Adagio is the Italian word for ‘slowly’. It is written on musical scores to indicate the piece should be played at a slow, leisurely tempo. The speed at which a piece of music is played can have a huge impact on the overall feel or mood of the music, so composers need to take the tempo into consideration when relaying how they want their piece to be performed.
How slow is adagio?
Tempo is measured in beats per minute (BPM), with adagio having around 66-76 BPM (though some pieces labelled as adagio may be performed with slightly more or slightly fewer BPM).
Examples of adagio music
The first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is a famous example of an adagio tempo, but perhaps one of the best-known adagio pieces of classical music is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The latter’s slow tempo combined with its minor key creates a melancholy feel throughout the piece – it was even played at Albert Einstein’s funeral. Barber’s 20th-century classic would have a completely different feel if it had been composed with a faster tempo in mind.