A Minute with Miles

Classical Stations: Mon-Fri, 6:43 am and 8:43 am

How did the piano get its name? Why can’t you “reach” a crescendo? Who invented opera—and why—and how do you pronounce “Handel”? These and countless other classical music questions are answered on South Carolina Public Radio’s A Minute with Miles. Hosted by longtime NPR commentator Miles Hoffman, the segments inform and entertain as they provide illuminating 60-second flights through the world of classical music. (Photo: Mary Noble Ours)

Ways to Connect

Already during their lifetimes, Antonin Dvorák and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky were among the most famous composers in the world. Their music is extremely sophisticated, the product of highly skilled composers, and their beautiful melodies have always been especially beloved.

Bruch's Birthday

Jan 6, 2017

Some great composers have been pioneers and musical radicals, and some have been fundamentally conservative. Max Bruch was a conservative to his bones, and it served him well. He established his musical principles early and stuck to them his whole life, regardless of whatever fads, fashions, or new developments were swirling around him.


    

Atonality and dissonance are often linked in listeners’ minds, but they’re not the same thing. Dissonance, from the Latin words for “sounding” and “apart,” is the simultaneous sounding of two or more notes to produce a clashing, or unpleasant effect. Its opposite is consonance, a pleasing sound, a “sounding together.”

Chamber music rehearsals are very different from orchestra rehearsals. In an orchestra rehearsal, it’s the conductor’s job to make the overall musical decisions and to ensure that the members of the orchestra carry them out.


Women's Voices

Jan 3, 2017

In operatic singing, there are three principal voice types for women. From high to low, they are soprano, mezzo-soprano—mezzo meaning “middle” in Italian—and contralto.


Today is the second of January, and on this date in 1881, the Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate was in Paris to play the premiere of the Violin Concerto No. 3 by Camille Saint-Saëns.


Brahms Premiere

Dec 30, 2016

Johannes Brahms had worked on and off for fifteen years to complete his first symphony, but the second took him only four months. He wrote it in a small village by a beautiful lake, and he was apparently inspired by the setting.


Casals' Birthday

Dec 29, 2016

Today we celebrate the birthday of Pablo Casals. Casals, called Pau Casals in his native Catalan language, was born on December 29, 1876, and he lived for almost a century, dying in 1973.


Have you ever wondered how the violin came to play such an important role in the history of classical music? Well, it starts with singing. The invention of opera, in late 16th century Florence, marks the beginning of the Baroque period in music, and with it the rise to supremacy of the musical style known as “melody and accompaniment.”


The Violin Family

Dec 27, 2016

The members of the modern violin family are the violin, viola, cello, and double bass. These instruments are descendants of various kinds of medieval fiddles—fiddle, by the way, being an older word than violin—and the medieval fiddles themselves were bowed stringed instruments that were originally imported to Europe from the Middle East.


The Oboe

Dec 26, 2016

The modern oboe most likely originated in France in the 1600's. The word oboe, which is the instrument’s name in both English and Italian, comes from the French name, hautbois, meaning “high wood,” or “loud wood.” Oboes are usually made of African blackwood, which is sometimes called grenadilla.


A word of advice today for non-musicians reading program notes in concert programs: If the program notes are heavy on technical analysis and are loaded with terms like modulation, inversion, augmentation, diatonic intervals, chromatic progression, modified sonata form, what have you… ignore them.


Puccini's Birthday

Dec 22, 2016

Today is December 22, and on this day in 1858 Giacomo Puccini was born. Even a partial list of Puccini’s works reads like an “Opera’s Greatest Hits” list: La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, Turandot.


Vibrato Part 3

Dec 21, 2016

I’ve been talking this week about vibrato, the vibrato that string players use to warm up their sounds, and the vocal vibrato that’s the natural product of healthy singing. All vibrato consists of small oscillations in pitch, but not all vibrato is a blessing.

Vibrato Part 2

Dec 20, 2016

Yesterday I talked about vibrato, the technique that string players use—rocking the fingers of their left hands back and forth to create small oscillations in pitch that result in a warmer, more resonant sound.

Vibrato Part 1

Dec 19, 2016

When violinists play, their left hands always seem to shake. But it’s not because they’re nervous. Violinists, violists, cellists, and double bass players all use a technique called vibrato.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


It’s an old question: if you were going to be dropped off on a desert island and you could only take a few recorded pieces of music with you, what would they be? For me, the first piece on the list is easy: Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.


Neuroscience

Dec 8, 2016

I’m grateful for advances in neuroscience, and for many reasons glad that every day we know more about how the brain works. But for all the studies of left brains, right brains, and neuron networks, some things will remain mysteries, and there’s no way around it.


Spiccato

Dec 7, 2016

The literal meaning of the Italian word spiccato is similar to that of staccato—“detached,” or “distinct.” In string playing, to play notes spiccato means to play them with a bouncing bow. With its stiff but flexible stick and tightened horsehair, the bow is like a long spring, so it wants to bounce. But spiccato involves a controlled bouncing. The bow comes off the string after each note, but the player has to find the balance between making the bow bounce and letting it bounce.


Progress in Music

Dec 6, 2016

For musicians and music teachers, the concept of Progress can be misleading. We can strive in our own ways to emulate the masters who’ve preceded us, but it’s a mistake to think there’s such a thing as being better than those masters.


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