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Even Classical Music Is Getting Faster These Days

Record labels’ study shows performances of Bach are almost 30 percent faster than they were 50 years ago

German composer Johann Sebastian Bach

German composer Johann Sebastian Bach

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Pop and rap aren’t the only two genres speeding up in tempo in the breakneck music-streaming era: The quickening of pace seems to be affecting even the oldest forms of the art. Per research this weekend from two record labels, classical music performances of J.S. Bach have also gotten faster, speeding up as much as 30 percent in the last half century.

Universal-owned Deutsche Grammaphon and Decca conducted a study into multiple recordings of Bach’s famed Double Violin Concerto in celebration of the release of Bach 333, a box set marking the 333rd anniversary of the German composer’s birth. The labels found that modern recordings of the work have shaved off one-third of the length of recordings from 50 years ago, quickening by about a minute per decade. That performance trend would fall in line with faster tempos in modern music, as audiences’ attention spans shrink and streaming particularly pushes artists and songwriters to be more conscious of every second.

Bach’s Double Violin Concerto (BWV 1043) 1961 — David & Igor Oistrakh 1978 — Arthur Grumiaux & Herman Krebbers 2016 — Nemanja Radulovic & Tijana Milosevic
Vivace 4’15 3’57 2’56
Largo ma non tanto 7’32 6’41 5’42
Allegro 5’28 5’04 3’56
Total time 17’15 15’42 12’34

“Pop music follows the evolution of society in general: Everything moves faster,” Swedish hitmaker Max Martin said in an interview in 2016 when breaking down the key components of the songs he’s helped shepherd to the top of the charts, which include Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time,” Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” and a litany of Taylor Swift crowd-pleasers. But there’s always a countertrend to every new swerve in music history — which has resulted in some pop songs nowadays deliberately slowing down, just to stand out.

So it’s not necessarily entire genres moving in a speedier direction, only the core of them. In the case of classical music performances, the Bach trend may not apply to other historic composers, who were not covered in the study. British music scholar Nicholas Kenyon notes in a statement accompanying the labels’ study that modern audiences “seem to prefer transparent, light, bright sound and it works with the work of many composers including Bach, Handel and Mozart,” which marks a “basic change in taste from the rather weighty concert style of previous years towards something that is more light, airy and flexible.” So Bach may follow pop’s quicker pace because it’s already well-made for it, while chamber music and Baroque opera probably won’t follow suit.

In This Article: classical

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