The Nightmare

Of all the works in the standard orchestral repertoire, the opening that you see above – it’s Strauss’ Don Juan – must rank very high on a list entitled ‘Beginnings that Make Conductors Wake at Dead of Night in a Cold Sweat’.

As you can see, it’s marked Allegro molto con brio (very fast and energetic) —

then comes the real killer

which tempo-wise speeds along in minims (half-notes) like this:


So, let’s do the maths: if there are 84 minims in a minute that means there are 168 crotchets, 336 quavers and, finally 672 semiquavers; so, for every second there should be 11.2 semi-quavers, which, in turn, means that the opening rest that I’ve circled above lasts for just under 9 hundredths of a second.

Large body of strings to keep together? (Needed for the Strauss!) Exposed?? (It’s just them!)(More than) Impossible!!!.  

Outside of the recording studio most conductors work on the ‘it’s fast, people won’t notice, let’s get it over and done with’ principle. Here’s Strauss himself starting (for safety) below his own metronome marking – but, listen, that opening’s still a bit of a spludge – but, to do him justice, he does get somewhere like up to speed when the main theme arrives:

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