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Picturesque titles: Debussy

Yesterday I spoke about picturesque titles of musical compositions, and I quoted Robert Schumann on what he called the “clumsiness” of taking those titles too literally. Schumann’s friend Franz Liszt, on the other hand, coined the term “program music,” and said that when a piece has a program, or story, the musical ideas should clearly reflect the unfolding of the story—although that’s the same Franz Liszt who attached a “program” to his symphonic poem Les Préludes long after he had actually written the music. Claude Debussy certainly gave his pieces picturesque titles—think of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, or La Mer, just to name a couple—but here’s what he himself wrote about so-called “descriptive” music: “Does one render the mystery of the forest by recording the height of the trees? It is more a process where the limitless depths of the forest give free rein to the imagination.”

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina ETV 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.