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A Minute with Miles

There are many musical terms that get translated into several languages, depending on the native language of the composer who’s using the terms. The Italian term Allegro, for example, might appear as “Lively,” in English, or “Vif,” in French, or “Lebhaft,” in German. But there’s one musical term that for some reason you’ll only ever see…or hear…in the original Italian, and that’s Pizzicato. Pizzicato is the Italian word for “plucked.” To play pizzicato on a stringed instrument means to make the notes sound by plucking the strings with the fingers, rather than by using the bow. 

Why is pizzicato never translated? Beats me. Maybe just because pizzicato is a delightful-sounding word. It certainly sounds better than “plucked.” Musicians sometimes shorten it to “pizz,” when they’re discussing a passage, as in, “Oh, I forgot, those three notes are pizz”…but I’ve never in my life heard a colleague say anything on the order of, “Those three notes are plucked.”

Interesting, isn’t it?

This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.