I've found what seems to me to be a common musical pattern in several different pieces, and I'm wondering if this pattern has a name.

Here's the pattern: the metaphorical musical train is chugging along at a pretty good pace, then the composer brings it to a grinding halt with a ritardando, which leads to a massive 'a tempo'.

These examples are all on Youtube (youtu.be)

  1. Tchaikovsky Symphony 5, Mvmt 2 /w2JBT0HC98I?t=26m55s (a tempo at 27:09)
  2. Tchaikovsky Symphony 5, Mvmt 4 /w2JBT0HC98I?t=46m27s (a tempo at 46:50)
  3. Dvořák Symphony 7, Mvmt 2 /vnDiAOgW2EE?t=18m05s (a tempo at 18:30)
  4. Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto 2, Mvmt 1 /uT_ZhhQeudY?t=6m50s (a tempo at 7:00)
  5. Scriabin Piano Concerto, Mvmt 3 /miz5w7jzf2I?t=5m36s (a tempo at 5:46)

Ritardando, ritenuto, rubato, ritenendo, rallentando are all terms for approximately the same musical idea. A slowing down, for dramatic purposes, before regaining the original tempo, or sometimes changing to another. A chance for the orchestra to get its breath back, and the audience to relax for a moment.

It doesn't necessarily have to come to a grinding halt, there isn't always a pause mark at the end, before 'a tempo'.

A note about rubato - please read the comments to this post.

  • I disagree with your use of "rubato". Rubato indicates more of a freely expressive style of playing that is rhythmically varied. One could make a case that it applies on an extremely local level, but that argument is flimsy at best when viewed in context of the original question. – jjmusicnotes Apr 23 '14 at 14:07
  • This is why the word 'approximately' is in there - it means slowing and speeding, so it's half right.It's more to do with elasticity than the other terms, robbing one note to give a little more to another,and often still keeping within the time parameter. I was wondering who was going to pick up on that bit of my answer ! – Tim Apr 23 '14 at 14:23
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    As you suggest in your answer, a ritarando can be followed by a change of tempo, even to a tempo slower than anything preceding it (including the ritarando bit). However, in the original question, it is asked whether the pattern of slowing down of tempo + going back to the original tempo has a name, and ritarando only describes the first part of this pattern. – Speldosa Apr 23 '14 at 18:12
  • I did put 'sometimes', as usually it's 'a tempo'.Don't think there's a specific name for that, as it's the normal thing to happen, to go back to the original speed. – Tim Apr 23 '14 at 18:47
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    Rall and Rit both mean "get slower" but they don't mean the same thing. Ritenuto means slow down Immediately. Rallentando is a gradual slow down. The difference between emergency braking and a gradual slow up. FWIW my favourite instance of the pattern spotted by the OP is in Ultravox Vienna after the piano solo before the final chorus. – Brian THOMAS Apr 24 '14 at 22:51

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