Perpetuum mobile

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This article is about a musical term. For the physical concept, see perpetual motion. For the Einstürzende Neubauten album, see Perpetuum Mobile (album). For other uses, see perpetual motion (disambiguation).

Perpetuum mobile (Latin, English pronunciation /pəːˌpɛtjʊəm ˈməʊbɪleɪ, ˈməʊbɪli), moto perpetuo (Italian and Portuguese), mouvement perpétuel (French), movimiento perpetuo (Spanish), literally meaning "perpetual motion", means two distinct things:

  1. pieces of music, or parts of pieces, characterised by a continuous steady stream of notes, usually at a rapid tempo
  2. whole pieces, or large parts of pieces, which are to be played repeatedly, often an indefinite number of times.
A perpetuum mobile for cello and piano by David Popper, consisting of continuous spiccato; Hans Goldstein (cello) and Mellicia Straaf (piano).

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As a technique[edit]

A well-known example is the presto finale of Frédéric Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2:

Chopin sonata2 finale.svg

This figuration of rapid triplet quavers (eighth notes) continues for the duration of the movement.

For other examples, see Examples below.

As separate compositions[edit]

As a separate piece, a "Perpetuum Mobile" can be defined as a composition where (a large part of) the piece is intended to be repeated an (often not specified) number of times, without the "motion" of the melody being halted when a repeat begins. Canons are often intended to be performed in a moto perpetuo fashion (which, in that case, can be called canon perpetuus). In some cases the repeats of a "perpetuum mobile" piece are at a different pitch (while a modulation or a chord progression occurs during the repeatable part): some of the riddle canons of Bach's Das Musikalische Opfer are examples of this particular kind of Perpetuum Mobile/Canon Perpetuus.[citation needed]

Perpetuum mobile as a genre of separate musical compositions was at the height of its popularity by the end of the 19th century. Such pieces would often be performed as virtuoso encores, in some cases increasing the tempo along the repeats.

Examples[edit]

"Perpetuum mobile" pieces of both kinds include:

Classical Period[edit]

Romantic Period[edit]

20th century[edit]

21st century[edit]