Wait, what is rubato? Rubato, Italian for “stolen time”, is “the temporary disregarding of strict tempo to allow an expressive quickening or slackening.” And what does that mean? Instead of playing the piece with the strict beat of a march, the performer speeds up and slows down according to volition. That is rubato.
When I heard that criticism, I sort of burst out, “But I don’t like using rubato!” My piano instructor had this moody and understanding look on her face, and said, “I know, I know.”
For Romantic composers (pieces composed roughly between 1810–1900) like Brahms, rubato is encouraged. In fact, for some pieces, excessive and exaggerated rubato is encouraged.
I suppose there lies my hesitation to stray far from a set tempo. I always feel so silly slowing down or speeding up, creating exaggerated drama when there isn’t any drama in the first place. The composer never really writes “rubato” but yet it is sort of implied there should be rubato. But where? When? How long?
The lack of certainty kills me. The fear of sounding silly kills me too. I also have a terrible inner metronome, sometimes I will be unknowingly speeding everything up or slowing everything down, so I am scared that straying from a safe tempo will lead me even further off the cliff.
Yet, for next semester, I picked Rachmaninov’s Prelude no. 12 in G# minor, which is littered with rallentando, ritardando, meno mosso, accelerando, tenuto. Rachmaninov is undeniably a Romantic composer. Michelle is definitely on the edge of the rubato cliff.
I will master you, Mr. Rubato. I will. I know this is one 2012 resolution that I will fulfill. Though right now I am not sure if I am actually doing rubato or just slowing down because I do not know the next few sets of notes. (Let me just cry in the corner.)