[Smt-talk] Pieces with improvisatory openings

Mitch Ohriner mohriner at gmail.com
Mon Oct 24 11:53:36 PDT 2011

Hi everyone,

I’m grateful for all the suggestions my little query has elicited. I’m
interested where thread is going and thought I might try to clarify my use
of the word “improvisatory” for the benefit of Eliot, Charles, and others.
(I feel responsible as the initiator of this discussion for pinning down
this word, which we all seem to use while hoping no one asks for a

My initial interest is the transition (perhaps even “state change”) between
a passage that is ambiguous with regards to tempo and one that is not.
Tapping or conducting along with a performance of the G-minor Ballade can be
very difficult at the beginning and is usually much easier after m. 9.

This is the feature that makes the opening of the Ballade seem improvisatory
to me. To say that the opening is improvisatory is of course fictive. I know
the sequence of notes that starts the piece and I would be quite surprised
if a performer deviated from them. But if for whatever reason one was trying
to convey such a fiction, avoiding a clear tempo would be a good strategy.
If I can’t predict when events will happen, it seems easier to maintain the
fiction that I also can’t predict what those events are. And because I can
more successfully maintain this fiction, the passage seems improvisatory
even though I know it’s composed.

I’d be interested in others’ considerations of this very common word.

Thanks again for the many recommendations,


On Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 1:03 PM, Samarotto, Frank <fsamarot at indiana.edu>wrote:

>  Dear list,
> Seconding Charles's point, I recommend for SMT attendees the Saturday
> morning paper by Matthew Boyle and Paul Sherrill on "Galant Recitative
> Schemas".
> Best to all,
> Frank
> Frank Samarotto
> Associate Professor of Music Theory
> Jacobs School of Music
> Indiana University Bloomington
> --
> >
> > On Oct 23, 2011, at 7:19 PM, Charles J. Smith wrote:
> >
> >>
> >> And, though recitatives are certainly rhythmically complex, with speech
> >> rhythms overriding more typically musical patterns, they're not really
> >> improvisatory, either, yes? Anything but, in fact.
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