Lyrical means “songlike.” The word comes from “lyre,” or lyra, the name of the instrument that the ancient Greeks played to accompany the singing of their poetry. Any piece or passage of music that is based on a beautiful melodic line may be called lyrical. And in keeping with its origins, lyrical also often implies “expressive.” A gentle reminder, though: not all melodies are “songlike,” and music can certainly be expressive without being lyrical. It can be violent, for example, or angular, dramatic, choppy, mysterious, intense, playful, halting, funny, or funereal. The opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is not the least bit lyrical, but it’s certainly expressive. On the other hand, there is something about lyricism, about the deep-rooted connection with song, that is basic to whatever it is that we need and seek in music. That same Fifth Symphony has many wonderfully lyrical passages, and indeed without them it would sound merely brutal. Variety and contrast keep things interesting, but in the complete absence of lyricism, music can never be completely satisfying.
A Minute with Miles - a production of ETV Radio made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.