• Karl Aage Rasmussen
  • A Tempo (2001)
    (A Tempo)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)
  • 3(pic).2+ca.
  • 19 min

Programme Note

Many years ago I read about a musical piece by the Italian composer Luciano Berio. It was called Tempi Concertanti. I never got to hear the music, but the title stuck in my mind. It means something along the lines of ‘concerted (or competing) tempi’, and the idea of a tempo as something ‘in itself’ and as something that can be ‘played off’ against other tempi in the same way as the soloist plays against the orchestra in a solo concerto has intrigued me ever since.

We normally think of the tempo as something secondary, as something that bears up the ‘actual’ music. On the other hand most people are familiar with pure tempo experiences, for example the Russian Kalinka, which isn’t up to much as a melody, but which is inciting because it gets faster and faster. And one also finds tempo experiences outside music. When you sit in a train the earth flashes by outside the window at a furious pace in the opposite direction. If you look farther out into the landscape, the speed decreases. And the odd thing is that if you look right out at the horizon, it follows you in the same direction! This is a tempo experience - a kind of music for the eyes. In airports the escalators captivate me. People stand on them, and they walk or run on them. The same thing happens in the opposite direction - people pass by, they approach and depart at many different speeds. This isn’t just a little piece of relativity theory; the many heads that are moving at different speeds and in different directions are yet another fascinating tempo experience. And I dream of an airport architect whose sense of eternity will one day make him also install such conveyor belts in circles or spirals - perhaps we’ll be too late for our planes, but on the other hand it will put an end to the unbearable boredom of airports.

A Tempo is perhaps a musical version of this thought. The music consists of circles, quick tempi within slower tempi, but it is the very same music, the same widely differing musical episodes that move quickly and slowly within themselves. That is why it is also music where you constantly seem to reach a place where you have been before. And where with one jump (from one pavement to the other?) you are suddenly in the same place as you were just a while ago, but now at a different tempo. At the same time it is music that takes place almost exclusively in the high, bright register...

In the Latin-derived languages the word ‘tempo’ also means time in the general sense. And since all music is a special kind and a special experience of time, the experience of tempo, of pulses, speeds etc. can perhaps be captivating in a way that is not fundamentally different from the way melodies, rhythms and timbres attract us.

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