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.
Through all these different incarnations, though, the general definition has remained the same: a fantasy is a composition in which the composer allows his or her imagination free rein, unrestrained by any strict rules of form or convention. And “in this,” wrote the English composer Thomas Morley back in 1597, “may more art be showne than in any other musicke, because the composer is tide to nothing but that he may add, diminish, and alter at his pleasure.” The fantasy.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.