Historical Metronome Marks:
Why you should care
Changing the tempo is changing everything about a piece. This is true for a musician as it is for a composer. That's why Beethoven wrote even late in his life the following:
"The metronome markings will be sent to you very soon. Do wait for them. In our century such indications are certainly necessary."
Caring for the composer's intention is a choice. But that choice goes hand in hand with introducing their tempi into your interpretation. There simply is no work-around this.
Would composers not be fine with my tempo?
Not likely. Let's listen to a few composers:
Beethoven: "For my part, I have long thought of giving up these illogical terms, Allegro, Andante, Adagio and Presto. Maelzel’s metronome gives us the most favourable opportunity for this."
Czerny: "Any musical piece produces its proper effect only when it is played in the exact degree of movement prescribed by its Author, and any even inconsiderable deviation from that time (...) will often totally destroy the sense, the beauty, and the intelligibility of the piece."
Thalberg: "As for (the) tempo, which is to be considered completely essential for the character and spirit of a musical composition, our transcriptions (...) must be performed in the time which was indicated by the metronome."
Mikuli (on Chopin): "In keeping time Chopin was inflexible, and many will be surprised to learn that the metronome never left his piano."
Why does no one care today?
The modern way of reading the metronome results in unrealistic speeds of even beyond 20 notes a second and in many cases are impossible for humans to execute.
Musicology has nearly given up on them as is shown for example in the Oxford companion to Music: “Metronome marks, even when they originate with the composer (...) are not to be understood as rigidly binding.” or Prof. N. Temperley: “Beethoven’s marks are almost useless as guides to performance speeds.”
What solution do we offer?
For example, when Czerny prescribes H=108 for his famous etude in C major opus 299, it means that every tick of the metronome indicates the quarter note, so the subdivision. Similar to how physicist still read the pendulum today. Listen to a few examples right away:
Do you have proof for that?
Yes, a lot. This research will be published in our upcoming publication "Fixing the Beethoven mistake"
Your journey can start today
A free introduction to Whole Beat is in preparation. Get on our mailinglist and we'll inform you the minute it is ready.
In the meantime, our best advice is: take a score, a metronome (or app), and... experiment!