In none of these waltzes does Sor give a tempo indication. Common sense is some help. A waltz isn’t a dirge, nor is it a breathless sprint, so obviously neither of these extremes is appropriate. But questions remain: at what precise tempo should these pieces be played? And how flexible can one be with tempo changes? A good place to start is with the music itself. Listen carefully enough, and the right tempo begins to suggest itself. So let’s take a closer look at Valse No. 1.
This piece in in 3/8 (as are all the pieces in Op. 44 bis), and that implies a “one to a bar” feel. Finding the right tempo can involve a bit of trial and error. For example, when I first recorded this piece, I played it at a slightly slower tempo. Yet I soon changed my mind and redid it at a faster tempo. The slower recording teetered dangerously close to a “three to a bar” feel. Further, tempo is, among other things, a balancing act between detail and momentum. The slower the tempo, the more detail you can do. The faster the tempo, the more you can convey forward movement. There are always trade-offs between the two. In my slower recording, there were touches of detail that are lost in the faster recording. But to me, this piece cries out for a joyful and rhythmically vital performance. The slower recording, for all its nice touches, simply didn’t deliver. As for tempo changes, I keep this piece pretty steady. The harmony is basic—other than one secondary dominant, the chords are I, IV, and V. Peppering this piece with tempo changes would give it an affected air unsuited to its simple charm. And as the first piece of a six work opus, its job is to get the ball rolling and create a joyful and carefree mood. Finally, since it’s less than two minutes long, tempo changes would tend to disrupt its forward momentum. If this piece were longer and more sophisticated, I might add a few discrete tempo changes. It’s not, so I don’t.