Musical terms as improvisation inspiration | J N Hummel’s Ausfürlich Anweisung zum Piano-Forte Spiel

ca 1814 / Johann Nepomuk Hummel / Goethe Museum Düsseldorf

Throughout history composers starting adding more and more intricate words and descriptions to give a general indication of the character of a piece of music.

For us improvisers this can be really inspiring. You might have forgotten you could play your next improvisation ponticello, or bruscamente. We are hoping to compile lists here of specific character words that are applicable to specific composers or periods. For now we have taken the following list from Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Ausführlich theoretisch-practische Anweisung zum Piano-Forte Spiel from 1828. This is in relation to our Beethoven series about improvising variations: in our first video we use simple starting ideas for your first step in improvising variations. For more improvisation videos subscribe on YouTube.

Would you like to give us the time to do more of this or hear us improvise or even learn along with us? Support us on Patreon and follow our progress 🙂 !

Hummel's descriptive musical terms

Italian TermHummel's translationOur translation to EnglishExample in Hummel's music
GraveSchwerfällig ernstPonderous seriousPiano Sonata in A flat, Op. 92a I. Grave
Largogedehnt abgemessenbroadly measuredPiano quintet op. 87 in E-flat minor, III. Largo
Larghettoweniger langsam, doch etwas gezogenless slow, but slightly pulled/draggedPiano Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 89, II. Larghetto
Lentogleichsam ermattetquasi tired/languishedFantasy for Piano in E flat Major op. 18 (1805) - I. Lento
Lento sostenutogezogen, gleichsam ermattet getragenquasi tired/languished, supported/carriedEtude. Adagio Sostenuto
Adagiolangsam, aber seelenvollslow, but soulfulAdagio variationen und rondo op 78. I. Adagio
Andantinoetwas gehendsomewhat going/movingPiano Sonata: Andantino
Andantefortschreitend, gehendmoving forward, goingTrumpet Concerto in E-Flat Major: II. Andante
Andante maestosofortschreitend, gehend, majestätischmoving, majesticBallet 'Sappho von Mitilene', Op. 68, X. Suite 9. Andante maestoso
Andante non troppofortschreitend, gehend, nicht zu sehrnot too much moving
Andante affettuosofortschreitend, gehend, gerührtmoving, touched or stirred
Andante graziosofortschreitend, gehend, gefälligmoving, appealing, gracefulPiano Trio in G major, Op.65 - 2. Andante grazioso
Andante pastoralefortschreitend, gehend, ländlichmoving, ruralSonata for Flute and Piano in D major Op. 50 mov 3 - Rondo Pastorale
Andante con motofortschreitend, gehend, etwas bewegta bit more movingConcerto for piano, violin & orchestra in G major, Op. 17, II. Andante con moto
Allegrettoetwas munter, leicht und anmuthigsomewhat lively, light and gracefulPiano Sonata No. 8 in A-Flat Major: III. Allegretto
Allegromunter und lebhaftbright and vivacious24 Etudes pour le pianoforte, op. 125 (1834?), I. Allegro
Allegro maestosomunter und lebhaft, aber erhabenbright and vivacious, but elevatedConcerto for Piano and Orchestra in B minor, Op. 89. I. Allegro maestoso
Allegro moderatomunter und lebhaft, aber mässigbright and vivacious, but moderately
Piano Concerto in A-minor, Op.85 (1816) I. Allegro Moderato
Allegro giustomunter und lebhaft, aber nach Maassgabe des Charakters des Stücksbright and vivacious, but according to the meter of the composition
Allegro un pocomunter und lebhaft, aber ein wenigbright and vivacious, but a little
Allegro non troppomunter und lebhaft, aber nicht zu sehrbright and vivacious, but not too muchPiano Sonata No. 6 in D Major, Op. 106: II. Allegro ma non troppo, "Un scherzo all'antico"
Allegro comodomunter und lebhaft, aber gemächlichbright and vivacious, but unhurried, leisurely24 Etudes, Op. 125: X Allegro Comodo
Allegro con motomunter und lebhaft, aber mit mehr Bewegungbright and vivacious, but with more movementTrio for Piano, Violin & Cello in E flat major. Op. 93
Allegro con brio (brillante)munter und lebhaft, aber hervorstechendbright and vivacious, but striking, brilliantSeptet in C-major, Op.114 "The Military". I. Allegro con Brio
Allegro con spirito (spiritoso)munter und lebhaft, aber geistvollbright and vivacious, but spiritedPiano Sonata No. 9 in C Major: I. Allegro con spirito
Allegro con fuocomunter und lebhaft, aber feurigbright and vivacious, but fieryPiano quintet op. 87 in E-flat minor, Hausmusik
Allegro vivacemunter und lebhaft, aber mit mehr Lebhaftighkeitbright and vivacious, but with more livelinessCello Sonata in A Major, Op. 104: III. Rondo: Allegro vivace un poco
Allegro agitatomunter und lebhaft, aber ängstlich bewegtbright and vivacious, but anxiously movingPiano Quintet, Allegro Agitato
Allegro furiosomunter und lebhaft, aber ungestüm, wildbright and vivacious, but boisterous, wild
Vivacissimosehr lebhaft und feurigvery lively and fieryJohann Nepomuk Hummel - Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 89 (1819) III. Finale. Vivace
Prestonoch schneller und flüchtigereven faster and volatileHummel: Piano Trio in E flat, Op.12 - 3rd movement: Presto
Prestissimoso schnell und flüchtig wie möglichas fast and volatile as possiblePiano Sonata No. 4 in C Major, Op. 38: III. Finale. Prestissimo
Tempo di Menuettoim Menuettenschritt, gemässigtlike a minuet, moderateHummel: Piano Trio in G major, Op.35 - 2. Tempo di Menuetto
Alla Polacaim Polanisenschritt, noch etwas gemässigterlike a Polonaise, even more moderatelyAdagio and Rondo alla Polacca for Violin and Orchestra in A major
Alla Sicilianadem sizilianischen Schäfertanz ähnlich, pastoralartiglike the Sicilian shepherd dance, pastoral-likeGrande Sonata for mandolin and fortepiano, Op. 37a Andanta alla Siciliana
moltovielmuch
assaisehrvery

Hummel: words applying to a section of the composition

Marcatoschärfer bezeichnet, stärker hervorgehobensharper designation, more emphasisPiano Septet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 74
Decrescendoabnehmenddecreasing
calandoberuhigendcalming, comfortingJohann Nepomuk Hummel - Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 89 (1819)
diminuendovermindernddiminishing
perdendosisich verlierend (verminderung der Stärke)petering out, losing oneself (diminishing of loudness)Piano Septet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 74
Smorzandoverlöschend (verminderung der Stärke)extinguishing (diminishing of loudness)Johann Nepomuk Hummel - Piano Concerto, Op. Posth.1 (1833)
Ritardandozurückhaltend (Verminderung der Stärke, zugleich immer langsamer werdende Bewegung im Zeitmass)restrained (reduction of strength, at the same time slower and slower movement in time)Johann Nepomuk Hummel - Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 89 (1819)
Rallentandoverzögernd (Verminderung der Stärke, zugleich immer langsamer werdende Bewegung im Zeitmass)delaying (diminishing loudness, at the same time decrease in tempo)Johann Nepomuk Hummel - Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 89 (1819)
Morendoabsterbend (Verminderung der Stärke, zugleich immer langsamer werdende Bewegung im Zeitmass)dying (diminishing loudness, at the same time decrease in tempo)Johann Nepomuk Hummel - Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 89 (1819)

Hummel: Character words both at the beginning and in the middle of the piece

mesto, lugubretraurig, düstersad, gloomyString Quartet no. 1 in C major op. 30 no. 1 Adagio e Mesto
pateticofeierlich, ernstfiery, seriousHungarian Dances, Op. 23: Ballo Patetico
con doloremit Wemuthwith woe
languidoseufzend, schmachtendsighing, yearning
con animaseelenvollsoulful24 Preludes for Piano,Op.67, no. 17
cantabilegesangvollsinging, vocalSonata Op. 5 No. 3 for Viola, II. Adagio Cantabile
espressivo oder con espressioneausdrucksvoll oder mit Empfindungexpressive or with sentimentJohann Nepomuk Hummel - Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 89 (1819)
dolce oder con dolcezzasanft oder mit Sanftmuthgently or with gentlenessJohann Nepomuk Hummel - Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 89 (1819)
ariososangbarsingable
amabilelieblichlovely, sweetSonata op. 104 no. 3 I Allegro amabile e grazioso
con tenerezzazärtlich, schmeichelndaffectionate, flattering
innocenteunschuldig, anspruchslosinnocent, undemanding
con graziaanmuthiggraceful, charmingGrande sonate, Op. 92: Rondo - Con grazia
leggiero oder leggierissimomit Leichtigkeit oder mit gröster Leichtigkeitwith ease or with great easeJohann Nepomuk Hummel - Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 89 (1819)
scherzandoscherzend, tändelnd joking, trifling Trio in G Major, Op. 35: III. Rondo. Vivace e scherzando
risolutoentschlossen, kräftigdetermined, vigorousViolin Concerto in G major