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Density of brilliance

A scientist I know was talking about great works of literature the other day, and she said that what characterized them was the “density of brilliance.” What a wonderful phrase. And how perfect, too, for great works of music. In any five minutes—or any two minutes—of a musical masterpiece, we can find a veritable parade of brilliant ideas. What’s interesting is that the brilliant ideas don’t always sound brilliant.

Sometimes they just sound… right. Absolutely right. And even inevitable. But they weren’t inevitable. They were inventions, and they were choices, and in each and every case they started out as blank spaces on composition paper. We sometimes forget, I think, that at every single moment in the composition of a piece a composer has to choose what comes next from an infinite array of invented possibilities. The choices of great composers always seem to have been inevitable. But that’s what makes them great composers.

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.