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Do Classical Music Performances Change over Time?

If art imitates life, then it’s not surprising that the music we listen to is being performed at an increasingly fast pace. To prove that point, researchers at two record labels -- Deutsche Grammophon and Decca -- studied how recordings of Johann Sebastian Bach’s lively Double Violin Concerto have changed over the past 50 years. The study looked at a 1961 recording that lasted 17 minutes, a 1978 rendition that was over in about 15 minutes, and a 2016 performance that only lasted about 12 minutes. Those recordings illustrate how Bach's famous piece has been sped up and condensed by nearly five minutes; the concerto is now performed around 30% faster than it was in the 1960s.

Allegro, vivace, presto:

  • “It’s a basic change in taste from the rather weighty concert style of previous years towards something that is more light, airy and flexible,” explained music scholar Nicholas Kenyon.

  • The New York Philharmonic has called Bach’s three-movement composition, which features two violinists playing in harmony, “a magical tapestry from threads of poignancy, resignation and tenderness.”

  • The study coincided with the October 2018 release of Bach 333, a box set that marked the composer’s 333rd birthday, featuring 280 hours of music.

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