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What is the tempo for Rezitativ?

  • I found that: Rezitativ by Johann Sebastian Bach is played at 70 Beats Per Minute (Adagio), or 14 Measures/Bars Per Minute. Time Signature 5/4.

  • After the Presto (quickly 168-200 BPM), what is the proper Rezitativ tempo for Beethoven's symphony no.9 4th movement Bariton solo joins in the following?

Thank you in advance.

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    Did Bach really write in 5/4?
    – Tim
    Sep 5 at 16:26
  • @Tetsujin - Bach wrote what I feel were some brilliant basslines. I genuinely wondered if he strayed into the jazz world - very, very early. Could have!
    – Tim
    Sep 5 at 17:04
  • Bach must have written several thousand recitatives. Do you have a particular one (and a particular performance of it) in mind?
    – phoog
    Sep 5 at 20:30
  • @Tetsujin I don't think that I've ever seen a Bach recitative in anything other than 4/4, but that aside, 70 beats per minute can only be 14 bars per minute if there are five beats in a bar (or if the meter isn't observed strictly, which is frankly expected in a recitative).
    – phoog
    Sep 5 at 20:33
  • @Tetsujin the score shown in the question is Beethoven, not Bach. This example illustrates the second bullet point, the topic of the question itself. The first bullet point, the context for the question, is not illustrated, but it is very confusing as Bach surely never wrote s measure of 5/4, and I would not be surprised if there isn't a single one of the thousands of recitatives he wrote that is in 3/4.
    – phoog
    Sep 6 at 8:37

2 Answers 2

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The defining characteristic of a recitativo is mimicking the mode of speech. Although this can not be applied exactly in these cases, as we have melismatic elongations, the tempo should be chosen so that the music follows the natural duct of the language. Naturally this varies depending on things like the portrayed emotion or role, so it is futile to demand a standardized tempo for recitatives.

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    In fact, the directive to approximate speech is so strong that "tempo" is frequently a very loose parameter in recitative. Consecutive beats typically have different durations. You could speak of an average tempo, but conforming to a metronomic pulse is essentially the definition of how to sing recitative badly.
    – phoog
    Sep 6 at 11:08
  • In one of the best oratorio performances I've attended, during the recitatives the soloist conducted the (chamber) orchestra himself, using one hand to indicate the cadences. This worked extremely well, and kept the recitatives snappy and expressive. The fact that it made such a difference shows just how irregular the ‘tempo’ of recitative can be.
    – gidds
    Sep 8 at 21:14
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I would argue that there is no "proper" tempo for the Beethoven, at least not that we can surmise now, because the individual who would know died almost two-hundred years ago.

In light of no clear metronome marking given by the composer (not that we can fully trust his metronome markings anyway), it's up to the performer/conductor to determine which tempo they feel is best for their interpretation.

Similarly, the Bach tempo that you found is just one interpretation of one recitative from one of his many, many works. You'll find plenty of other recordings with different tempi, as you can find several recordings of the Beethoven with various tempi.

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  • "in light of no clear metronome marking": it's hard to imagine a metronome marking on a recitative, since it's common in recitative for no two consecutive beats to have the same duration.
    – phoog
    Sep 6 at 11:05

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