I = 76
Allegro con fuoco
q = 76J=
Introduzione ? = 92
Molto animato 1' = 69

Second Concerto for
piano with orchestral
accompaniment or
with quintet, Op. 21
Four Mazurkas, Op. 24
No. 1 ..........
No. 2 ..........

3 ..........


4 ..........

= 116

Maestoso 1 = 138
= 56
9" = 69


1 ..........

Vivace brillante
= 116
Andante con molto
espressione J = 69
Vivace . = 84
= 88
Allegro molto agitato

= 96

Vivace assai
Allegro con fuoco
Schlesinger, Paris
J = 104
Allegro * = 69
= 104
Schlesinger, Paris
= 138
d- = 69
Schlesinger, Paris

Lento I = 108 (pencil)

Allegro non troppo
I = 19221 (pencil)
Moderato I = 126
Moderato I = 132

= 108
Allegro non troppo
= 138
Moderato con anima
= 126
= 132

Schlesinger, Paris

Twelve Studies, Op. 25




(1) no tempo indicated

(2) Allegro sostenuto
1 = 104 (pencil)

Allegro sostenuto
d = 104

21 41= 192 appears in pencil in Chopin's hand in the autograph and I believe it
is the correct tempo. Possibly (a sheer guess) Chopin wished to change Opus 24,
No. 1 from 108 to 138 and the publisher mistakenly changed No. 2- the wrong
mazurka -

to 138.

The MusicalQuarterly


2 ..........


3 ..........


4 ..........


5 ..........


6 ..........


7 ..........


8 ..........
9 ..........

No. 10 ..........

No. 11 ..........

No. 12 ..........


(1) Presto agitato
(2) (copy) Presto
q = 112
4 = Allegro
120 (pencil)
= 120
(copy) Agitato 1 = 160
(copy) Vivace 1 = 184
pii lento 1 = 168
(both pencil)
(copy) Allegro 1 =
69 (pencil)
(copy) Lento 1 = 66
Vivace 9 = 69 (pencil)
(copy) Allegro assai
I = 112 (pencil)
(copy) Allegro con fuoco
9 = 72;
Lento 94 = 42 (both
(copy) Lento; Allegro
con brio 9 = 69
(copy) Allegro molto
con fuoco 9 = 80


= 112


= 120


= 120

= 184
= 168

= 69
= 66

Vivace A= 69
Allegro vivace
= 112
Allegro con fuoco
J = 72;
Lento J. = 42
Lento; Allegro con
= 69
Allegro molto con
fuoco i = 80

Breitkopf and Haertel,

Nocturne in D-flat, Op.

27, No. 2 (1835)


Lento sostenuto
Grand Duo in E on
themes from Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable for Piano and
Violoncello (1832)

= 50


Introduzione: Largo
Allegretto (Franchomme's hand)
Andante cantabile

Lento sostenuto
-*= 50
Schlesinger, Paris
J = 112
Allegretto 4 = 100
Andante cantabile
J. = 63

22Accordingto Brown, op. cit., the German edition came out in May, 1836, the
Paris edition in July, 1836. I cite this edition because I am certain that the dot was
printed in it. Printers were often careless in the matter of including the dot, yet I
have found no Chopin autograph in which the handwritten note value does not conform to the meter.