Adagio agitato

After reading the recent anecdote at Texas Tech Music Theory about the music student who didn’t know the meaning of “Adagio”, I was amused to find the rather strange marking “Adagio agitato” in the score of Beethoven’s Christ on the Mount of Olives (p.11).

You can hear the passage in question (which, of course, features Jesus in agony) beginning at 8:54 or so in this clip:

I admit, this could easily be a misprint for “Allegro agitato” (though the tempo in the above performance doesn’t strike me as quite fast enough for that; unfortunately I don’t remember the other recordings I’ve heard well enough to compare). Still, I can’t resist indulging, at least for a moment, in the thought that Beethoven is seeking some mysterious nuance here. He did after all quite deliberately create a surreal atmosphere by opening the oratorio in the highly unusual (at least in 1802) key of E-flat minor — a stroke that has permanently endeared this piece to me, whatever its flaws.

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