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History Of Western Classical Music Essay BAJP Year 4 Improvisation In Classical Music - on the verge of being extinct or growing in popularity? Mathias Baumann

Transcript of Western Classical Music - Essay - Mathias · PDF fileHistory Of Western Classical Music Essay...

History Of Western Classical Music Essay –

BAJP Year 4

Improvisation In Classical Music

- on the verge of being extinct or growing in popularity?

Mathias Baumann

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Content

Introduction 04 Improvisation In Classical Music 05 Early Music And Middle Ages 05 Renaissance Period 06 Baroque Period 06 Classical Period 07 Romantic Period 08 20th Century And Today 08 Conclusion 12 Bibliography And Further Reading 13 CD Track List 14 Appendix 15

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Source: http://isitluck.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/synesthesiamultimedia/

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Introduction Improvisation is the art of composing an original piece of music spontaneously. It is an “idea we can immediately embrace”. 1

Improvisation has always been an integral part of many genres in music and an important device of composing. Nowadays the term improvisation is mostly connected with jazz but one should not forget that “improvisation played a vital part in the genesis of [classical] music.” 2

In his book ‘Improvisation in Nine Centuries of Western Music: An Anthology With a Historical Introduction’ Ernst Ferand writes: “The whole history of the development of music is accompanied by manifestations of the drive to improvise, though the element of improvisation retreats to the background in some phases, while in others it reveals a strikingly rich flowering.” 3

 

Derek Bailey comments in his documentary ‘On The Edge’ that improvisation is extinct in classical music. He says: “To invent something is totally beyond the scope of the modern orchestra. They get nearest to improvisation when they are tuning up.” 4

Pianist Robert Levin continues this thought by saying that the recording industry changed the flexibility of the audience and the creativity of musicians. Through a process of standardisation, recorded music lacks improvisation and therefore uniqueness, intellectuality and emotion. Classical compositions became “museum pieces.” 5

Organist Naji Hakim points out that the composer’s need to write everything down in detail is another reason why especially instrumental music suffers from a diminution of improvisation. However in organ church music it survived as it is practiced regularly “within the time limits allowed.” 6 This essay deals with the question whether improvisation became extinct in classical music, or whether there is a growing interest in improvisation by contemporary classical musicians. 1/2/4/5/6 Derek Bailey: On The Edge – Improvisation In Music, Part 1, 1991, http://vimeo.com/album/1853892 3 Improvisation in Nine Centuries of Western Music: An Anthology With a Historical Introduction, Ernst Ferand

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Improvisation In Classical Music Early Music And Middle Ages Before musical notation was invented music was passed on orally which people then had to interpret. After many centuries Gregorian chants were notated. In the beginning notation lacked many details so even written out music needed to be interpreted to certain extent. So called tropes and sequences were the result of creative improvisation combining liturgy with music.

‰ CD Track 01: Dies Irae performed by Monks Of The Abbey Of Notre Dame 7

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One can see that the notation in the example does not deliver accuracy regarding pitches and rhythm. Monks had to rely on oral traditions and interpret Gregorian chants from written notation. ‘Dies Irae’ is referenced in many compositions by various musicians and also used for improvisations.

‰ CD Track 02: Improvisation on Dies Irae at the organ of Turku Cathedral, Finland. 9

The second example is a contemporary improvisation based on the Gregorian chant ‘Dies Irae’. It is one example for improvisation still being present in church music. Great improviser at the time: Francesco Landini (1335-1397) 7 http://grooveshark.com/#!/search?q=dies+irae+chant

8 http://www.waywarde.com/oddities/dies_irae/irae.html

9 http://www.nme.com/nme-video/youtube/id/RhcrLCYTF5I

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Renaissance Period In the Renaissance period music developed from a monophonic to a polyphonic style. As a result of secularisation courts employed virtuoso musicians to perform their composed and improvised music. In the 15th century vocal style improvisation developed in England. Madrigals were the standards at the time and used to be quoted in other madrigals. Additionally, improvisation was present in the experimentation of bass lines and so called diminuzioni, a technique of embellishing melodies. The ricercar was a form of prelude to introduce the key of a piece. In Baroque it became the toccata. Both forms were the result of an improvised composing process.

‰ CD Track 03: Capirola: Ricercate by Rolf Lislevand 10

The selected track is a contemporary recording which “refers to a Renaissance practice of embellishing a melody through improvisation.” 11

Great improvisers at the time: John Dunstable (1390-1453), Paul Hofhaimer (1459-1537), Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643), Girolamo Dalla Casa (1530-1601) Baroque Period Improvisation was taught as an approach of learning an instrument and valued amongst performers and audience. Improvised music included preludes, fugues and figured bass, as well as the interpretation of ornaments. Furthermore figured bass and basso continuo accompaniment required improvisational skills. A common way to compose was to improvise and then capture the spontaneous creation on paper. The Baroque toccata is a form which represents this style of composing.

‰ CD Track 04: Toccata in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach 12

Although it is a through-composed piece it represents the style of improvising and composing of Baroque musicians. The Baroque suite which included a series of dances was usually introduced by a prelude. The performer had to improvise an introduction incorporating given notes. Besides, the cadenza, which became famous in the classical period, already featured a performer’s improvisation skills in a solo section of the Baroque riturnello. 10 http://grooveshark.com/#!/album/Diminuito/4303632 11 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120751547

12 http://grooveshark.com/#!/search?q=bach+toccata

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Great improvisers at the time: Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), Francesco Scarlatti (1666-1741), Giuseppe Scarlatti (1723-1777), Pietro Filippo Scarlatti (1679-1750), Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759), Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) Classical Period Musicians of the classical period were able to improvise sonatas, themes, variations and fantasies. Classical concertos and sonatas contained a cadenza section which gave a featured soloist a possibility to improvise. Nowadays these cadenza sections are usually written out solos, yet at the time the soloist was expected to improvise. Barry Cooper writes: “For Beethoven, this grew initially out of instinctive desires for extemporization.” [...] “For the rest of 1793 he was evidently composing, practicing and improvising on his own, and performing at private or semi-public musical events (most often extemporising rather than playing set pieces).” 13 Beethoven used the term extemporization instead of improvisation.

‰ CD Track 05: Cadenza of Piano Concert No. 12, KV414 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by Robert Levin (1st improvisation) 14

‰ CD Track 06: Cadenza of Piano Concert No. 12, KV414 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by Robert Levin (2nd improvisation) 15

At Mozart’s time the cadenzas were all improvised and based on the thematic material of the composition. It is very difficult to find a pianist who improvises in the cadenza section. The two examples show Robert Levin’s improvised solo. In the video one can see clearly how Levin cues the next section by indicating the end of his solo. Later he remarks that “the ethos in Mozart’s concert life was exactly that that one finds in a jazz club today.” 16 He refers to the audience’s appreciation for improvisation by applauding to Mozart’s solos. Furthermore Levin notes that “Mozart himself was more valued by his contemporaries as an improviser than as a great composer.” 17

Great improvisers at the time: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) 13 Beethoven, Barry Cooper, Oxford University Press 2008

14/15/16/17 Derek Bailey: On The Edge – Improvisation In Music, Part 1, 1991, http://vimeo.com/album/1853892

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Romantic Period Creating introductions instantaneously for a musical piece in form of a prelude became very common practice during the Romantic period. Schumann’s or Liszt’s variations are good example of improvised music.

‰ CD Track 07: Prelude in E Minor by Frédéric Chopin 18

In my opinion it is easy to imagine this piece being the result of an improvisation. Great improvisers at the time: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847), Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Franz Schubert (1797-1828), Franz Liszt (1811-1886), Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840), Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) 20th Century And Today The quest for artistic innovation led to a more experimental music and new harmonic and melodic concepts such as serialism, aleatoric, electro-acoustic music (= musique concrete) and microtonal music. Graphic notation, exploration of new harmonic sounds, extended techniques, as well as the creative use of sound dominated classical music of the 20th century.

‰ CD Track 08: Improvisation by Olivier Messiaen 19

In this example we can hear one of Messiaen’s improvisations in the church he used to be an organist. His playing supports Hakim’s comment that improvisation survived in church music. Derek Bailey explains that “the centre for a type of solo improvisation which dates back to the beginning of western music is Paris.” 20 He continues: “Some of the earliest accounts of Christian church services include references to organ improvisation. [...] Since the mid-nineteenth century a school of organists has specialised in the arts of solo improvisation.” 21

Naji Hakim used to improvise regularly during interludes and every evening after the blessing. Here is one of his improvisations in the same church Messiaen used to play in.

‰ CD Track 09: Improvisation by Naji Hakim 22

Hakim thinks of his improvisation as being an “offering to the Lord.” 23

18 http://grooveshark.com/#!/artist/Chopin+Frederic+1810+1849+Prelude+In+E+Minor/1424502

19 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY7g0ULVl2I

20/21/22/23 Derek Bailey: On The Edge – Improvisation In Music, Part 1, 1991, http://vimeo.com/album/1853892

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However, organ music is not the only improvised style which survived in the church. On the Scottish islands Harris and Lewis, Gaelic psalm singing is still practiced and can be considered another form of improvisation in church. The congregation participates as a unit in the liturgy and sings “from the heart”. 24 The “sincerity of the music” 25 is more important than the correct notes. The result is a power that expresses and evokes emotion in a spontaneous singing style.

‰ CD Track 10: Psalm 59, performed by the congregation in a Scottish church 26

Another improvisational vocal style can be experienced in John Cage’s composition ‘Aria’ and Luziano Berio’s ‘Sequenza III’.

‰ CD Track 11: Aria by John Cage 27

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The depicted examples show how Cage and Berio experiment with extended vocal technique in a free improvisation with graphical notation as a compositional guideline for the performer. 24/25/26 Derek Bailey: On The Edge – Improvisation In Music, Part 1, 1991, http://vimeo.com/album/1853892 27 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkHqAUugJKs 28 http://www.mnt-aq.it/english/cianciusi_aria.htm

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‰ CD Track 12: Sequenza III by Luciano Berio 29

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Ligeti’s composition ‘Concerto Per Violoncello E Orchestra’ is another example using graphical notation and therefore requires the performer’s improvisational skills to interpret the score in a unique and original way.

‰ CD Track 13: Concerto Per Violoncello E Orchestra by György Ligeti 31

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29 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGovCafPQAE 30 Musik um uns, 2. Auflage, J.B. Metzler, 1992

31 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gshZH4bWue4 32 Musik um uns, 2. Auflage, J.B. Metzler, 1992

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By looking closer at the present state of improvisation in classical music “one could say that the music played by most conservatory musicians today is not theirs‘, in a sense, in that they have lost the right to perform it in the manner of their own choosing.” 33

However, Anne Midgette suggests that improvisation is, “despite years of neglect, making something of a comeback in classical music.” 34

Great improvisers at the 20th century: Earle Brown (1926-2002), Morton Feldman (1926-1987), Krzystof Penderecki (1933-...), David Tudor (1926-1996), Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), John Cage (1912-1992), Luciano Berio (1925-2003), Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), György Ligeti (1923-2006) Great improvisers today: Naji Hakim, Alice Kanack, Arkady Shilkloper, Butch Morris, Carl Bergstrøm Nielsen, Charles Young, Chris Chalfant, Christian Pincock, David Darling, Douglas Friesen, Ed Sarath, Eric Edberg, Evan Mazunik, Gary Smart, Geoffrey Thomas, Gil Selinger, Izumi Kimura, James Oshinsky, Jared Burrows, Julie Lyonn Lieberman, Keith Hill, Ken Zuckerman, LaDonna Smith, Matt Turner, Pamela Marshall, Robert Dick, Rod Paton, Ron Kravitz, Rupert Guenther, Sarah Schmalenberger, Sera Smolen, Stephanie Phillips, Stephen Nachmanovitch, Tanya Kalmanovitch, Ursel Schlicht, Walter Thompson, William Westney, Joshua Bell, Jean Pierre Rompal, Gabriela Montero, Anna Vavilkina, Peter Sweeney, David O’Shea, Robert Levin, Ana Vavilkina amongst others. 33 Robin Moore, The Decline of Improvisation in Western Art Music: An Interpretation of Change in International Review of the

Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 34 http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/classical-beat/post/improvisation-classical-style/2012/06/15/gJQAhBNcfV_blog.html

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Conclusion Throughout the history of music, improvisation has been an essential part of compositional processes, music education, as well as the overall evolution, development and progress of music. New concepts and sounds could only derive from spontaneous experimentation and an insouciant willingness to take risks. In the process of learning, improvisation is sometimes neglected in favour of an analytical approach of figuring out a certain way of playing, style or technique. The modern training for professional classical musicians incorporates a methodology that values virtuosity over creativity. Nevertheless, there is an assertive growing desire to learn how to be able to improvise, especially in classical music. Naji Hakim’s book ‘The Improvisation Companion’ and the ‘Orff Approach’ are just two of many improvisational training examples in contemporary classical music education. In relation to this essay I interviewed contemporary classical musicians on the topic of improvisation in classical music. The answers revealed the same tenor. Improvisation is used in composition and in live performances, be it in church or in concert surroundings. Despite in most cases there was an undertone of respectfulness and even self-doubt about the ‘correct’ application of improvised material especially in live performances. One response to the question of how the interviewee approaches improvisation was: “Seriously, too seriously!” Another musician was speaking of “getting lost in [her] own improvisation.” Those who teach music do not use improvisation as an educational tool and rarely teach improvisation, if even. To the contrary: I noticed an inclination to achieve a higher aptitude to improvise. In order to get a meaningful insight on the discussed matter one would have to assess the existence and use of improvisation in contemporary classical music worldwide in more depth. Nevertheless, one has to acknowledge that music starts moving towards a more artistic way with a focus on self-expression and emotional content. The fusion of styles and genre and an emerging musical open-mindedness are two major elements contributing to the fact that music still has a long way to go. The immense range of possibilities based on the knowledge of the past is a great opportunity to constitute a new era and the future of improvisation in classical music and beyond.

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Bibliography And Further Reading

History of western classical music (bryan’s book) Musik um uns, 2. Auflage, J.B. Metzler, 1986 Musik um uns, 2. Auflage, J.B. Metzler, 1992 Beethoven, Barry Cooper, Oxford University Press 2008 Ernst Ferand, Improvisation in Nine Centuries of Western Music: An Anthology With a

Historical Introduction http://colorinmypiano.com/2010/01/15/a-brief-history-of-improvisation-part-3-of-the-

series/ http://improvinsights.com/tag/improvisation-for-classical-musicians/ Creativity and Improvisation in Classical Music: An Exploration of Interpretation and

Ownership, Thesis by Jennifer Nancy Helena Mills http://ivan-herman.name/2008/11/16/classical-music-and-improvisation-re-gabriele-

montero/ http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/classical-beat/post/improvisation-classical-

style/2012/06/15/gJQAhBNcfV_blog.html http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY7g0ULVl2I http://www.siennasguidetomusic.com/Topics/improvisation.html http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/MusicPapers/MusicAlive.html http://www.ehow.com/info_8157636_types-other-jazz-use-

improvisation.html#ixzz2N2niLBtI http://improvinsights.com http://www.allmusic.com/composition/nouvelles-aventures-for-3-voices-7-instruments-

mc0002370284 http://udini.proquest.com/view/composing-with-vocal-physiology-pqid:2301979141/ http://improvinsights.com/tag/beethoven/ http://www.ehow.com http://vimeo.com/album/1853892 Robin Moore, The Decline of Improvisation in Western Art Music: An Interpretation of

Change in International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music

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CD Track List

01 Dies Irae performed by Monks Of The Abbey Of Notre Dame

02 Improvisation on Dies Irae at the organ of Turku Cathedral, Finland

03 Capirola: Ricercate by Rolf Lislevand

04 Toccata in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach

05 Cadenza of Piano Concert No. 12, KV414 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by Robert Levin (1st improvisation)

06 Cadenza of Piano Concert No. 12, KV414 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by Robert Levin (2nd improvisation)

07 Prelude in E Minor by Frédéric Chopin

08 Improvisation by Olivier Messiaen

09 Improvisation by Naji Hakim

10 Psalm 59, performed by the congregation in a Scottish church

11 Aria by John Cage

12 Sequenza III by Luciano Berio

13 Concerto Per Violoncello E Orchestra by György Ligeti

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Appendix Interview Questions 1) Name?

2) What is your profession? 3) What and where did/do you study? 4) Do you perform live? If yes, where and how often? 5) Do you teach? 6) Do you compose? 7) Would you consider composing a form of improvisation? How do you approach composing? 8) Do you improvise? at home and/or in public? 9) If you do improvise, how do you approach improvisation? 10) If not would you like to improvise or learn how to improvise? 11) How did you learn to improvise? 12) Do you teach improvisation? 13) If you teach improvisation, how do you teach? 14) If you don’t improvise or don’t want to improvise, did you ever try and if not, why not? 15) Do you listen to improvised music?

16) What made you want to improvise coming from a classical background?