A Minute with Miles

News & Music Stations: Mon-Fri, 6:43 am and 8:43 am

How did the piano get its name? Why can’t you “reach” a crescendo? Who invented opera—and why—and how do you pronounce “Handel”? These and countless other classical music questions are answered on South Carolina Public Radio’s A Minute with Miles. Hosted by longtime NPR commentator Miles Hoffman, the segments inform and entertain as they provide illuminating 60-second flights through the world of classical music. (Photo: Mary Noble Ours)

Ways to Connect

Great Quotations 4

Sep 7, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Continuing this week’s series of things I wish I’d written… this is from a 1934 article by the great English music critic Ernest Newman:

“We know rather more now about the psychology of artists than we used [to], and so we no longer incline to the naïve belief that if a composer has quarreled with his wife his next symphony will be a Pathétique, or that if his liver happens to be functioning normally he will produce a Hymn to Joy at the next [Choral] Festival.


Great Quotations 3

Sep 6, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Words today from the great writer and critic Jacques Barzun. I’ve combined several related passages:

“Music is a medium through which certain unnamable experiences of life are exquisitely conveyed through equivalent sensations for the ear…


Great Quotations 2

Sep 5, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The words today of Hector Berlioz, writing about Beethoven:

“… the thousands of men and women… whom he has so often carried away on the wings of his thought to the highest regions of poetry…


Great Quotations 1

Sep 4, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Quotations, this week, from great musicians and writers. This is from the composer Ernest Bloch:

“Real music goes beyond the intentions of its author for it nourishes itself from a much deeper and more mysterious source than mere intellect.  It represents a synthesis of all the vital forces, of all the hidden instincts of an individual...


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

No piece of music is ever just “about” any one thing. In Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, Don Giovanni stands beneath Donna Elvira’s window and sings the aria Deh vieni alla finestra, “Come to the window, O my treasure.” It’s a serenade, a love song, and a very beautiful one. But there’s one big problem: it’s a fake.


The Flute, Part 2

Aug 31, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

I mentioned yesterday that by the mid-1700's the modern flute, technically called the transverse flute, had to a great extent replaced the recorder.  The replacement wasn’t complete, though: both Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel had continued to write for both instruments. Then again, by the time of Haydn and Mozart, just a few decades later, most orchestras included a pair of flutes, and no recorders. 


The Flute, Part 1

Aug 30, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The flute is one of mankind’s oldest instruments, and in one form or another it’s been known to virtually every culture around the world.  The modern flute used in Western classical music is known technically as a “transverse” flute because the player holds it out to one side and blows across a hole in the side of the instrument. Other flutes, such as the recorder, are “end blown”—the player blows directly into an opening in one end of the instrument.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It was a fad that brought the bass drum, cymbals, and triangle to Europe. The fad was for a kind of Turkish military music known as Janissary music. The Janissaries were the personal guard of the Turkish Sultans, and they were famous for their bands, which featured the bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and an instrument of bells and jingles called the Turkish crescent.


Operetta

Aug 28, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Operetta is light opera...or opera light.  Its goal is to amuse: to be witty, charming, funny, not serious either in style or substance. Operetta includes lots of spoken dialogue and eye-catching dance numbers, and the musical material is usually appealing, tuneful…uncomplicated.


Overture 5

Aug 25, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Miles Hoffman concludes this week's discussion about popular overtures.

A Minute with Miles - a Production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.

Overture 4

Aug 24, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Miles Hoffman continues his musings about the history of the overture.

A Minute with Miles - a Production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.

Overture 3

Aug 23, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Miles Hoffman talks about the most popular types of overtures.

A Minute with Miles - a Production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.

Overture 2

Aug 22, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Miles Hoffman continues his discussion about the birth and evolution of the overture.

A Minute with Miles - a Production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.

Overture 1

Aug 21, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Miles Hoffman discusses where the word "Overture" comes from and the earliest iteration of the overture.

A Minute with Miles - a Production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.

Sonata Form 2

Aug 18, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

"Sonata” and “sonata form” are not the same thing, and that—in any kind of piece, not just sonatas—a  movement composed in sonata form consists of three primary sections: an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation.

Sonata Form 1

Aug 17, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

“Sonata form” and the musical form known as the sonata are not the same thing. A sonata is a piece—usually for piano or for piano and one other instrument—that’s composed of several distinct sections called movements.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Aug 16, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Dmitri Shostakovich's political views have long been subjects of controversy. Was Shostakovich a loyal Communist, or was he a secret rebel who suffered for years under oppressive conditions and yet contrived time and again to encode powerful subversive messages into his music?


Wind Instruments

Aug 15, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

A wind instrument is any instrument whose sound is produced by a column of air vibrating inside some sort of tube, or pipe.  But I’d like to clear up a common misconception: Wind players aren’t blowing away to try to fill up their instruments with air —the air inside a wind instrument is already there.

The Waltz

Aug 14, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

When the dance known as the waltz first became popular in Europe in the late 1700's and early 1800's, it was considered by many observers to be the ultimate in lewdness and licentiousness, a corrupter of youth.

The Double Bass

Aug 11, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The double bass is the one member of the modern violin family whose roots are in the viola da gamba, or viol family. The next time you see a double bass, notice that its back is flat, like a viol’s, not arched, like a violin’s, and it has the steeply-sloped shoulders of a viol.

Art Song

Aug 10, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Art song is a general term that refers to the kinds of songs written by classically-trained composers for classically-trained singers. Composers themselves don’t talk about writing “art songs,” they simply say “songs.” But it can be a useful term for distinguishing songs in the classical tradition from folk songs and pop songs.

Fantasy

Aug 9, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Fantasy is the English translation of the Italian fantasia, a word that first appeared as a title for instrumental works in the 1500's. Since then, it’s a title that’s been used over and over: there have been fantasies for lute, guitar, harpsichord, viols, organ, piano, and orchestra; Renaissance fantasies, Baroque fantasies, Classical, Romantic, modern fantasies, and fantasies ranging from abstract exercises to extravagant variations on operatic arias.

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Musical child prodigies have always fascinated the public. Far more rare than the child prodigy performer, though, is the child prodigy composer. The first name that comes to many people’s minds when they think of child composers is Mozart, and it’s true that Mozart started writing music at the age of four or five. But of all Mozart’s great pieces, very few were written before his twentieth birthday. Felix Mendelssohn, on the other hand, composed works when he was fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen that are still considered masterpieces, and that far surpass anything Mozart wrote when he was a teenager. 

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It’s popular, in some circles, to find links between creative genius and mental illness. Among composers, Robert Schumann—who attempted suicide after years of inner torment—is usually Exhibit A, but there are others who are regularly mentioned, as well. My own view is that the so-called link is no link at all. 


Sonata

Aug 4, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The word sonata comes from the Italian sonare, an old form of suonare, which means “to sound,” or “to play,” as in “to play an instrument.” And indeed, a sonata is always an instrumental piece.  During the Baroque period, the term was applied to pieces for one, or sometimes two solo instruments, with or without keyboard accompaniment, but since about 1750 the term has most often referred to pieces either for solo piano or for piano and one other instrument.  


Bach Cello Suites

Aug 3, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

A word today about the solo cello suites of Johann Sebastian Bach. The melodies to which we’re most accustomed in the music of such composers as Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert, usually feature easily identifiable beginnings, middles, and ends.


Antonio Vivaldi

Aug 2, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Antonio Vivaldi’s life story could easily be the subject of a novel.  Vivaldi was born in Venice in 1678 and at the age of 25 he was ordained as a priest.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

From the 1400's to the 1700's, the Italian word viola was the general term for any stringed instrument played with a bow.  Viola da braccio, or “arm viola,” was the generic name for any member of what we now call the modern violin family.  And even though it was always played between the legs, the instrument we now call the cello was first called the basso di viola da braccio, or “bass arm viola.” The word cello, believe it or not, comes from an Italian word meaning “little big viola.”


Johann F Fasch

Jul 31, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Fame, they say, is fleeting. I recently came across a piece of music by a German composer named Johann Friedrich Fasch. Ever heard of him? I hadn’t.


Bach - Better

Jul 28, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

A colleague and I were listening to a Bach violin concerto on the radio some years back. After a while my colleague said, “You know, there are a thousand Baroque violin concertos. Why is it that this one is just…better?” Johann Sebastian Bach wrote sonatas, concertos, suites, preludes and fugues, overtures, oratorios, and cantatas—music in all the major forms of the Baroque era, with the exception of opera.


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