Piano performance tempo question

So I’m trying to go back to school for composition after a long academic hiatus. Naturally, I am auditioning for admission. problem being, it’s a classical audition and I’m a jazz/blues guy. I can perform these pieces pretty well but I’m having some issues with tempos. I’m hoping someone can give some guidance here.

The Little Notebook: Four Minuets
No tempo markings; they all seem to be comfortable at med-quick allegro.

Beethoven Op 49 no 2
Allegro ma non troppo
What does this mean? 120? 130? It mostly feels right about 115 but the triplet arpeggios start getting awful quick beyond that.

Eric Satie
Gymnopedie No. 1
Lent et doloreux
How slow? Largo? Adagio?

Also there is a Brahms waltz but I can’t remember the opus number for the life of me. What’s a reasonable guess for a mid-Romantic waltz?

Thanks so much!

I can’t really help you with metronome markings for those pieces, since I’m a theatre musician, but can’t you just gather a collection of recordings from well-established players and go from there?

picker, have you tried PM’ing our classical music Dopers, like Le Ministre, Figaro, **Fachvirrt **(lordy, am I sure I misspelled that; sorry!) and many others?

The edition of the Beethoven op. 49, #2 I have suggests mm 128 to 132 to the quarter note. Cheerful (fast), but not too fast.

The Satie is usually played quite slow, 3 in a bar feel; for what it’s worth, my edition says quarter = 66. Go for an unhurried walk and take note of your tempo. Most Lent means Largo or even Lento, but in this case I’d go closer to Adagio or even Andante. Satie did 90% of his composition on his long walks after he’d missed the last train home.

The Brahms is harder without knowing which one. My guess in light of the rest of your repertoire is that it’s going to be one of the Op. 39s, number 2 (E Major), 3 (g# minor), 9 (d minor) or 15 (A Major). I play 2 on the border between a fast 3 to a bar and a slow 1 in a bar. All the others I play with a real 3 to a bar feel.

My apologies - the Bach, I can’t help you with 'cause I just don’t got 'em anywhere in the house.

I dabble in classical piano but am no means an expert. Here’s how I would play these:

A minuet is a slow stately dance. Go slow. If it’s not actually meant for dancing, then you can play it more quickly. Also, look at the time signature: 3/8 is quicker than 3/4.

This means “fast, but not too much”. Here’s someone playing it too fast: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=605pWs3Xrks. Here’s someone playing it at about the right tempo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4tWY2Vo9e8&NR=1.

Lento = about 60 or even slower

Thanks! That’s about what I was thinking for the Beethoven, but I better tighten up those arpeggios. The left hand gets sloppy, especially the later ones way down low.

I’ve been playing the Satie in a 3 feel, at about 72. So I’m close there. That’s a beautiful piece, isn’t it? I can easily picture him composing that on a walk…to me it’s the soundtrack to a cool nighttime summer rain, seen through a window. A very peaceful feel, with just a touch of melancholy.

That Brahms is in the O. 49, No. 3 in g#-. Nifty little number, but pretty simple, probably the easiest of all these, IMO (although the Bach is all pretty straightforward)

I’ve been playing it with a medium 3 push to it, at around 84 or so. I’ve always tried to bear in mind that waltzes, mazurkas, minuets etc. are dance pieces, and tried to imagine a comfortable dance tempo.

Thanks so much! I’m sure I’ll ace the audition, but I want to make sure I’m not way off the mark tempo wise.

I’m finishing up with a Duke Ellington number (The Mooche) and some Joplin (Maple Leaf Rag), so that’ll be my saving grace…

There’s a lot of room for freedom of interpretation in the Satie. The piece can be cheerful or mournful, depending on the pianist’s decisions, so it’s up to you (within reason).

I just played through the Beethoven (with the caveat that I am not remotely to be considered a pianist) and sort of naturally fell at about 132.

Are you sure the Brahms is Opus 49? That’s a song set. Opus 39 is waltzes, and number three is in g#. That one feels most natural to me at about 100.

Not the most rigorously academic way to decide on tempi, certainly. Still, the important thing is what feels right to you as a musician, as well as what you can actually do (that is, it’s better to play something correctly at a slower tempo than play too fast and screw up (within reason, of course)). Obviously you can’t play the Beethoven adagio or the Satie prestissimo, but there’s certainly a lot of room for interpretation (which, I just realized, is exactly what GorillaMan said).

You may not be a pianist, but Barenboim seems to agree! :wink:

I just noticed that my piano teacher wrote “half note=69 (eventually)” on my Beethoven, so apparently she feels it a little faster than I do. She’s an accomplished pianist and the sort of person who would sit on grad school auditions, so that’s probably pretty good advice.

The more important element of this, perhaps, isn’t the number but the half-note. In other words, don’t get bogged down with the allegro, and allow a larger, slower pulse to deal with the ma non troppo, which is as much to do with athmosphere and mood as it is with speed.

Good point. It occurs to me that we’ve been talking about quarter notes, and the piece is, indeed, in cut time.

Yes, indeed. The ‘slow’ movement (actually marked allegretto) of the seventh symphony is a wonderful example of how the pulse can teeter on the brink between half-notes and even whole-notes.

excellent thoughts, folks, my thanks.

I seem to be able to pull it off at 132 but I can really bring out the pulse at around 120 or 122 so I’ll stick to the
slower interpretation. (Beethoven)
For the Brahms you’re correct it is O. 39. And 100 feels good there…

Hey, out of curiosity, is the Ellington an arrangement, a published transcription or your own transcription? I’m in the hunt for a transcription or arrangement of ‘Lotus Blossom’ for solo piano, and I’m wondering if there’s one out there, or if I’m stuck taking it down myself.

You’re screwed. You’re going down. Jazz guy playing a classical audition? All that matters anymore is your category. Nobody’s listening…except to hear people make mistakes, or play “wrong,” so they can say no.

Music, institutionally speaking, is fucked. All that is left is the disillusionment.

Are you only auditioning at one school? If you’re limited by geography or finances, then that’s understandable, but if I were a jazz musician I’d look for a school that would let me do a jazz audition. There are plenty.

If you’re forced to try to pass as a classical pianist now, you’re likely to be unhappy with the musical focus of your school down the line.

Oh, I don’t know - so much depends on the school, on the composition teacher, the piano teacher. There are a lot of really good schools out there where both jazz and classical are respected, and where composers experience a good strong balance of exploration and discipline.

Have a blast and give 'em hell, picker!