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Composers write pieces, and performers perform them. But for the performers, just about everything the composer writes, with the exception of the notes themselves, is a matter of interpretation. The composer indicates that a passage should be played softly? Fine. But how softly? It should get louder? Okay, but how much louder? Faster, slower? – same thing, it’s a matter of interpretation and personal taste. 

And tastes and interpretations can change, sometimes from one performance to the next. Even when a composer indicates a specific tempo with a metronome marking – so many clicks per minute – that’s just a starting point, and composers themselves are famous for playing their own pieces at different tempos at different times, depending on how they happen to feel. “Feeling also has its tempo,” wrote Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms once wrote, “…the metronome is of no value… I have never believed that my blood and a mechanical instrument go well together.”

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.