Classical Music

Vidula, Fidula

Feb 21, 2020
A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

Fiddle is an older word than violin – there were instruments called fiddles long before violins. Violino, which is Italian for “violin,” is the diminutive form of viola, which until the 1700s was the generic term for any bowed string instrument.  The word viola itself came from the Old French viole, which came from the Provençal viula, which came from the Medieval Latin vidula. I used to think, as others did, that the word fiddle also came from vidula.

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

One of the things I love most about the field of classical music is the way it brings together people from so many different countries. Throughout my career I’ve worked with musicians from the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Israel, Sweden, Finland, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Canada, France, Italy, Austria, and Germany. And I’m probably forgetting a few. Needless to say, the governments of all these countries haven’t always gotten along so well, to put it mildly.

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

I came across a collection of the letters of Arturo Toscanini recently, and in thē introduction the editor writes, “A whole psychology textbook could be written about Toscanini and anger.” Well all I can say is that if there had been such a book, Toscanini should have read it. He may have been a great conductor, but he was also an ill-tempered tyrant. Because in his day conductors had absolute power over their orchestras, Toscanini never had to control his temper the way most people have to in civilized society.

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

Anybody who’s been around the music business for any length of time has met performers who are – how can I put this gently – legends in their own minds. Where the ego is large enough, the performer tends to think that the main reason a particular Beethoven sonata, or Tchaikovsky symphony, or  Puccini opera is worth hearing is the brilliance of that performer’s performance; that no one else could possibly bring the work to life so wonderfully.

Beethoven's First Piano Concerto with Phillip Bush

Feb 17, 2020
Bradley Fuller, South Carolina Public Radio

Not long after his arrival in Vienna in late 1792, a young Ludwig van Beethoven was beginning to make an impression in the musical city. The Austrian capital had only a year prior lost one of its other famous residents—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—and Beethoven showed promising signs of carrying the composer’s legacy forward into a new century. Like Mozart, Beethoven was skilled as both a performer and a composer, using talents in one specialty to highlight those in another. 

Poulenc and Money

Feb 17, 2020
A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

The image of the starving artist may be a romantic one, but it turns out that poverty has not always been a necessary condition for writing great music. Sometimes, in fact, great music has gone along with great wealth. Felix Mendelssohn, for one, came from a very wealthy family, and during his lifetime Johannes Brahms made more money than he could ever use. Closer to our own time, the best example of a wealthy genius may have been Francis Poulenc.

Piano

Feb 14, 2020
A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

I always enjoy telling the story of how the piano got its name. Piano means “soft,” in Italian, and it seems a little strange that an instrument that can weigh almost a thousand pounds and compete in volume with a symphony orchestra should be called a “soft.” Well we have to start with the piano’s predecessor, the harpsichord, or gravicembalo, in Italian. The strings of a harpsichord are plucked, not struck, and no matter how hard, or how softly, you press the keys, the sound volume stays the same.

Page Turners - Part 2

Feb 13, 2020
A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

Turning pages for pianists is a pretty thankless job—the page turner is usually only noticed when he or she messes up. But for pianists who depend on page turners—and at some point most pianists do, at least those who haven’t switched over to electronic tablets—good, dependable, unobtrusive page turners are worth their weight in gold. They free the pianists from worry and make their lives much easier. Then again… virtually every pianist has a collection of page turner stories that are either funny or horrible or both. Examples?

Page Turners - Part 1

Feb 12, 2020
A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

Have you ever wondered why pianists need page turners? They’re not, after all, the only ones who use both hands to play their instruments. The answer is that piano music goes by too fast: you can only fit half as much music on one page of piano music as you can on one page of music for a non-keyboard instrument. And that’s for the simple reason that in printed piano music, each line of music takes up two lines, one for the left hand one for the right.

Music Teachers

Feb 11, 2020
A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

It was George Bernard Shaw who famously wrote, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” What Shaw forgot is that teaching is doing. And if you’re looking for a group of people whose unlimited dedication is matched only by their extraordinary skills, I suggest you look no farther than public school music teachers. To me, these teachers are heroes.

Listening to Music

Feb 10, 2020
A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours

Different people listen to music in different ways and for different reasons. And the same people listen to music in different ways and for different reasons, depending on when they’re listening. Some people have music on in their homes during meals, some while they’re relaxing, some in the background while they’re working, and some all the time. And some people absolutely can’t work if there’s music on in the background, and only want to hear music when they can pay close attention, whether it’s at home or in a concert hall.

Good Music Lasts

Feb 7, 2020
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

These days, with convenient hindsight we take it for granted that good music lasts, that pieces that are well known now will remain well known for years -- perhaps even for centuries to come. But I often wonder what was in the minds of the great composers of centuries past whose music we still love. Composers such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven knew very well how good they were, and where they stood compared to other composers. They were too good not to have known.

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

That snippet of Bach that you always hear at the beginning of A Minute with Miles is played by violinist Joanna Maurer. Joanna plays in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and for almost twenty years she’s been my colleague in the American Chamber Players. She’s a remarkable musician, and for all these years I’ve been inspired both by her beautiful violin playing and by what I might call her musical wisdom: her interpretive insights and her mastery of the craft of chamber music.

IPA

Feb 5, 2020
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Professional opera singers often have to sing in languages with which they’re completely unfamiliar. And yet they’re expected to pronounce all the words correctly. How do they do it? Well, they certainly can, and do, work with coaches who are native speakers, but most often they start by studying the foreign words with something called the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, for short.

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

I attended a concert recently that featured a performance of the Schubert Fantasy in F Minor for piano four-hands. The Schubert Fantasy is a piece I’ve known and loved for decades, and I’d been looking forward to the performance. As it turned out, though, I didn’t enjoy the performance, or the music, because I didn’t like the interpretation. I simply couldn’t free myself from my conception of how the music should go, not to mention how it shouldn’t go.

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