A reader asks:
Can you slow the tempo down when you’re playing a cadenza?
In general, my answer would be “No.” Cadenzas are flexible, meaning that they have give and take. However, as a whole, the cadenza is not a slower section than the rest of the piece. Portions of a cadenza might be played/sung slower. Some cadenzas have tempo indications provided by the composer or an editor (see picture above). The tempo must be related to the piece, though. Without that relationship, there would be a jarring change.
The Wikipedia definition begins as follows:
“In music, a cadenza (from Italian: cadenza, meaning cadence) is, generically, an improvised or written-out ornamental passage played or sung by a soloist or soloists, usually in a “free” rhythmic style, and often allowing for virtuosic display.”
Performers can compose their own cadenzas. Or they sometimes choose between options in published collections.
A cadenza is meant to showcase the performer’s strengths. So you would want to play/sing one that fits your best performing attributes. For a pianist, a cadenza could contain scales, trills, double thirds, octaves, fast passages, lyrical passages, etc. Singers might have easy coloratura, a wide vocal range, fioritura, the ability to sing leaps, or impressive trills. (String players and other instrumentalists, you get the idea….)
That’s not all, of course. A cadenza contains music from the piece! Within that framework, the performer includes what s/he does best.
The amount of flexibility in a cadenza depends on the style of the composer of the piece. Mozart, for instance, is much more rhythmically straightforward than Schumann.
To get an idea of different composers’ styles, you might listen to as many recordings as you can. If you are interested in a specific piece, you could compare cadenzas on, say, three different recordings. Google could help you find reviews in order to choose the best recordings out there.
A word about recordings: if you are listening primarily for style and tempo variations, try to give more credence to what it says about the music rather than the recording values (such as background noise, or age of the recording). Old recordings can be very informative about style, even if they have yet to be remastered.
I hope this is helpful! Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send me an email with further questions, feedback, or any suggestions. Thanks for visiting!
Related post: Cadenzas: some thoughts