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Chapman Challenge: What Exactly is an Adagio?


KUSC’s Alan Chapman has a lot to say about music, but can he say it in 60 seconds? That’s the Chapman Challenge. We ask a question and Alan has a minute to answer it.

Today’s question is from Sarah in Los Angeles who writes “I hear you identify pieces as adagios. What exactly is an adagio?”

Hit play below to listen to this week’s Chapman Challenge on Arts Alive.  
Chapman Challenge: What Exactly is an Adagio?
  First of all, the word “adagio” is an indication of tempo, how fast the music should be played. And it’s one of a whole collection of Italian words that signify tempo. Among the faster ones are allegro, vivace, and presto; on the slower side are adagio, lento, and largo; somewhere in the middle is andante. I say somewhere because none of these terms has an absolutely precise meaning measured in beats per minute.

Sometimes these terms are used to identify a specific movement of a multi-movement work, for example, the andante from a Mozart piano concerto. But there are also plenty of independent pieces whose titles incorporate their tempos, for example, Saint-Saëns Allegro appassionato or Sibelius’s Andante festivo. Among the most famous adagios is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. This piece is Barber’s own orchestral arrangement of a movement from his string quartet, the adagio movement.

That’s today’s Chapman Challenge. Is there a question you’d like to have answered in 60 seconds? Send it to us at [email protected].

Written by:
Alan Chapman
Alan Chapman
Published on 04.01.2019

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