Adage Definition and Meaning

Adagio is a word that can be derived from two different etymological sources: from the Latin adagĭum or from the Italian adagio. In the first case, the concept belongs to the field of linguistics and is used to name a concise expression that usually has a moral teaching and that is easy to memorize or learn.

An example of adage is “Better late than never. ” In this case, the sentence invites to act, even when it seems that the opportunity has already passed. The adage proposes getting out of a passive state to take action.

Adages are similar to sayings, maxims, proverbs, and aphorisms, among other kinds of expressions. At a general level it can be said that they work as a guide since they suggest certain behaviors, sometimes appealing to humor or irony.

When adagio comes from the Italian language, its use is found in the field of music. The notion alludes to a certain tempo. The adage involves executing between sixty and seventy-two blacks per minute.

With regard to the concept of tempo, essential to understand this meaning of the term adage, it is about the speed at which a musical work must be performed. It is also known by the name of air or movement and in a score it is normal to find the indication of this velocity at the beginning of the piece, on the staff.

Throughout history, the way of indicating the tempo of a work has changed, since the metronome (the device used to assist musicians in the performance or in the reading of a piece through a sound division of time, usually with a clock-like tick tock) was not adopted massively until the 19th century. One of these forms, precisely, was based on the inscription of a word that gave an approximate idea of ​​the character or “state of mind” that the composer intended to express at each moment, and among them are allegro, andante and, of course, adagio.

With the invention of the metronome, which took several centuries to adopt the design and functionality that we know today, it was possible to make much more precise annotations: for example, how many blacks should be performed per minute. Although music should not be understood in a mechanical and invariable way, but spontaneous and natural, it is important to have this information, to know how composers want us to reproduce their creations, regardless of whether we then print new nuances in our performance.

If the adage is found as an indication of tempo, then it is very common that there is also a value corresponding to the metronome; the way of interpreting it varies according to the time of the score, and for this reason we have the following correspondences: in an old score, the adage is equivalent to 54 quarter notes per minute; With the use of an electronic metronome, we speak of a range that goes from 56 to 78 quarter notes per minute; this strip is between 60 and 72 quarter notes per minute if the score is contemporary. If we compare other indications, adage supposes a greater speed than long, long and serious, but less than walking.

The adage usually appears in the second or third movement of a concert or symphony. Its duration is variable since there are examples ranging from three to fifteen minutes. Ludwig van Beethoven is the author of one of the best-known adages: it is the one that we can see in the first movement of “Moonlight”, a piano sonata that he presented in 1802.


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