12 June 2009

Timing Issues

The second movement, Allegro, of Shostakovich’s Symphony № 10 in E Minor, Opus 93, bears a tempo marking of half = 176.

The movement consists of 356 measures total, predominantly in 2/4:
2/4 measures: 349
3/4 measures: 7
Skipping any such finer math which would yield a precise1 “theoretical timing,” leave us observe that, at a tempo of a half-note = 176, there are 176 measures of 2/4 to the minute, and two minutes of play would thus rip through 352 measures. “By the metronome,” then, the piece supposedly runs scarcely more than two minutes. Before this morning, I had not looked at the score in quite a while, and my rough recollection/estimation (here gratifyingly vindicated) was that Shostakovich’s metronome marking for the second movement would be impossibly fast for any orchestra.

(Interest in the question was lately rekindled as I’ve been listening comparatively to that movement in three recordings2. Maksim Dmitriyevich, the composer’s son, paces the Prague Symphony through the movement at 4:18; Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic, at 4:09; and Karel Ančerl runs the Czech Philharmonic at a mighty brisk 3:51.)

Two minutes is, of course, just plain impossibly fast. However . . . what if the half-note in the metronome marking is a misprint for quarter-note = 176? At 176 quarter-notes to the minute, a quarter-note = .341 seconds, and this ratio yields:
349 mm. of 2/4 = 238 seconds = 3'58
7 mm. of 3/4 = 7 seconds

Total ‘theoretical’ duration = 4:05
. . . which allows that all three of these performances are within a plausibly musical range of the composer's intent.

My score is a Kalmus printing of an older edition of the score, and in fact, I do not find any copyright information in the score; so I wonder if the newer definitive Shostakovich edition amends the metronome marking at all? (Time for another visit to the NEC library.)

1 Normally, I should say “precise (barring the necessary and inevitable musical ‘relaxations’ in phrasing),” only this movement seems to me an obvious case of no such relaxation of any of the phrases; it just plows on inexorably until the final bar.

2 In case you were motivated to ask, yes, I like all three of these accounts of the symphony very well.

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