ru·​ba·​to | \ rü-ˈbä-(ˌ)tō How to pronounce rubato (audio) \
plural rubatos

Definition of rubato

: a fluctuation of tempo within a musical phrase often against a rhythmically steady accompaniment

Examples of rubato in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web One thing that really confused me about listening to modern players approach the solo partita was that often it was played so freely and with so much rubato. New York Times, "A Flutist Steps Into the Solo Spotlight," 13 Oct. 2020 Pianist Julio Elizalde made a capable dancing partner, with a subtle touch and an attentive handling of rubato. Washington Post, "The bar was set high for Austrian cellist Kian Soltani, and his latest recital delivered," 23 Jan. 2020 The pianist could’ve been more judicious with rubato around Grieg’s crashing chords, especially in the first movement cadenza. Globe Staff,, "At Tanglewood, Andris Nelsons and BSO shake the Shed with long-awaited Verdi Requiem," 14 July 2019 His flexible shaping of phrase and pulse bespoke a natural rubato that arose from within Debussy’s music rather than being imposed on it, nor was textural clarity won at the expense of coloristic detail or surging amplitude of sound. John Von Rhein,, "Kavakos offers impeccable Shostakovich with CSO, but gutsy passion in short supply," 9 Mar. 2018 Keeping the music moving with rubato phrasing of the utmost idiomatic naturalness is something Russian conductors like Bychkov do better than any. John Von Rhein,, "Semyon Bychkov electrifies Orchestra Hall with blazing CSO account of Tchaikovsky's 'Manfred'," 4 May 2018 In the slow second movement, tiny touches of rubato aerated the songlike solo lines. Zoë Madonna,, "Pianist Jan Lisiecki leads a youth movement at Symphony Hall," 20 Apr. 2018 The conductor used rubato to great effect, which only sharpened the sense that this was music stirring so urgently within the composer that putting it on paper was only an act of taking dictation from pure inspiration. Peter Dobrin,, "Jennifer Higdon's 'Low Brass Concerto' feels lyrical but cold in its Philadelphia premiere," 23 Feb. 2018 Her application of rubato alone kept Muti glued to the score. John Von Rhein,, "CSO presents a pretty premiere as part of Muti's dervish week of pre-tour activity," 29 Sep. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'rubato.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of rubato

1855, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for rubato

Italian, literally, robbed

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about rubato

Statistics for rubato

Cite this Entry

“Rubato.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLA Chicago APA Merriam-Webster

More from Merriam-Webster on rubato Encyclopedia article about rubato

Comments on rubato

What made you want to look up rubato? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

February 2021 Words of the Day Quiz

  • squirrel in winter
  • Which is a synonym of perdure?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!