I am researching about the kind of style Chopin himself would have had by drawing inferences from sources such as recordings of the 2nd generation pupils of Chopin and the comments of contemporaries and his pupils. I have noticed from my research till now that although Chopin's tempo markings are really fast, even for a light touch pleyel piano, I have found no comments highlighting the lightning speed Chopin played at. Although he used rubato and all, one can't deny the fact that even the general tempo markings of his are too fast and are not played at in general by today's famous pianists.(eg: his revolutionary etude)

And even if I hypothesize that most of Chopin's contemporaries also played that fast or near to as fast as Chopin, further stating that people might not have felt the need of mentioning his speed, one can still notice that many of his contemporaries mentioned things like legato playing, evenness of fingers, his touch and all little but essential attributes of his playing. No one mentions the lightning speed.

Can anyone enlighten me with any source or comment of Chopin's time that highlights upon the speed in which he played?

  • (Posting as a comment because this doesn't answer your question, only discusses it.) I'm unconvinced by your thesis. The metronome markings are not evidence of how he played. It's quite normal that composers' metronome markings disagree with concert practice and this isn't peculiar to Chopin. (Beethoven Op106 is a notorious example.) The composer might find the metronome setting in his head or by quick reference to the piano in the studio. There is no effect of space. A concert performance will tend to be slower than an imagined performance because of a couple of seconds of hall acoustic. – user48353 Nov 30 '18 at 6:49
  • Thanks for your views. You got unconvinced by reasons you thought of by looking and hearing today's "performances". What you write doesn't actually form a reason as to why, a person in early 1800s wouldn't point out that Chopin was playing pretty fast back then. And even if your hall reasoning is right, perhaps, the recordings should have contained the real speed or near about speed, none of which is found either in today's recordings or Chopin's pupils' recordings. – Rohan Nov 30 '18 at 9:52
  • And I hope, no one uses this as an argument that Chopin himself didn't play as fast as his own metronome markings because taking pains to think of an appropriate metronome mark for the piece, which he would never play that piece at, even for his time, is absurd :) – Rohan Nov 30 '18 at 10:05
  • You are making a straw man argument. I did not think of these reasons by "looking and hearing today's "performances"". As for "why, a person in early 1800s wouldn't point out that Chopin as playing pretty fast", I didn't address that because you yourself said you had no evidence of it. The hard part about history is proving what did happen, not what might have. Again see the case of Beethoven Op106 for the standard arguments about reliability of metronomes of the time and composers' attitudes toward them. – user48353 Nov 30 '18 at 10:24
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    These days he'd have some shredding vids up on youtube. I see what you're asking but have no answer. We see little of the awe at the speed of his playing that we see surrounding Paganini and would expect more. – PeterJ Dec 26 '19 at 13:28

I don't have any knowledge on this topic, but this seems to be very relavant and the preview at least shows Chopin added metronome marking for some works.


Tempo and Character in Chopin
Thomas Higgins
The Musical Quarterly
Vol. 59, No. 1 (Jan., 1973), pp. 106-120

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  • Thanks for your reply. I actually know that Chopin added metronome marks, maybe I should have written 'metronome markings' instead of 'tempo markings' above. What I precisely need are comments of Chopin' time on the lightning speed at which Chopin played as the "metronome markings" that he left, if he played at around that tempo, I suspect the possibility of no one mentioning or praising his speed. – Rohan Nov 28 '18 at 18:58
  • I was zeroing in on that metronome/tempo distinction. I wish I had something more to offer you. – Michael Curtis Nov 28 '18 at 19:15
  • Why the down votes? The question asked for "...any source or comment of Chopin's time that highlights upon the speed..." this article seems to address that question. But, admittedly, I don't know if the article quotes Chopin or his contemporaries. – Michael Curtis Nov 30 '18 at 17:51

Every mechanical metronome I have owned - the first one in the 50s - was imprecise. I had a Franz pyramid style, a Wittner Taktell, and Mini Taktell. I was a wee bit nerdy and checked them with the second hand on my watch and developed a way of adjusting them. I even lined up identical models in a music store and set them in motion, amazed at how wildly they differed. My first motor driven Franz electric was even a little off. I never considered at the time that it would be very likely that early 19th century metronomes might even be less accurate. First, they might start out well calibrated and then drift. Second, what were they calibrated against other than another wind up spring powered device? Listen to different performances of great conductors and great pianists and you will hear equally wonderful performances of the same work at sometimes vastly different tempi. It is wonderful that composers took the care to include metronome markings, dynamics, etc., even fingerings, but the contemporary artist still has considerable license to interpret within the bounds of historical style - even something seemingly as exact as a metronome marking. The audience will decide on many criteria other than tempo if the music moves them and whether the pianist or conductor has made good choices - not some nerd (like me) with a metronome.

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    Mechanical metronomes are indeed imprecise. But they're not THAT imprecise. – Laurence Payne Sep 23 '20 at 0:05

In my opinion it is quite senseless to ask about tempo in romantic music as performances in this style are mostly full with ritenutos and rubatos, accelerandos and allargandos inspired of the moment and also the dynamics can be played impulsive, affectiv, (impressionism/ expressionism, affection more than any other period, also in respect to the underlying basic speed (tempo, time).

I recently read that Chopin didn't play a piece twice the same way, neither Liszt. They're performances were often extempore, improvised.

(I am in generally quite critical to performances trying to reflect exactly what the composer wanted to "say", as I know by my own personal experience as composer/arranger , how many randomly decisions are leading to a certain result determining a specific dynamic indication. Further I want to say that a lot of music can be played in different tempi - adapted to the capabilities of a pianist or an whole orchestra, as most good music sounds always good, independent of the tempo. There is a large playground of individual taste and personal opinion and conception.)

(P.S: Another critical remark is that performances of virtual pieces degenerate to a race of "who is going faster".)

  • Thanks for your views. I wish to advise you to read my question a bit carefully. Just like people highlighted several attributes of Chopin's playing, like legato, evenness of fingers, I seek for a writing on the fast tempos he played at. Just like he never Always played legato or with even fingers, he could have not played fast all the time, like you state. Still, one can find writings on the former two. I am simply curious if writings on the latter are present. I don't want any such writings to prove he played fast, or learn and revise how his music is played. – Rohan Dec 26 '19 at 11:48
  • Therefore, your answer in this case boils down (in my opinion) to that you too haven't come across any such writing till now. Thanks for that. :) – Rohan Dec 26 '19 at 11:48

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