Composers

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It’s one of the hallmarks of great composers that they’re not limited by the practices of their times. Their imaginations are enriched, but not hemmed in, by the traditions they inherit, and they tend to push boundaries.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The composer Ernest Bloch was born in Switzerland, and after spending time in America, he was thinking of returning to Europe.  But a visit in 1922 to the Library of Congress, in Washington DC, convinced Bloch to stay in this country, and to take American citizenship. He was a famous composer, but Bloch was also one of this country’s most important educators, the founding director of the Cleveland Institute of Music and the first director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Imagine, for a moment, Mozart walking down Broadway, in New York City.  It’s not so easy. But Lorenzo da Ponte, who wrote the librettos for Mozart’s operas Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, and Così fan tutte, died a New Yorker.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Sergey Prokofiev was a giant of 20th-century composition. He wrote great symphonies, operas, ballets, concertos, piano sonatas, and chamber music pieces, not to mention Peter and the Wolf.

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

This week we’ll focus on interesting facts and stories about important musicians. The first interesting item about the French composer Ernest Chausson is his name. The word chausson, in French, means “slipper” – as in the slippers you wear on your feet. But a chausson aux pommes is an apple turnover.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

No piece of music is ever just “about” any one thing. In Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, Don Giovanni stands beneath Donna Elvira’s window and sings the aria Deh vieni alla finestra, “Come to the window, O my treasure.” It’s a serenade, a love song, and a very beautiful one. But there’s one big problem: it’s a fake.


Great Quotations 5

Mar 28, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

George Bernard Shaw began his career as a music critic, and in September of 1890 he wrote these words:

“People have pointed out evidences of personal feeling in my [reviews] as if they were accusing me of a misdemeanor, not knowing that a criticism written without personal feeling is not worth reading.


Great Quotations 4

Mar 27, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Continuing this week’s series of things I wish I’d written… this is from a 1934 article by the great English music critic Ernest Newman:

“We know rather more now about the psychology of artists than we used [to], and so we no longer incline to the naïve belief that if a composer has quarreled with his wife his next symphony will be a Pathétique, or that if his liver happens to be functioning normally he will produce a Hymn to Joy at the next [Choral] Festival.


Great Quotations 3

Mar 26, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Words today from the great writer and critic Jacques Barzun. I’ve combined several related passages:

“Music is a medium through which certain unnamable experiences of life are exquisitely conveyed through equivalent sensations for the ear…


Great Quotations 2

Mar 25, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The words today of Hector Berlioz, writing about Beethoven:

“… the thousands of men and women… whom he has so often carried away on the wings of his thought to the highest regions of poetry…


Great Quotations 1

Mar 22, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Quotations, this week, from great musicians and writers. This is from the composer Ernest Bloch:

“Real music goes beyond the intentions of its author for it nourishes itself from a much deeper and more mysterious source than mere intellect.  It represents a synthesis of all the vital forces, of all the hidden instincts of an individual...


Art Song

Mar 4, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Art song is a general term that refers to the kinds of songs written by classically-trained composers for classically-trained singers. Composers themselves don’t talk about writing “art songs,” they simply say “songs.” But it can be a useful term for distinguishing songs in the classical tradition from folk songs and pop songs.

Fantasy

Mar 1, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Fantasy is the English translation of the Italian fantasia, a word that first appeared as a title for instrumental works in the 1500's. Since then, it’s a title that’s been used over and over: there have been fantasies for lute, guitar, harpsichord, viols, organ, piano, and orchestra; Renaissance fantasies, Baroque fantasies, Classical, Romantic, modern fantasies, and fantasies ranging from abstract exercises to extravagant variations on operatic arias.

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Musical child prodigies have always fascinated the public. Far more rare than the child prodigy performer, though, is the child prodigy composer. The first name that comes to many people’s minds when they think of child composers is Mozart, and it’s true that Mozart started writing music at the age of four or five. But of all Mozart’s great pieces, very few were written before his twentieth birthday. Felix Mendelssohn, on the other hand, composed works when he was fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen that are still considered masterpieces, and that far surpass anything Mozart wrote when he was a teenager. 

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It’s popular, in some circles, to find links between creative genius and mental illness. Among composers, Robert Schumann—who attempted suicide after years of inner torment—is usually Exhibit A, but there are others who are regularly mentioned, as well. My own view is that the so-called link is no link at all. 


Bach Cello Suites

Feb 25, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

A word today about the solo cello suites of Johann Sebastian Bach. The melodies to which we’re most accustomed in the music of such composers as Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert, usually feature easily identifiable beginnings, middles, and ends.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Today is the birthday of George Washington, so I thought I’d talk about… Alexander Reinagle. And in case this doesn’t seem like the most obvious choice to you, I’ll explain. 

Antonio Vivaldi

Feb 21, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Antonio Vivaldi’s life story could easily be the subject of a novel.  Vivaldi was born in Venice in 1678 and at the age of 25 he was ordained as a priest.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Fame, they say, is fleeting. I recently came across a piece of music by a German composer named Johann Friedrich Fasch. Ever heard of him? I hadn’t.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Here are the names of seven composers of Italian opera who were contemporaries of Giuseppe Verdi:

Filippo Marchetti, Errico Petrella, Pietro Antonio Coppola, Luigi Ricci, Federico Ricci, Antonio Cagnoni, and Giovani Pacini. Ever heard of them? Neither had I. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

If you’ve seen the movie Amadeus, or the play it was based on, you may have gotten the impression that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was some sort of giggling idiot who just happened to be really good at writing music. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

If you’d like a remarkable example of the genius of Leonard Bernstein, I  recommend that you listen – or listen again – to the song “Cool,” from West Side Story.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

One of the reasons Mozart’s operas seem so profound to us is because they’re so true to life, and perhaps especially true to life’s complexities and contradictions. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Sic transit gloria mundi – Thus passes worldly glory. Louis Spohr was born in Germany in 1784, and during his lifetime he was one of the most famous musicians in all of Europe, renowned as a great violinist, a distinguished conductor, and an extremely prolific composer. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

One of the common dangers of studying composers’ lives is finding out that some of the people whose music we love and admire turn out to have been very unadmirable human beings. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Here’s a question: Should we really care about the personal lives of the composers we admire? When we don’t know anything about their lives, we certainly don’t care. How many of us know a great deal about Monteverdi, or Palestrina? Or even Bach, or Beethoven? What we care about is the music. 


What Will Last?

Feb 4, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Perhaps you’ve thought about this: Bach and Mozart died over two hundred years ago – – Is there anybody alive today whose music will be played two hundred years from now? It’s a tricky question. 


Bel Canto - Rossini

Feb 1, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

I wonder what today’s voice teachers would think of the composer Gioacchino Rossini’s ideas for a vocal training curriculum. According to Rossini, learning the art of bel canto, or “beautiful singing,” should begin with many months of soundless exercises, starting no later than the age of twelve. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

When it comes to Spanish composers of the late 19 th and early 20 th 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.


Bach - Better

Jan 21, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

A colleague and I were listening to a Bach violin concerto on the radio some years back. 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.


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