As 2006 draws to a close, MORNING EDITION has been searching for a way to end the year with a flourish.

(Soundbite of “Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1”)

MONTAGNE: Those are the last notes of the last movement in “Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1,” otherwise known as a finale.

Our own guide to the classical music scene is Miles Hoffman, here this morning to send 2006 out in style with a celebration of musical endings. Good morning, Miles.

MILES HOFFMAN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So in music, as in life, endings are just as important as beginnings.

HOFFMAN: They are, in many cases, just as important. Now there are many pieces that are famous for their beginnings - and their beginnings, their openings, are particularly memorable. They give the piece their identity, the hook, you might call it. The perfect example is Beethoven's Fifth. Ba-ba-ba-bam. Everybody knows that. Everybody thinks of the piece like that. And there are many others.

But the endings also play a crucial role, Renee. And in fact they play a variety, or can play, a variety of roles.

MONTAGNE: For instance, let's talk about roles.

HOFFMAN: Well, it's still early in the morning. I wouldn't mind a buttered roll right now...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOFFMAN: ...and another cup of coffee. But, yeah, no, I think dramatic analogies are good because you think of how plays and how films and it's - the analogy holds, I think. Many plays end with some sort of moral lesson, or an emotional release, or a release of tension, or resolution of conflict. Many musical works do exactly the same.

Beethoven's Fifth is a great example. I mean, we talked about the beginning. The end of Beethoven's Fifth is the perfect example of triumph.

(Soundbite of “Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5”)

MONTAGNE: That's about as powerful as it gets.

HOFFMAN: Yeah, pretty powerful. It's a big ending for a big piece. Beethoven's Fifth starts very darkly and starts violently, you know. And it starts in a minor key, and yet he doesn't want to end his piece as a tragedy. He wants to resolve it with this great sense of triumph and balance the size of the piece with this enormous ending.

MONTAGNE: Well, big fat finales (unintelligible)...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOFFMAN: I like that, Renee, big fat finales.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Well, they can honestly be very invigorating when they're loud, but is it because they're loud? Does a finale have to be loud?

HOFFMAN: It doesn't have to be, but the tradition, the convention for at least two or three centuries was generally that it would be. Throughout the 18th century and before, and throughout the 19th century, most pieces did end loud and they very often ended fast.

It's good business. We want to send out the audience happy. We want them to go home happy. We want them to have loved the piece, feeling uplifted and hopefully they'll come to the next concert. And they may even buy the sheet music or the two-piano arrangement of this fabulous symphony they've just heard.

And it's a great entertainment value. You know, the composer's job, at least the way composers viewed their job for a couple of centuries, was to please the audience, one of the things that, in some ways, composers have gotten away from a little bit. So this was a convention, to end loud and to end fast for a very long time.

MONTAGNE: That changed close to the beginning of the 20th century because we certainly heard different finales in the 20th century.

HOFFMAN: Mm-hmm.

MONTAGNE: But which composer changed that?

HOFFMAN: Tchaikovsky. In 1893 he finished his Sixth Symphony, also called the “Pathetique,” or the “Pathetique.” And it was fairly revolutionary because the last movement, instead of being a fast movement, was marked (speaking foreign language) - a slow lament.

MONTAGNE: Slow lament.

HOFFMAN: Yeah. And the piece even ends softly. So this was the first real major work, the first important symphony where the composer took this risk, in a sense, to end softly and slowly.

MONTAGNE: We can only play a little, so Miles, where shall we come in?

HOFFMAN: Why don't we just play the opening of the finale, the opening of this lamenting adagio. It's very familiar and it's quite beautiful.

(Soundbite of “Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6”)

MONTAGNE: Did this symphony by Tchaikovsky open the way for, if you will, the opposite of triumph?

HOFFMAN: I think so, Renee. But we could probably give more of the credit, if you want to call it that, to the 20th century itself and to the events and the various catastrophes, really, of the 20th century.

MONTAGNE: When it comes to endings, we all know there are bad endings, but are there composers that really messed it up when they should have been wrapping it up?

HOFFMAN: You know, obviously that's going to be a matter of taste, but certainly there are endings that are less successful than others. I think the definition of a bad ending is when the audience doesn't even know it's over. You know?

MONTAGNE: What, they sit there?

HOFFMAN: Yeah, yeah, they just sit there and say, oh, or why did it...

MONTAGNE: They don't quite clap.

HOFFMAN: ...right! Or why did it end there and not somewhere else? Matter of fact, when you say they don't clap, a friend of mine who plays in the Chicago Symphony tells a story. The Chicago Symphony was on tour with George Schulte(ph) years ago. Unfortunately, my friend didn't remember the exact piece. He thinks it was a Bruckner symphony. And Schulte was conducting. The piece ended and the audience didn't react at all, and Schulte turned around to the audience and said, that's it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOFFMAN: And so that was the end of the concert. You know, so I guess you'd have to say it's not a very successful ending.

MONTAGNE: OK, Miles, well, this brings us almost to the end.

HOFFMAN: So that's it, Renee, that's it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: So what is the best and the biggest ending that you can think of to take us out of 2006?

HOFFMAN: Well, I'm not going to pick the biggest ending because, you know, we'd blast the speakers out. But I can think of one that I think may be the best, or at least the most appropriate as we end the year, and that would the finale, the very ending of Mozart's opera, “The Marriage of Figaro.” And why? Because what everybody is singing at the very end of this opera is - how's your Italian, Renee - (speaking foreign language).


HOFFMAN: Hmm. Which means, let's all hurry off to celebrate. So I think that's a great to end with the finale of Mozart's “Marriage of Figaro,” let's all hurry off to celebrate.

(Soundbite of opera “The Marriage of Figaro”)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (Speaking foreign language)

MONTAGNE: Miles Hoffman is violist and artistic director of the American Chamber Players. He's also the author of the “NPR Classical Music Companion.”

And Miles, happy New Year and many happy finales to come.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOFFMAN: Happy New Year to you, too, Renee.

(Soundbite of “The Marriage of Figaro”)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (Speaking foreign language)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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