5/14/98: This semester I am conducting the Brahms First Symphony, and my teacher claimed that I was too slow. In the last movement, I felt that the MM setting of quarter = 55 was proper and consistent with what I thought was traditionally acceptable. But my teacher insisted on MM = 60-65. After listening to several recordings of other works, all tempi seem slower than what my teacher insists upon. What is your opinion on this? Is Brahms traditionally played slower than it should be?
Remember, the size of the string section to some extent determines how slow a tempo you can take, as does the dryness of the hall. If, for example, the hall is quite dry and your strings are 12-10-8-8-5, your tempi should be a bit quicker than those in a more resonant hall with, say, 16-14-12-10-7.
Are you referring to the very beginning (in 8) of the last movement at 66 = the quarter? This seems a bit too fast since the piu andante is about twice as fast. (Look at the timpani part leading to this change of tempo for justification of taking it at twice the speed.) Nevertheless, I feel that, in the last 30 years, most Brahms performances have gotten slower and slower and a bit quicker pulse often would not be wrong.
©1998 by Joseph Rescigno. The text here may be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes as long as credit is given.
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