Descriptive words, usually in Italian, used to define tempo, expression, articulation, dynamics, pedaling or a specific feature such as a glissando or cadenza. We start learning and accumulating musical terms from the moment we begin to play the piano, starting with the simplest terms – forte (loud), piano (soft), allegro (quick or brisk), andante (at a walking pace). As we progress in our piano studies, we add more terms to our dictionary – allegretto, adagio, largo, presto, cantabile, accelerando, rallentando…..
Composers use terms to guide us in our interpretation of their music. With the invention of the metronome terms relating to tempo (such as presto, allegro, andante, adagio) became more standardised and suggested tempi are given on the body of the metronome in beats per minute, and also at the start of a piece. These speeds are not set in stone, however, and terms should be interpreted according to the character and style of the piece, as well as our own abilities and limitations.
Andante is a term which has always interested me. We know it means “at a walking pace”, but my walking pace may not be the same as yours. And maybe one day my walking pace is hurrying for a train, and another it is strolling in the park……. In the slow movement of Schubert’s Sonata in A, D959, the tempo marking is andantino and the character of the music suggests to me the weary tread of a melancholy traveler. Some will disagree, preferring a brisker walking pace, or the plod of an almost-funereal Adagio.
I love highly descriptive terms – allegro con fuoco (fast and with fire), allegro amabile (which means amiably quick, but which I prefer to translate as “smile as you quickly place”), affettuoso (with affection and tenderness), accarezzevole (caressing), bruscamente (brusquely), perdendosi (dying away). Once could write a passionate love story from these terms.
When I asked for suggestions for this entry in the Pianist’s Alphabet, a number of my pianist friends and colleagues suggested Tea. What would we do without it? I must drink six or seven cups a day. It fuels my practising, my teaching and my writing. Tea keeps fingers and brain lubricated. My morning ritual is to make a large mug of smokey Lapsang Souchong which I take to the piano. The ritual is repeated at regularly intervals, and mid-morning my husband will silently bring me a cup of tea and place it on my desk behind the piano. Coffee makes me jittery and nauseous – not an ideal combination when one is trying to refine Schubert’s heavenly length.
Others T’s (suggested by friends and colleagues)…..
Tickle (as in “tickle the ivories”)