Conductor Roger Norrington on honouring Beethoven's tempo markings
The leading pioneer of the period performance movement speaks to Julian Haylock as he retires from the stage
‘There was a time when the scholarly world was virtually cut off from practical music-making. Yet for me the two are essential partners. Now everything is finally coming together – most vitally regarding tempo. I remember when I first encountered Beethoven’s original metronome marks, and realised that many mainstream conductors were taking some of his music literally at half speed. Discovering how these hallowed masterpieces could or even should sound was a revelatory and thrilling process.
‘With the second movement of Symphony No. 2, there seemed to be a general assumption that bars had to be subdivided into regular slow beats, even 3/8, which should, of course, be conducted one-in-a-bar, and 6/8 as two – never in six! We have it on record as early as Leopold Mozart explaining how it should actually be done! I apply the same rule to the opening of Brahms’s First Symphony, and even the Tristan Prelude, albeit at a slower tempo – yet it should definitely still be felt in two.’
Roger Norrington shares his memories of a long and influential career in BBC Music Magazine's September 2022 issue.
Photo: James Cheadle
Julian Haylock is the former editor of CD Review and International Piano Magazines and reviews of CD Classics Magazine. He is also the author of biographies on Mahler, Rachmaninov and Puccini, and co-author of the Haylock and Waugh pocket guides to Classical Music on CD and Opera Music on CD.