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.

4 Answers 4


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 earthquake 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 agitato 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.

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    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".) Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 21:49

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!

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    Presto means "fast" more than "soon", but otherwise yeah.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 16:19

Lento is only for the first 3 notes or 2 measures in S. Rachmaninoff Prelude OP 3. number 2. then its played Andante until you get to the Agitato part. then back to tempo 1. which I believe is Andante.

I guess its up to the performer to interpret the tempos and how much control one may have, people with smaller hands may not be able to play this piece up to the marked tempos.

answer to tempos Lento= 60-66 Beats per minute. Andante= 92-98 beats per minute. Agitato = 144 beats per minute. I found this answer on Stack Exchange.

my conclusion is taken from my score that I have and Google on the tempo speeds.


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


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

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

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