tempo [Ital.,=time], in music, the speed of a composition. The composer's intentions as to tempo are conventionally indicated by a set of Italian terms, of which the principal ones are presto (very fast), vivace (lively), allegro (fast), moderato (moderate), andante (moderate, literally a walking tempo), adagio (slow), lento (slower than adagio ), and largo (very slow) accelerando (increasing the speed) and ritardando (slowing down) are directions to alter the tempo momentarily and are canceled by a tempo. Since Beethoven's time many composers have given metronomic indications, which, despite their seeming infallibility, are often misleading, and tempo remains a point of subjective interpretation. Acoustical factors influence the choice of a tempo but account less for the divergence between different performances than does the performer's interpretation of the work.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Music: Theory, Forms, and Instruments

Browse By Subject