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

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

This week we’ll focus on interesting facts and stories about important musicians. The first interesting item about the French composer Ernest Chausson is his name. The word chausson, in French, means “slipper” – as in the slippers you wear on your feet. But a chausson aux pommes is an apple turnover.


Progress in Music

Jul 4, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

For musicians and music teachers, the concept of Progress can be misleading. We can strive in our own ways to emulate the masters who’ve preceded us, but it’s a mistake to think there’s such a thing as being better than those masters.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

In fields such as science and technology, or in medicine, we’re used to achievements that represent Progress, progress that is obvious and indisputable. We do things better than we did before. But in the field of music, Progress has at times been a misleading concept.


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

Jun 29, 2018
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

Jun 28, 2018
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.


Aria Part 4

Jun 27, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The da capo aria, which I talked about yesterday, was a form that by 1750 had begun to lose its once enormous popularity. It was a form that was essentially killed by excess. The reign of the da capo aria coincided with the reign of the castrati as the stars of Italian opera.


Aria Part 3

Jun 26, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

For about a hundred years, roughly from 1650 to 1750, the principal type of aria in opera, and also in the oratorios and cantatas of such composers as Bach and Handel, was the da capo aria.


Aria Part 2

Jun 25, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The aria - a musical form that’s a kind of song, but more elaborate and vocally demanding than the pieces we usually call songs. The development of opera in Italy in the 1600's is what brought the aria to glory.


Aria Part 1

Jun 22, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Arias are the pieces for solo voice with instrumental accompaniment that are found in operas, oratorios, and cantatas. They’re songs, in a sense, but they tend to be more musically elaborate and vocally demanding than the kinds of pieces we usually call songs.


Acoustics Part 5

Jun 21, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Acoustics is the science of sound, but the word also refers to the qualities of a room—the qualities that determine and describe how things sound in that room. 

Acoustics Part 4

Jun 20, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

When discussing acoustics it’s important to remember that there’s no absolute standard, and that different kinds of music may be better served by different acoustics. A piece for solo cello, for example, might sound wonderful in the richly reverberant acoustics of a cathedral, while a string quartet or piano in the same space would sound like mush.

Acoustics Part 3

Jun 19, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

More today, about acoustics. Absolutely everything in the design and construction of a room, or concert hall, contributes to its acoustics… from the shape and size of the room, to the building and finishing materials, to the seating configuration and height of the stage, to the seemingly minor decorative details.

Acoustics Part 2

Jun 18, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

We’re talking about acoustics this week. Acoustics is the science of sound, but the word has another meaning, as well. When we ask about the acoustics of a concert hall, or of any room, we’re asking about qualities, about how things sound in that room.

Acoustics Part 1

Jun 15, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Acoustics is the science of sound. More specifically, it’s the branch of physics that deals with sound waves and their properties—how sound waves are generated, how they behave in various circumstances, how they interact.

Fantasy

May 18, 2018
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

May 15, 2018
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

May 14, 2018
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

May 11, 2018
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.”


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.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

If you’ve seen the movie Amadeus, or the play it was based on, you may have gotten the impression that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was some sort of giggling idiot who just happened to be really good at writing music. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Here are the names of seven composers of Italian opera who were contemporaries of Giuseppe Verdi:

Filippo Marchetti, Errico Petrella, Pietro Antonio Coppola, Luigi Ricci, Federico Ricci, Antonio Cagnoni, and Giovani Pacini. Ever heard of them? Neither had I. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Sic transit gloria mundi – Thus passes worldly glory. Louis Spohr was born in Germany in 1784, and during his lifetime he was one of the most famous musicians in all of Europe, renowned as a great violinist, a distinguished conductor, and an extremely prolific composer. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

If you’d like a remarkable example of the genius of Leonard Bernstein, I  recommend that you listen – or listen again – to the song “Cool,” from West Side Story.


Better Ears

May 2, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Every musician will tell you that there are some musicians who just seem to have better ears than others do. We’re really talking about the brain, rather than the actual organ of hearing, but in any case from the same sounds others hear, some people are able to extract more information, and they’re able both to process and to store that information faster, more accurately, and more efficiently. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

One of the reasons Mozart’s operas seem so profound to us is because they’re so true to life, and perhaps especially true to life’s complexities and contradictions. 


Conducting Changes Over the Years

Apr 30, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The tools and techniques of conducting have changed a great deal over the centuries. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the people who led musical performances, especially vocal performances, usually simply waved their hands in the air to indicate the shape and speed of melodies – although sometimes they also held a long wooden staff in one hand and marked beats with it. 


Pages