Presto

Mozart is reputed to have considered rhythm to be the most important element in music. One might wonder if the idiosyncratic, mercurial genius that was the late Glenn Gould would have agreed.

What prompted this train of thought was an early morning listen to Bach’s Italian Concerto. I’m a harpsichord snob but, on this occasion, I’d picked out a recording by Sokolov; purely for the rip-roaring final presto. I was taught that presto means to play as a quickly as possible. Far too many recordings of the the Italian Concerto fall apart when the musicians hit that all-important final movement. Instead reconfiguring it as a stately mid-tempo dance. This is to wreck some of JSB’s most exhilarating writing. The right hand should be a blur; hence Sokolov. But then I remembered I’d got Gould doing the thing. Now this is how it should be played. It’s executed at a, frankly, insane pace and is all the more grin inducingly-enjoyable as a result.

On this evidence, Gould must surely have considered tempo to be the most important element in music. While never, for even a moment, sacrificing melody or rhythm.

The presto kicks in here at 10:06. Put your seat belt on.

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