Magazine article Musical Times

Letters

Magazine article Musical Times

Letters

Article excerpt

How fast?

In Beverly Jerold's thoughtful article on the relationship between time signatures and speeds in the early 18th century, she noted how the 'Alla Hornpipe' from Handel's Water music is nowadays taken faster ('with extraordinary rapidity') than its 3/2 time signature would suggest, even in these authentically and historically aware times; presumably the main prompt for this is Handel's title for the movement. So how fast, I wonder, should a fugue by Handel, written in straightforward 4/4 time and marked 'Allegro moderato', be taken? And does its context as part of the opening movement of a serious religious work have any influence on this matter?

Almost all performances these days take the example I have in mind at around J = 180, though conductors tend to beat in minims, giving the music a playful air and a lively dancing quality despite its minor key and its contrapuntal nature. On the occasions when I have tried to encourage an orchestra to rethink it as a serioso movement in four beats per bar at about J = 120, the cultureshift involved seems to make it impossible for the musicians to understand the expressive shape of their lines - probably because the ingrained faster speed requires very little of such nuance.

The music I am discussing is, of course, the second part of the Sinfonía to Handel's Messiah. A performance at the speed I suggest is given by Thomas Beecham using Eugene Goossens's orchestration. Whatever is made of such 'ripe' colouration (authentic in its own early-20thcentury way), it seems to me that the rhetorical tone of the music at this speed suits its context, both in its placement after the 'Grave' opening and before the 'Larghetto' recitative (both similarly in 4/4), and also in introducing a work which is profound in so many aspects. …

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