[Smt-talk] Pieces with improvisatory openings

Scott Spiegelberg spiegelberg at depauw.edu
Wed Oct 26 10:27:13 PDT 2011

Eliot wrote that "Improvised music isn't supposed to sound improvised."  I
remember wrestling with that subject during a Dutch Music Theory conference
on improvisation.  There are improvisations that sound as if they had been
pre-composed.  Yet there are also improvisations that do give the strong
impression of being impromptu, whether purposeful or not.  The impression is
created by a perceived  lack of structure somewhere, whether Mitch's
theorized lack of metric structure, or a lack of hierarchical organization
to the melody, or a lack of exact agreement between melody and harmony.  I
do know that I prefer listening to improvisations that are not too
polished.  I want to know that the performer is in the present act of
creation, otherwise why bother with an improvisation?  As all of us who have
given extemporaneous speeches know, a certain amount of precision and depth
is lost when we forgo exact pre-planning of a performance.  Hopefully that
loss is balanced by an increased excitement engendered in the performer and
the audience because everyone is linked in the spontaneous act of creation.


Scott Spiegelberg, PhD
Associate Professor of Music
DePauw University School of Music (on Sabbatical 2011-2012)
1106 Green Center for Performing Arts
spiegelberg at depauw.edu

Webmaster for the Society for Music Theory (until the SMT Annual Meeting!)

On Tue, Oct 25, 2011 at 2:25 PM, Eliot Handelman <eliot at colba.net> wrote:

> Ok. I don't find the word "improvisatory" very helpful, either.  Improvised
> music isn't supposed to sound
> improvised. "Improvisatory" might then point to a defect in the music,
> "fingers idly wandering over the keys,"
> music doesn't go anywhere.  Second, what these old guys may have considered
> to be improvisation is either
> represented in their music or we don't know what it is. Is *Träumerei *improvisatory?
> By accounts, it seems
> it was so intended, but it's doubtful anyone now hears it this way. Perhaps
> the idea in the opening of the
> Ballade is to evoke a kind of emptiness and doubt -- if one can ever get
> the historical semiotics of this right --
> a trope of the hapless artist awaiting the inspired moment.  There may have
> been that kind of self-reflection in Schumann,
> but in Chopin?
> -- eliot
> ----
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