Early Music and Historically Informed Performance Practice

Affects in Italian and French Music, and in the Typical Baroque Sonata



Baroque music treatises speak of the need to move the affects or affections of the listener. (See Quantz, CPE Bach and Leopold Mozart).

Musicans saw close connections between rhetoric and music. They thought of the affects as distinct emotional states or passions and believed that music can arouse or still these affects and so transport the listener from one passion to another.

Composers often added words at the start of movements to indicate the affect or passion (rather than a tempo). Telemann called them ‘hinting’ words as they hint at the character of the music and the appropriate manner of performance.

Italian Affect (Tempo) Terms

ItalianLiteral meaning
Allegra *
cheerful, happy, playful
(i.e. not ‘fast’)
Ad asio *
at ease, relaxed
(i.e. not ‘slow’)
(from andare–to go)
going, flowing, moving
(i.e. not ‘slow’)
Largo broad
(i.e. not ‘slow’)
Lento slow, leisurely
Presto quick, quickly
Vivace vivacious, full of life
(slower than allegro)
Grave heavy, serious
(not necessarily slow)

* early 17th century

French Affect (Tempo) Terms and their Italian equivalents

FrenchLiteral meaning
Lentement slowly
Gay (Gai) gay, merry, cheerful
Gayement gaily, cheerfully
Gracieusement gracefully, graciously
lively, vivacious, vivid
Légèrement lightly, gently
Gravement solemnly, seriously
Tendrement tenderly
Vîte (viste) quickly
Rondement roundly, simply

Affects in the typical Baroque Sonata (from Corelli onwards)

AffectType of movement
1st movement 
severe slow allemande
majestic French overture
(esp. dotted Grave opening section)
2nd movement
resolute fugue (fast)
3rd movement
tender (operatic) arioso/aria
melancholic triple metre / sarabande rhythm
(often with hemiolas)
4th movement
light fast allemande
carefree gigue / gavotte / minuet