I am writing a piece in D major that I intend to be at a Presto tempo. This piece that I am writing, at first I intended for it to be a Scherzo. But it would be so short as a Scherzo and I didn't really notice much development. So after thinking about it for a while, I decided to expand it into Sonata Form. Here is an image I made to illustrate that expansion:

enter image description here

I have been told that my piece does not sound like a Presto, but rather, a fast Allegro. I am not one of those that just decides on the tempo and runs with it. No, when I write with a specific tempo in mind, I do several things to reinforce that tempo. In the case of Presto, I do this:

  • Put in long notes, but not too many, otherwise it will be a Moderato and not a Presto, just enough to provide rest for the hands without losing the constant momentum needed for a Presto
  • Write a lot of sixteenth notes, but don't go crazy on them, otherwise they will become taxing or even impossible
  • Write down fast accompaniment(eighth notes at least), so that when the right hand hits a long note, no momentum is lost
  • Only have both hands rest at cadences
  • Thwart more cadences than I would in an Allegro via melodic means(like for example, the bass stopping on a supposed PAC while the melody just keeps going in sixteenth notes with no sense of cadential arrival)
  • When I want to write a longer sixteenth note passage than just 1 measure, alternate which hand gets the sixteenth notes so that it doesn't become taxing on the pianist
  • Use shorter passages of sixteenths for the purpose of keeping up the Presto momentum and use longer passages for transitions

My D major piece is at quarter note = 190 BPM which is well within the range of Presto(some Haydn Prestos are as slow as 160 BPM and some Beethoven and Chopin Prestos are at 200+ BPM, which makes my 190 BPM on the fast side of Presto). And yet, people are telling me that, the way it is right now, Allegro Molto e Vivace would probably be a better tempo marking than Presto for my piece. I don't understand why though. Here is what I have so far of my piece:



I am going for the Classical Style with this piece. There is one particular movement of one particular piece by one particular composer that inspired me to write this piece. That would be:

The Presto movement from Mozart's Divertimento in D. It is only coincidental that Mozart's divertimento and my Sonata Form piece are both in D major. As you can see, Mozart is using almost constant eighth notes as accompaniment. His accompaniment is simple repeated pitches. But, if you couldn't tell already from what I have written, I am writing this piece for solo piano. This means that simple repeated pitches makes much less sense as far as accompaniment goes.

Everything about my piece, the fast tempo, the Mozart inspiration, the Classical style, the solo piano instrumentation, all pointed towards a single type of accompaniment. That one being Alberti Bass as shown here:

enter image description here


So here is my question.

Why am I getting feedback that this sounds like an Allegro and not a Presto? Am I not at that balance between short and long notes yet? Does it have to do with my lack of ornaments? Does it have to do with my Alberti bass being in eighth notes(I was worried that sixteenth note Alberti bass would be too taxing and thus didn't write my Alberti bass in sixteenth notes)?

  • Suggested reading for you: Charles Rosen, The Classical Style - written by a performer for knowledgeable listeners, but it really does a superb analysis of what makes the music of Haydn and Mozart work. Oct 8, 2019 at 9:27

3 Answers 3


The answer is "harmonic rhythm".

Your piece has one chord change per bar throughout (except for bar 16).

That makes it sound like it's really an adagio at 48 BPM, except there are a lot of fast notes not going anywhere in particular.

In the Mozart, the longest chord changes are every half note, and in many places the harmony is changing every quarter or eighth note - and the rhythm of the changes never stays the same for long.


In addition to @guest's excellent suggestion of having a faster harmonic rhythm, I want to touch on a second suggestion which may seem counter-intuitive.

Paradoxically, increasing the number of 16th notes doesn't necessarily make music feel faster, and sometimes it can have the opposite effect of slowing the music down. For the music to feel fast, the downbeats at the barlines should come at a relatively fast pace. However, the more notes you stuff into a measure, the denser that music becomes, and the more there will be a tendency to slow it down, to get all the notes in (and even if your recording is at the higher speed, it will still sound like it should naturally be slower). By having sparser measures, it allows you to take them more quickly, leading to a faster overall downbeat, while retaining musicality. And it also makes the spots where you do have 16th notes stand out as all the more impressive. In the Mozart example, note how few 16th notes there actually are. Yes, little turns at the end of dotted notes, and a few touches of tremolo, and each of the violins has a few bars here and there of rapid scalar figuration. But the majority of the work is just in eighth notes, and some of the bars only have a single note. For comparison (though several decades earlier in musical history), see Bach's 4th Brandenburg, Mvt. III which is also Presto (and is in cut time), and is also written mostly with eighth notes as the fastest value, with the exception of some rapid violin figuration in a solo episode.

  • That seems very counter-intuitive to me that sixteenths could actually be pushing my tempo towards Allegro instead of Presto. I thought the faster the notes, the faster the tempo gets pushed towards. I mean take for example Allegro and Andante, the two most common tempos in classical music. Not only do I associate Allegro with the BPM range of 110-160, but I also associate it with sixteenth notes. In contrast, while I do sometimes see sixteenth notes in an Andante, it isn't nearly as common and usually is there for virtuosity. I associate Andante more with half and whole notes and lyricism.
    – Caters
    Oct 4, 2019 at 3:54
  • With Presto, I tend to feel this urgency to the notes and, especially in longer and later Prestos, such as Beethoven's Presto Agitato, a further increase in note speed compared to Allegro, both in BPM and note value. Beethoven's Presto Agitato, whenever I listen to it, feels like constant sixteenth notes, not unlike CPE Bach's Solfeggio in C minor which is almost 100% sixteenth notes.
    – Caters
    Oct 4, 2019 at 3:58
  • I've observed that, given the same tempo or a close enough range of tempos, I associate Presto with more 16th notes in the melody and Molto Allegro (or worse, Allegro Ma Non Troppo) with fewer 16th notes in the melody. Based on the tempo markings in his Excursions, I think Samuel Barber would agree--his work similarly uses a faster tempo indication for a slower tempo with more 16th notes.
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 4, 2019 at 10:54
  • I suppose the thrust of my argument is that 16th notes do not necessarily make a Presto. Compare the cut-time Presto I mentioned above (mostly eighth notes) with something like Bach's "Es Ist Vollbracht" (Molto Adagio) from the St. John's Passion, in which 32nd notes abound (and even a few 64th notes). Note duration is independent of tempo. youtube.com/watch?v=lNGf9GVtT6U Oct 10, 2019 at 3:55

You can speed this up to prestissimo - ma non troppo (joke) but it won't be faster.

The answer is "harmonic rhythm" is only half the truth.

The point is, you are driving on the highway with pulled hand brake and on the wrong side:

The harmonization is unjust and not according to a classical piece like this one will be. Probably even 1625 D-Bm-Em-A7 might fit better in the first two bars.

Than bar 6 the melody is probably a V7 (c#,e,g) but the left hand accompaniment is D? and the next measure you're doing the opposite, is this planned? *)

It's not easy to find a good harmonization to your music, as a composition is more than a seria of scales and triads. To be sincere it sounds to me as probably my broken English must sound to you: weird.

*) Well, the best will be you say: It has to be like this and it has been planned this way. But to me it sounds quite funny not to say weird - rather neo-classic.

So to be short the problems I see in this piece are less concerning the speed and time but more the correct harmonization. But to give an answer to this too:

The left hand could accompany in half values (16th notes) or better in crotchets, but with full triads instead of the Alberti Bass, (this would give speed and acceleration) whereby you could try to keep a pedal note D) and as the advice that has been given already others: You could change the harmony! e.g. like this:

bar 1: D,D (each triad full chord 2x4/8 quite speady) bar 2: em/D, A7/D (rhythm as above, tones d,g,a and d,e,a - like an ostinato bars 3-4 same pattern and chords as 1-2

bar 5: here you might introduce an Alberti Bass in 16th:

a,a',g,a' - e,a',g,a' (I'd skip the 3rd c# as it is in the r.h.)

than the 2nd group c#,a',g,a' - e,a',g,a' (a' means the upper a -> octava)

bar 6: like bar 5 (that means: stay in the dominant = A7)

bar 7: I'd prefer D,A (same pattern as above d,a',g,a' e,a',g,a' - a,a',g,a' e,a',g,a'

bar 8: just a quaver in unisono (first beat)

than the same in G

What can we see:

the feeling of more speed is not only depending of the change of chords, also by the rhythm pattern and the change of this patterns.

Finally I'd like to add that a presto or any other tempo is not the time in it's self it is relativ to the tempo of the other sections. So if you play the previous section molto adagio the presto will be felt faster than allegro.

Mind that composing is more than arranging scales and triads. To me it means to tell something (maybe in a language that not everyone understands, but in a language whose grammar can be learnt and understood.

As the I-vi-ii-V7 progression is always better understood than a pedal note below the I-I-ii-V7 you can try this out too in the opening bars, with an Alberti Bass in 16th notes ;)

Well, as a picture shows more than 1000 words I'll try to load up the pdf of 2 solutions. I had still another idea: How about to transpose the modulated section in G an octava up? higher = faster? could be ... enter image description here

enter image description here

  • Well, I mean, if you look at just the bass staff in bars 1-8, you get these harmonies: I -> IV6 -> I -> V65 -> I64 -> V7 -> I I was told by somebody else that if Mozart were to even start off plagal with the progression, that he would use IV64. But that is pretty uncommon, even compared to V64, another uncommon chord. Going from any dominant chord to the cadential 64 like in bar 6 is very typical. This is partly why I have a dominant arpeggio over I64. Then the cadential 64 resolves to root position V7 which resolves to root position I in bar 8. Melody though undermines this supposed cadence.
    – Caters
    Oct 4, 2019 at 16:21
  • I can send you the midifiles how it sounds with the 2 versions I mean ... as it is too difficult to explain. But still I don't think that the harmony and the tune are fitting in yours bars 6 and 7. You can compare the different solutions that I mean. ;) Oct 4, 2019 at 16:54
  • That would be nice of you to send the midi files. I have Musescore, which can open MIDI files just fine and allow me to see the notation of the notes in the MIDI files.
    – Caters
    Oct 4, 2019 at 17:25
  • where do you want the midis have sent to? Oct 5, 2019 at 9:08
  • My email address is [email protected] if you want to send it there.
    – Caters
    Oct 5, 2019 at 14:08

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