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Ben Negley: Mapping Tempo Rubato

Hello all, just wanted to give you an idea of what I’m working on and maybe prime you for my presentation on Tuesday.

Although many studies encounter music perception and cognition empirically, there appears to be a very small amount of empirical, comparitive studies on recordings. Recordings are typically compared based on subjective observations, and conclusions are drawn not from quantitative measurements, but from qualitative ones. Magazines, blogs, journals, etc empower critics to make opinions on performances and recordings, but I wonder how interpretations can be studied quantitatively, and in what ways quantitatve studies can augement qualitative ones.

For this study, I’ve decided to focus on two instances of tempo rubato within Mahler’s Second Symphony. Both instances are basically the same in terms of notes and rhythms, but the first is in the exposition and the second is in the recapituation; you can hear them in this Youtube video, at 2:10 and 16:15, respectively.


I picked this Gergiev performance as an example because the big slow-down on beat four in both cases is pretty dramatic, and if I were to time the difference between the onset of the climactic beat 4 and beat 1 of the next measure it would be much longer than the distance between said beat 1 and its following beat 2. But this isn’t always as true as it is in Gergiev’s performance, and in some recordings, almost no tempo rubato is observed at all. In this 1950 recording, Otto Klemperer uses much less rubato, creating (in my opinion) a different effect. You’ll hear it at 1:40:


In my study I’ve timed the beat-beat differences in these two almost identical instances in 7 recordings (there may be more to come before Tuesday…) to highlight the unique approaches to rubati of difference conductors, but also to examine the relationship between these two rubato episodes in the individual recordings.

In my presentation on Tuesday, I’ll show charts detailing various approaches to these climaxes and discuss quantitative relationships between the two phrases.

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