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Sonata-Allegro Form Question


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Greetings fellow composers,

I have a quick question regarding sonata-allegro form in a symphonic movement:

Is it generally frowned upon for the second subject group to actually be in a slower metric tempo than the primary subject group? E.g. in 6/8 time:

  • Primary subject group: dotted quarter = 120
  • Transitional phrase: rit. e dim.
  • Secondary subject group: dotted quarter = 80
  • closing phrase: rall. to fermata ||
  • Development: dotted quarter = 120
  • (Same applies for the Exposition repeat)

I've heard of Rachmaninoff being criticized for this practice. Is there any basis in it being frowned upon? It works organically in my symphony so far, but I sometimes worry that it will be criticized as an architectural weakness.

Thanks for any input!


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If it works for that specific piece of music then do it. The people criticising Rachmaninov are likely to be criticising the fact that the metric/tempo change is inappropriate for that specific piece rather than criticising metric/tempo changes in general. It's actually quite a common practice anyway.

If you listen to any of Alban Berg's pieces that are in sonata form, each subject has its own tempo. For example, if you listen to his piano sonata:

at 1:16 when the second subject enters you'll notice the score says "Langsamer als Tempo I" (Slower than Tempo I). This tempo then returns in the development when the second subject material is developed and the original tempo returns when the first subject material is being developed.

As for whether a tempo or metric change is appropriate for your piece, I cannot say without hearing it as each individual piece is a different case. All I can say is that there is nothing wrong with doing this if it fits the situation. I hope that helps.

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