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date: 22 November 2019

Adagio (It.: ‘at ease’, ‘leisurely’).locked

  • David Fallows


(It.: ‘at ease’, ‘leisurely’).

A tempo designation whose meaning has changed substantially over the years. Early forms of the word in musical scores include adaggio (Monteverdi, 1610; Cavalli, L’Elena, 1659) and adasio (Frescobaldi, 1635; Erasmus Kindermann, 1639). In the 18th and 19th centuries it was often abbreviated to ado and adago. The form ad agio is also found, though not in musical contexts.

Praetorius (Syntagma musicum, iii, 2/1619/R) equated it with largo and lento, translating all three as langsam; in the preface to his Sonnata’s of III Parts (1683) Purcell said that it and grave ‘import nothing but a very slow movement’. Monteverdi seems to have used the word in this sense in the six-voice Magnificat of his 1610 collection, where he gave the organist the instruction ‘Et si suona Adaggio, perchè li soprano cantano di croma’ (‘play slowly because the sopranos sing quavers’). Banchieri was probably the first to use it specifically as a tempo designation, rather than just part of an elaborate explanatory sentence, in ‘La battaglia’ from ...

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