The double-beat theory

It has been hinted to twice in these days. It seems to be a consensus on the theory being the result of cherry-picking and not based on firm grounds, and I don’t say anything on this (feel free to comment if you think it’s a good theory).
It’s a pity Wim Winters has been insisting so much and for so long on the double-beat theory, because to say all the truth I find him to be a very fine player of outstanding musicianship. Moreover, I think many compositions should be played a tad less fast than usual to reveal all their artfulness, but I am saying “a tad slower”, not “half-speed”. Though, Winters is so a fine musician that he does manage lots of pieces to sound convincing even at impossibly slow tempos. So I say it’s just a pity.

Excellent post, Domenico!

I encourage our membership to listen to several of Wim’s videos. I agree with you: he is a superb, expressive player, especially on clavichord.

I would say, though, that Wim does not arrive at the double beat theory by accident nor asserts it simply as a didactic pronouncement. Indeed, what I find compelling (as well as uncomfortable) is his evidence regarding that music which has metronome markings. Namely, that those pieces are physically unplayable at those marked tempi. In several examples, he takes a survey of the tempos of various modern performers, and as I recall the fastest clocks in at something like 70% of the marked tempos. They usually are all faster than double beat. They are, as the saying goes, neither fish nor fowl.

So it is uncomfortable, but it could be true. I am hard pressed to offer any objection other than “it doesn’t feel right to me.” If we are looking for insight as to “how the composer intended it”, that objection doesn’t cut it. In a larger artistic sense (where the artist has license to “improve” the music for contemporary audiences) it has merit.

Hope this has not turned into a double bait theory! (just joking…)

The problem is, there is not really an “it” (we assume that we’re talking about the 19th century here, right?). Yes, there is a problem with some early metronome markings that seem too high for a number of reasons (prime example: Beethoven’s Op. 106) – but this applies not nearly to all of them. And yes, occasionally, double-beat practises were in fact applied or expected. I’ve for example seen a comparative list of mid-19th-c. music published in different countries where local practice in one area (I think one publisher in Ireland) applied double-beat metronomizations, (but only together with an identifier added in the score, which is important no note), while the same music published in another country used equivalent one-beat-to-a-tick metronome markings instead (that is, of the kind we’re used to today). Finally, composers and publishers may sometimes have made mistakes, and so there’s that insecurity.

So for the 19th century, we have to accept an occasional fuzziness regarding the correctness and meaning of tempo indications. I think this is really important: from a historian’s perspective, there is no “true” in this question.

However, like Stuart F. mentioned in the other thread: we are looking at an unbroken performance tradition (with many cases of a direct lineage of teacher-pupil transmission; thinking of Beethoven-Czerny-Liszt-Krause-Arrau; Chopin-Decombes-Cortot; too lazy to dig out more). To assume a general practice in which pieces originally were meant to be played at half the marked tempo (by reading the metronome marks like they were representing the back-and-forth swing of a pendulum, one beat per whole cycle), and to claim that we today play these pieces at double the intended speed by wrongly interpreting these metronome marks so the indicated note value equals each tick of the metronome, must mean that there was one point in time where people abandoned the old practice and began embracing the new one. As halving or doubling the tempo is no trivial matter for either performer or listener, this cannot have gotten unnoticed or unmentioned. Yet there is no documentation of when, how and why this “conspiracy” (as Clemens von Gleich, a prominent older-generation half-tempo representative, actually called it some 15 years ago during a conference session here in Gothenburg), [edit] took place and modern practice became established in its stead.

I agree. I think that we could agree that a critical reading of sources should include the appreciation for the pendulum user. It makes a sense to count two swings as part of the intended time for slow movements if you don’t have a ladder nearby. :wink:

I really don’t know much about the topic. But I wouldn’t just discard this as a conspiracy theory as suggested by Mr. Frankel because of the practical implications of pendulum habits.

Well, as said, the term “conspiracy” was not my own insertion here, but in fact introduced into the discussion quite a while ago by a then-prominent defender of the half-tempo theory (Clemens von Gleich), and with a tone of [edit] glee at that, I should add. [Edit] It was definitely presented as a “gotcha” moment.

This whole discussion has been going on for several decades, in fact. Wim Winters is absolutely not the first person to use these arguments, even if he may be the first one who uses his YouTube presence to present his case.


I agree. I think that we could agree that a critical reading of sources
should include the appreciation for the pendulum user.

As I mentioned, although perhaps not explicitly enough, there was one
source that mentioned the pendulum user. This was Maelzel’s patent
application, where he cautioned that the metronome should not be counted
the same way as a pendulum.

I urge you to watch PianoPat’s youtube videos on the subject. He covers
pretty much everything.

But I wouldn’t just discard
this as a /conspiracy theory/ as suggested by Mr. Frankel

This would be the conspiracy among every 19th-century musician and
writer about music to double tempos but not tell anyone, right? That’s a
pretty neat summary of one of the problems with the theory (far from the
only problem)

(FYI, and for what it’s worth, it’s Dr Frankel, PhD in historical
musicology, although the only people to address me that way are ones who
are asking me for money.)

Stuart ← address me this way

Nice way of putting it. I edited my earlier entries to reflect this, because I had mis-phrased it earlier.