mais, in tempo

From the score of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, movement 4, we read the following instruction:

“Selon le caractère d’un Recitativ mais, in tempo”

My interest in this simple phrase is a perfect example of why I don’t exactly “fit in” to the classical music world.  That is to say, I just don’t think the people around me quite appreciate the linguistic deliciousness of the writing.  Look at it!  It’s basically in French, but with a Germanized (and capitalized, no less) Italian word, ending in an Italian phrase.  And what’s that comma doing there?  Shouldn’t it read “…Recitativ, mais in tempo?”  Is that some kind of a linguistic marker?  What’s going on here??

I suppose the fact that nobody blinks an eye when they see this marking is maybe just as interesting.  Musicians, and I want to say especially conductors, end up talking in this weird sort of lingua franca made up of terms from all the big musical languages.  I guess this just proves that the tendency has been around for close to 200 years.

Is this sort of thing not interesting?  Leonard Slatkin brought up this term in my conducting class the other day, but all he wanted to talk about was how to interpret these words musically!  I really wanted to get into this whole linguistic commentary, but somehow it seemed so totally inappropriate; thus was my enthusiasm stifled.

On a wholly unrelated note, it came out today that I am an unapologetic disliker of Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 and you would think I had insulted somebody’s baby.  Just because half of my lunch mates were Italian, I don’t see what there is to get so excited about.  It’s not like I dissed Sergio Leone or something.  In fact, I’d gladly take a Spaghetti Western over that cerebral FF crap any day.  And I take offense to the immediate supposition that I somehow “don’t understand what it’s about”.  I understand perfectly well.  In fact, I would say I gave that movie every chance — I researched it, read about it, stayed awake during (most) of it.  What more do you want people?  It just doesn’t resonate with me.

Give me Pedro any day.



The undergraduate experience at the U of C gives us the unreal expectation that others are interested in “fundamental WHY” questions. Why does this exist? Why do we use this language? The theory of the practice. Of course, one could also argue that U of C ignores the practice of the theory. Lose- lose?

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