The Arts

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

When it comes to Spanish composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the three most important names are certainly Isaac Albeniz, Enrique Granados, and Manuel de Falla – all composers who brilliantly integrated Spanish folk influences into the Western classical tradition. All three were great pianists, and Albeniz and Granados in particular had important careers as solo performers. Both those men, in fact, continued the long tradition of the composer/virtuosos who enriched the solo piano repertoire by writing pieces to showcase their own spectacular talents.

Why is Bach Better?

Jul 2, 2020
A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

Some years back colleague and I were listening to a Bach violin concerto on the radio. After a while my colleague said, “You know, there are a thousand Baroque violin concertos. Why is it that this one is just…better?” Johann Sebastian Bach wrote sonatas, concertos, suites, preludes and fugues, overtures, oratorios, and cantatas—music in all the major forms of the Baroque era, with the exception of opera. But Bach himself didn’t invent any of the forms he used.

Debussy the Pianist

Jul 1, 2020
A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

Many great composers have also been great pianists, genu-in virtuosos who in addition to composing led successful careers as performers. One gifted composer/pianist who did NOT have a big performing career was Claude Debussy. He did often perform his own works, but he tended to get nervous, and he didn’t enjoy playing in public. And yet by all accounts Debussy was a wonderful pianist, especially noted for his remarkable “touch” at the keyboard.

Franz Liszt, Pt. 2

Jun 30, 2020
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Yesterday I mentioned that it was Franz Liszt who invented the solo piano recital, and that the frenzied reactions of Liszt’s audiences became known as “Lisztomania,” or “Liszt fever.” But I don’t want you have the impression that Liszt’s recitals were all virtuoso flash and little substance. Liszt had an enormous repertoire—he certainly played his own showpieces, but he also played pieces by all the great composers of the day and by those he called the “classics,” including many works of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. And by all accounts he played these pieces wonderfully.

Franz Liszt, Pt. 1

Jun 29, 2020
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

In 1841 Franz Liszt played three concerts in Paris, and afterward he wrote, “My…solo recitals…are unrivalled concerts, such as I alone can give in Europe at the present moment… Without vanity or self-deception, I think I may say that an effect so striking, so complete, so irresistible had never before been produced by an instrumentalist in Paris.” Well, if it’s true it ain’t braggin’, and by all accounts it was true.

Mozart's Optimism

Jun 26, 2020
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It’s hard to find a classical music lover who doesn’t love the music of Mozart. It’s when we try to describe why we love Mozart that things can get complicated. We’re describing something indisputably real—our love of Mozart—but unless we stick to strictly technical analyses, we have to use words that will necessarily be both subjective and metaphorical. My own words? I keep coming back to two: humanity and optimism.

Beethoven's Shadow

Jun 25, 2020
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

For convenience sake, the 19th century is usually known as the era of Romanticism in classical music. This is not necessarily wrong, but it certainly does lump a great number of composers of very different styles into one broad category. Another way to view the 19th century is simply as the era of Beethoven. And that’s because after Beethoven, all composers were seen and evaluated in Beethoven’s light, or rather in his enormous shadow. Seen by the public, and seen by themselves. Imagine the courage it took to write a symphony after hearing Beethoven’s symphonies!

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

In 1838, ten years after the death of Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann traveled to Vienna, and while he was there he paid a visit to the graves of Schubert and Beethoven. On a whim, Schumann decided to call on Schubert’s brother, Ferdinand, who was living in Vienna, and this turned out to be perhaps the most fortuitous social call in the history of music.

Density of Brilliance

Jun 23, 2020
A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

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.

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

Mozart, they say, could compose music while he was playing billiards. Rossini wrote that he had once composed an overture while standing in the water fishing and listening to his fishing partner discuss Spanish finance. Prokofiev and other composers were known to carry notebooks with them so that they could jot down musical ideas that came to them on long walks, while Aaron Copland, when asked once how he found the inspiration for his music, said that the secret to inspiration was to sit down and work. Some composers compose at the piano and some compose at their desks, and some do both.

Rossini on Singers

Jun 19, 2020
A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

In The Barber of Seville and his many other operas, Gioacchino Rossini gave singers plenty of opportunities to show off their talents.  But in a letter he wrote in 1851, Rossini made it clear that he didn’t have much patience for the cult of the great singer, or for singers whose pretensions got the better of them.

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

Today I thought we’d take a metallurgical tour of the orchestra. The bars, for example, of glockenspiels and celestas are made of steel. So are some of the strings of stringed instruments, and almost all strings are wound with very fine wire made of steel, silver, or aluminum. The bodies of timpani are made of copper, and brass instruments are made of… well, brass, which is an alloy of copper and zinc. French horns, though, may also be made of nickel silver, an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel, or nickel brass, an alloy of copper, tin, and nickel.

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

Much of what we know about the great composers we’ve learned from their letters. It’s true that occasionally—and with some composers more than others—the music they’ve written seems somehow to reflect what was going on in their lives at the time. But more often than not the music gives no clue. It’s in their letters, much more than in their music, that we get a window into the composers’ private thoughts, and into the joys and struggles of their personal lives.

Lefty Violinists

Jun 16, 2020
A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

Have you ever seen a lefty violinist? I’ve heard of a few, but in my whole life I’ve only met one string player who holds the bow in the left hand and the instrument in the right. I don’t  really know how the tradition of playing “righty” got started, but it hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. Why can’t lefties just reverse the strings and play the way they like? Well, it’s not that simple. A violin, for example, may look perfectly symmetrical from the outside, but on the inside it’s not symmetrical at all.

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

The members of the violin family—the violin, viola, cello, and double bass—are made of wood. But on any one instrument you may find four or even five different kinds of wood. The top, also called the “table,” or “belly” of the instrument, will be made of spruce—a strong, light, but soft wood. The back, and the sides—which are also called the ribs—will almost always be made of maple, which is a very hard wood. Maple is also the wood from which the scroll, the neck, and the bridge are carved.

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