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December 15, 2002
Vol. II, No. 47


"Tempo: To Each His Own"
For the postlude today, I played Bach's Prelude and Fugue in G Minor (BWV 535), one of the large pieces I try to keep in my fingers through regular rotation. The last few times, I haven't been entirely satisfied with the way it came off. This time I decided to take a considerably slower tempo. Right off the bat I noticed a difference. Feeling better about the piece, I proceeded to give a more accurate and expressive performance (the slower tempo helped, too!). This got me to thinking about tempo.

As a beginner, I needed to be told what tempo to take. As an intermediate student, I welcomed a suggested tempo because I wasn't yet sure of myself. Now as a maturing player, I'm finding that choosing a tempo is a very, very personal decision. There are external factors to take into account: the organ, the space, the weather (because it has an affect on the sound of the organ). There are internal factors to consider: how rested I am, how I feel physically, my mood in general, how comfortable I am with the piece. All of these, and more, go into the mix to render a decision about tempo, more or less on the spot.

I remember reading something somewhere about setting the tempo for a Baroque piece. It was something like the tempo should not be faster than the speed with which you can play the smallest subdivision of a beat that appears in the piece. That seems like it could encourage some to play as fast as they can. Maybe, maybe not, but it sure doesn't address how slowly a piece may be played.

I accomplish nothing by playing a postlude lickety-split. On the contrary, much is gained by a slower tempo.
1. The audience gets more music.
2. I get to play longer.
3. The harmonies have more time to bloom, especially in larger spaces.
4. A more accurate performance results, and enhances all of the above.

So today I declare that the only "correct" tempo on any given day for any given performance of a piece is the one I decide to use. And if it's slow, slow be it.
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