Classic Mornings

Lento Dolce, Dude


Have you been out there yet? ‘Tis the season, as the song suggests. But “jolly” might not be the first word that comes to mind. And more appropriate words wouldn’t rhyme with “holly.”

In classical music terminology, the holiday rush atmosphere might be characterized with terms like “allegro,” “vivace” or “presto," all of which suggest a fast and lively tempo. In fact, you might even consider using “allegrissimo,” “vivacissimo” and “prestissimo.” That’s taking fast and lively to their upper limits.

Some folks like that. Others prefer to step back a bit and explore the other end of the spectrum of classical music tempo markings. Those are more like “reduce speed” signs. And since they manage to help conductors and performers slow things down, why not apply them to the way you approach the upcoming weeks?

I’m sure you’ve heard me mention the term “andante,” which is an Italian word that means “at a walking pace.” There are lots of pieces in classical music which composers intended to be performed “andante,” if not “andante cantabile,” which adds a song-like character to the strolling. Just the suggestion of singing while walking sounds rather relaxing. You probably could extend it to humming or whistling while walking. Though it’s not considered to be slow, it’s a slower tempo than any of those in the ”allegro” group.

“Adagio” is familiar to listeners. That’s the Italian word for “slow.”  And indeed, there are famous adagios in music. The so-called “Albinoni Adagio,” actually written by the composer’s biographer Remo Giazotto, and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which originated as the slow movement of his string quartet, are two from the 20th century. But there are countless adagios within the works of Vivaldi, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, etc.

Slower than “adagio” is “largo.” It’s unfortunate that this classical music term was turned into a “bad guy” in James Bond films. (Emilio) Largo was the villain in Thunderball, as well as in that film’s remake: Never Say Never Again. Do you remember the Thunderball theme song, which Tom Jones sang? John Barry wrote the music. The lyrics were by Don Black. They begin: “He always runs while others walk.” If he was a true “largo,” he would walk rather than run – and at a rather poky pace, too.

I’m not worried about the song having endured to the point that it would take a Bond-like rescue to restore “largo” to its true classical music meaning. That’s because there’s a “largo” in the classical music repertoire with superstardom of its own: the second movement of the Symphony No. 9 by Antonín Dvořák – the one known as “From the New World.”

“Lento” means “very slow.” The word sometimes reminds me of lentils – I’m not sure if that means that lentos are good for you. But they are good for the pieces that composers have written at that tempo.

Recently, I played a piece of music by Jean-Baptiste Loeillet (the one who remained in his home city of Ghent, Belgium). He called it “lento dolce.” “Dolce” (DOLE chay) means “sweet.” I find that amusing because I recall people saying: “So and so took their good old sweet time” doing something. I guess they could have said: “So and so approached the task lento dolce.” I’m sure that doesn’t work in Italian. And it probably wouldn’t catch on in English.

The Italian word “grave” is pronounced GRAH vay – not the way it looks in English. But the way it looks probably scares lots of folks away from wanting to move that slowly. And it is quite a slow tempo in music. In fact, it also suggests “solemn.”

So, what do you think? Are you ready to listen to every adagio, largo, lento, and grave that you can get hold of? I’m not sure that’ll slow down the overall ”rushissimo” of the season, though it might bring you a little peace of mind. 

I can assure you of something. The slow movements of works often feature memorable song-like tunes. Those alternate with the more spirited openings and closings of compositions. Enjoy them all. The fast movements remind you that you have to deal with fast paced moments. Some of those could be fun. But be sure to savor the slower movements, like the slower moments of the season. That doesn’t include waiting in “lento” lines in stores or in traffic.

You certainly didn’t slow down with your support on “Giving Tuesday.” 147 listeners made contributions throughout the day. With the help of the matching fund made possible by some generous supporters, we raised over $40,000. Thank you for your gift.

And join us for all the allegros and adagios that are a part of Classic Mornings! Tune in Monday through Friday from 9 am to noon of FM 90.9 or online at