Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the finales of instrumental pieces were almost always in fast tempos. Composers felt it was important to leave the audience feeling enthusiastic and uplifted, so they also tended to end their pieces with a bang – or at least with some sort of satisfyingly emphatic musical statement. Over the last hundred years or so, on the other hand, composers have been much more willing to leave their listeners depressed or disconcerted. And while the liberation from the cliché of the Big Bang led to many beautiful endings, it also spawned one of the clichés of modern music: the finale that dies away into nothingness, symbolizing the certainty of death, or the death of certainty, or the meaninglessness of life, or the uncertainty of meaninglessness…or… something. Fair enough, I suppose, in an age of world wars and atomic bombs, but a cliché is still a cliché, and nowhere is it written that for music to be good it must be joyless. In music as in life, it’s neither dishonest nor disgraceful to find a little happiness along the way, whether at the beginning, the middle, or the end.
A Minute with Miles - a production of ETV Radio made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.