Did You Know? Musical Notes from the Penn State Laureate

Q: What does Allegro mean?

A: Allegro means "happy" in Italian. This term is frequently used to label a "movement" of a piece. A movement is simply a complete section of a larger piece. There may be two, three, four or five movements in a piece, although a typical structure for classical music is three movements in the order of fast-slow-fast. You might find Allegro-Adagio-Allegro on a program. Allegro usually denotes a quick or lively tempo. Adagio literally means at-ease, and can be interpreted as slow, or comfortable tempo, not hurried. So these "tempo" markings, although they do tell us a general range of the tempo, are much more about character and mood. The fact that there is no right or wrong tempo is a wonderful thing about music. When a composer marks the music, he is trying to communicate a mood or emotion. If you are happy and you feel upbeat, that’s how the music should feel if it is called Allegro. Adagio can mean sad or happy, with a calmer feeling.


Please send any other musical questions that you always wanted to know but were too shy to ask to Penn State Laureate Kim Cook at kdc3@psu.edu.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010