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Art song

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.

In German, art songs are called Lieder—the singular is lied. In French, the word for a popular song is chanson, but for an art song it’s mélodie. In whatever language, an art song is a poem set to music, and when the marriage of poetry and music is a healthy one, the poetic images inspire and inform the musical language, while the music illuminates and intensifies the emotional expression of the words. And categories can blur: there are many who would say that the musically and poetically sophisticated show tunes of George and Ira Gershwin, for example, could be classified as art songs.

A Minute with Miles is 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.