>When one looks at the description on the back of a symphonic CD,
>one is likely to find each movement characterized by the tempos to
>be employed-allegro, moderato, presto, etc. Yet in an opera, sections
>tend to be designated by their form-aria, cavatina, duetto, etc. I've
>concluded that this is because most orchestral movements are composed
>of some version of sonata form. I have noticed that sometimes other
>forms are identified (and, in these cases the tempo is omitted) as with
>menuetto and trio, rondo, theme and variations, etc.
>Am I on the right track? Is this a convention with a rationale or is
>it simply tradition?
I attest like composer and teacher of History of Music. In the concerts
program and in the discs tracks, the standard adopted is that the composer
(or the score editor) indicated on the score. The indication of the
tempo become common in the last years of the 17th century and the
composers didn't write the form, but only the name of the dance, the
marches and airs. The experimental forms of that years was binary form,
ritornello and others. In the second half of the 18th century, in the
Classicism Era, the composers developed the great musical forms: sonata
form, song form (or aria form), minuet and trio (or scherzo and trio), rondo etc. Frequently, the first piece of a Symphony, Sonata, Quartet, etc. is in sonata form, but the composers didn't worry in to write the name of the form and, yes, the tempo. Likewise, the composer wrote the tempo in the second piece (in simplified sonata form or in the song-form). The third piece, for reason of the peculiar rhythm (minuet or scherzo), the composers wrote the form and the tempo. In the fourth piece, if it was in the sonata form the composer wrote only the tempo, or, if it was a rondo, the name of this form and the tempo (normally, presto). When the composer didn't use these quoted forms above, but another (example: "fuga", "theme and variations", "march" etc.), he wrote specifically the form and, always, the tempo. In 19th century, with the exploration of the different speeds inner of each piece or fusion of the pieces with different forms and speeds, the composers wrote only the principal characteristic of that piece.
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PS: Dave, can you revise my poor English?