Take the 2-minute tour ×
Musical Practice & Performance Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for musicians, students, and enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm looking at Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C# minor and notice that the tempo changes from Lento to Agitato. I'm familiar with the former tempo marking, but not the latter. At what tempo should Agitato be played? I suspect there is more meaning than just tempo and maybe that tempo isn't even the primary meaning of the term, musically. So, besides tempo, how else should Agitato be played?

By the way, I have heard Rachmaninoff's piece played before, so I have at least a general idea. I'm more interested in the meaning of the term in general than in how it applies to Prelude in C# minor.

share|improve this question
add comment

3 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Agitato is generally understood to be allegro agitatoallegro plus agitation — unless there is something to indicate otherwise. Allegro is generally around 3 times as fast as lento (~144 versus ~50 bpm), so you can get an idea of the tempo change from that. It's quite significant.

(So in one sense, I disagree with Mark; the house on fire with the baby upstairs would warrant prestissimo agitato.)

As you've noted, you can also check out recordings / performances to get an idea, such as this one (the tempo change occurs at 1:45):

Amazingly, I found a great answer on Yahoo Answers (of all places). It notes that these terms had a common interpretation that one would just pick up, rather than a set definition. The usual speed for allegro agitatio would be about the same as allegro moderato, to which to add "the element of agitation".

The most relevant excerpt:

"A tempo agitato" derives its understanding directly from 'a tempo ordinario' -- the point being that the understanding of the semantics of the overall detail in notation defines and decrees what 'ordinario' amounts to in ticks of the clock, this being the judgement the performer is assumed to know how to make -- which means that the style and metric detail of the notation for a work only marked 'Agitato' is the key to setting the precise clock for the notional 'Allegro moderato' the implied (a tempo) prefacing the solitary Agitato is meant to stand for.

share|improve this answer
    
I wonder if any composition was ever marked with the Italian for "at the wrong speed", whatever that is. (P.D.Q. Bach used "presto changio", "andante senza moto" and "allegro troppo".) –  Mark Lutton Jul 1 '11 at 21:49
add comment

Interesting question. Literally "Agitato" means "Agitated". If that doesn't seem like a tempo, consider that "Allegro" means "Happy", "Andante" means "Walking", "Largo" means "Wide" and "Presto" means "Soon" or "Hurry up!".

Play it like you're nervous and agitated. Play it like there's an earthquake and the baby's in the bedroom upstairs and you're downstairs and you've got to get her out of the house fast!

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 for the baby analogy –  Babu Jun 27 '11 at 13:51
2  
Presto means "fast" more than "soon", but otherwise yeah. –  Noldorin Jun 28 '11 at 16:19
add comment

  1. In a restless, agitated style. Used chiefly as a direction.

or

  1. The Italian musical term "agitato" affects a song's style and tempo.

This website will tell you a lot about agitato's orgin.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.