Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in classical music, the final movements of instrumental pieces—the finales—were almost always in fast tempos, and they usually ended loud, and emphatically. No matter where the rest of the piece had taken us, the finale was meant to provide a resolution, a sense that we’d just heard a complete work of art, a satisfyingly complete narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and—in no uncertain terms—an end. There was a kind of affirmative philosophy underlying the composer’s work, and a projection of certainty: I know what I meant to say, I’ve said it, and there’s value in my having said it.
Over the last century or so, on the other hand, which is to say the age of world wars, atomic bombs, and televised catastrophes, as the world has changed finales have changed, and composers have felt much more willing—sometimes even obligated, it seems—to end their pieces leaving listeners uncertain and disconcerted.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.