In Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini, he uses both L'istesso Tempo (same tempo) and Tempo Precedente (previous tempo) for different variations (see image of structure). What is the difference between these 2 and why would both be used in the context of this work? I cannot find the answer to this in any analysis.

Also, would I be I right in saying that "Precedente", below Var. 1 in this image, means the variation that precedes the main theme?

enter image description here

  • L'istesso tempo = Section B in the tempo of section A. Precedente = Section C in the tempo of section A. Feb 7, 2020 at 9:27
  • Thanks Kilian, but I don't really understand this. Variation 5 (Tempo Precedente) has no section C. Also, this does not tell us what is the actual tempo of the variation. For example, is Var. 2 (L'istesso tempo) the same tempo as Theme (Allegro Vivace) before it? Is Var. 5 (Tempo precedente) the same tempo as Var. 4 (Piu vivo)?
    – John MC
    Feb 7, 2020 at 9:52
  • @JohnMC - I believe you misunderstand Kilian Foth's comment. Var. 5 is in the same tempo as Var. 3, not Var. 4. Var. 2 is indeed in the same tempo as Theme, Though.
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 7, 2020 at 11:09

2 Answers 2


Not sure that this is universal, but my go-to (Dolmetsch online) says

Tempo precedente (Italian m.) previous tempo

l'istesso tempo (Italian) or dasselbe Zeitmaß (German), the same time, i.e. the beat remains constant when the meter changes, so that, in the case of 2/4 to 6/8, the meter is still counted with two beats per bar (measure) but the tempo or speed of the beat remains unaltered; in fact all that has changed is the subdivision of the beat from the duplets of the 2/4 to the triplets of the 6/8 - (the alternative lo stesso tempo is more grammatically correct)

I would thus interpret the former as "start with the initial tempo of the previous section" and the latter as "continue the same beat rate as the previous measure(s)," i.e. the tempo at the end of the previous section.


Thanks all. After listening to the piece again, and following the tempo changes, it seems to me that Rachmaninoff is using "Tempo Precedente" after any variation that has had a change in tempo and then after that he will use "L'istesso tempo" meaning basically to "just keep going as we are". So in the context of this piece...I hear no change in tempo between "Theme" and "Var.2", or between "Var.4" and "Var.5", so I think he could have used "L'istesso tempo" for "Var.5", but chose "Tempo Precedende" because of the previous change of Piu Vivo...maybe so that no one would think they need to go back to the "L'istesso tempo" of "Var.3".

  • I agree with John MC's conclusion because if Rachmaninoff wanted to return to the Allegro Vivace he would have used the instruction Tempo Primo.
    – Old Muso
    Jan 19, 2021 at 5:43

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