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Tempo giusto is a musical term that means “in exact time,” often directing a return to strict time following a rubato or to play in “strict time” or “suitable time”
The literal meaning of the direction is "in exact time". It commonly appears after a previous change in tempo directing the performer to return to the previous tempo before the change. However, the meaning of the direction is debated.
Some musical critics claim tempo giusto implies more than simply the absence of rubato—it has a positive musical meaning in its own right. Instead of translating the term to mean “strict time” it is translated as “right tempo” . Accordingly, tempo giusto is a musical term that describes the rate of a piece—the tempo at which it slips through the musician’s fingers. Thus, tempo giusto instructs the performer to play the piece in question at the “right speed.” “Right speed” has been understood by musical critics in one of two ways: the term has an objective and a subjective interpretation. Gail Godwin, an American novelist, explains the objective interpretation by writing in her recent work Heart:
"The Italians have a musical notation not found in any other language: tempo giusto, 'the right tempo.' It means a steady, normal beat, between 66 and 76 on the metronome. Tempo giusto is the appropriate beat of the human heart".
According to Godwin’s interpretation, “right” refers to an objective measure: the average rate of the human heart.
Critics following the subjective interpretation claim that the “rightness” of the tempo is a “rightness” garnered from the musician’s intuition. That is, a score which tells the musician to play the piece at the “right” tempo is telling the musician to use his intuition to figure out the tempo that the notes in the score imply. In this sense tempo giusto refers less to a specific numerical tempo than a rate that can only be induced on a case-by-case basis by examining the overall character of a composition. It is a speed the musician intuits from the structure and nature of the piece itself.
Although tempo giusto is only sparsely sprinkled through musical time, it has recently reemerged. The term has given rise to a whole life movement, which advises the modern world to stop plowing through life at breakneck speed, and to start living instead at the “right tempo." Man is told to live in accordance with his own inner tempo.
The artistic director of the Madison [Wisconsin] Symphony Orchestra, Maestro John DeMain, has said, “[n]ow that I think about it, the idea of tempo giusto describes just about everything I do or aspire to."
- Quoted in Heffernan, Deborah Daw. An Arrow Through the Heart: One Woman's Story of Life, Love, and Surviving a Near-Fatal Heart Attack. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003. Page 171.
- Honoré, Carl. In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004.
- Anderson, Jess. "John DeMain: In Search of Tempo Giusto." Madison Magazine, August 2001. http://www.madisonmusicreviews.org/doc/p_200108_demain.html