Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Embarrassment for Giuseppe

Went to a violin and piano recital last Friday in a beautiful Georgian church, now an arts centre. The auditorium is huge, so for a recital it can be set out café style; for me, this always contributes greatly to the pleasure of a musical event: resting one's elbows on a table with a glass of wine on it is so relaxing, and during any longueurs it is easy to read discreetly: who is to know you are not enhancing your understanding and appreciation of the pieces being played by glancing at Grove's comments on them?

Actually, at this recital there were no tedious bits: Mendelssohn's Sonata in F minor, which he wrote when he was 16, and Schubert's Duo in A Major are both very lovely. The Elgar sonata with its Brahmsian first movement is rather less so; it has been described as a rich and introverted English piece, and so of course was he.

But I was glad to be reminded that the tempo of its last movement, allegro non troppo, sometimes written allegro ma non troppo, has an interesting story behind its origin. In 1863 Verdi, then at the height of his fame, was given a lavish fiftieth birthday party attended by the Mayor, the Director of La Scala and all the rest of the civic and musical notables of Milan. Sadly, in old age Verdi's mother had taken to the bottle, and all that evening the sparkling Franciacortia had been flowing very freely. Verdi had watched anxiously as his mother became increasingly rowdy until finally she seized a bottle, put it to her lips and leaped onto the table. In anguish, Verdi cried out: Allegro, Ma, non troppo! (Steady, Mother, not too much!).


TeddyIII said...

But Tony, "Allegro" doesn't mean "steady"

Tony said...

Teddy: now of course it does mean "fast", but in early 19th century Lombardy it was used by the Ticino pikemen as a rallying cry, meaning "hold fast" or "steady". I thought everybody knew that.

Anonymous said...

I have recently completed my PhD thesis into the linguistic featurizations of the lexical corpora of 19th century Lombardian pikemen, and whilst you are partially correct in stating that ‘ Allegro ‘ was used as metaphor for ‘ steady ‘ , its more usual meaning was as a trade name for a small family utility vehicle.