Rubato – The Robbery That’s Welcome in Romantic Music

To procrastinate is not a very good trait to portray.  That is, unless you are talking about the delaying technique in Romantic Music called rubato.  Rubato is the technique, applied a lot in the Romantic era of music, of purposely delaying the time a note is played from that which is written on the sheet of music.  This technique would be frowned upon in the Baroque Era.  In the Romantic era, however, this technique is not only welcomed but it is encouraged.  This delay of a note [a lot of times at the end of a phrase] adds to the feeling and mood of the piece.  By delaying the playing of a note, it just emphasizes more that note to the listener when it is finally played.  Rubato means “to rob” [time].  I remember my daughter’s piano teacher saying when you rob you must also give back [to catch up with the time of the piece].  

Rubato is not indicated by the composer on the score of a piece of music.  The soloist in a concerto or the conductor leading the orchestra [tutti] uses that technique as the feeling moves them.  That is why you can see the same piece of music played by a different performer and it may seem it is not played exactly the same.  While we are talking about only a fraction of a second, that delay, sometimes subtle and sometimes pronounced [obvious], it really adds to the feeling displayed by the soloist and adds to the beauty of the music.  It is especially present in a slower Romantic movement of a Romantic era concerto.

Note: Unlike the soloist in a concerto [like a piano concerto] where the pianist will use the rubato technique as it moves him, when there is rubato used by the orchestra [tutti], it must be directed by the maestro, because all the orchestra members must be on the same page.

There is no better choice to display the rubato technique than when played in a piece by the quintessential Romantic composer, Frederic Chopin. This Polish composer’s music [almost all piano] cries out romanticism. If you aren’t moved by a romantic piece of music by Chopin, than you better check your pulse.

Chopin composed two piano concertos, both with beautiful Romantic second movements.  Listen and see if you can detect the rubato [delay of a note played] in these two movements.  

Please turn up the volume and enjoy how rubato in Romantic music enhances the beauty of the music in the following You Tube videos.

F. Chopin: Piano concerto #1 in e minor, movement 2, Romance:

 F. Chopin: Piano Concerto #2 in f minor, Movement 2, Larghetto:

Next, listen to the rubato technique [some subtle] used by the soloist in the beautiful adagio movement of Mendelssohn’s 2nd Piano Concerto in D minor.

Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto #2 in d minor, Movement 2, Adagio:

Finally, see if you can find examples of rubato in the beautiful slow movement of Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in a minor.

Note: Because there is no delay between the 2nd and final movements of the Schumann concerto, you will hear at the end a bridge that is leading to the third movement. [that may seem out of place].

Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in a minor, Movement 2, Andantino Grazioso:




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