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Chosen Vale Blog Discuss Improvising in classical music in the EC Downloading forums; Friends, I was shown a very interesting quotation today. I've been getting into improv for about a year now, and ...
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    Pianissimo User trumpetlore's Avatar
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    Improvising in classical music

    Friends,
    I was shown a very interesting quotation today. I've been getting into improv for about a year now, and have been finding that most classical musicians (on all instruments) at school are pretty much afraid of improv, or think it's only for jazz. We seem to have lost a certain willingness to experiment that we all had as children. Please read the following and let me know what you think.

    I close by recommending free improvisation in general and in every respectable form to all those for whom [music] is not merely a matter of entertainment and practical ability, but rather principally one of inspiration and meaning in their art. This recommendation, to be sure, has never been so urgent now, because the number of people whose interest belong to the former category and not to the latter has never been so great. Even if a person plays with inspiration, but always from a written score, he or she will be much less nourished, broadened, and educated than through the frequent offering of all of his or her powers in a free fantasy practiced in the full awareness of certain guidelines and directions, even if this improvisation is only moderately successful.

    -Hummel~1828/29

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    Mezzo Forte User cornetguy's Avatar
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    Re: Improvising in classical music

    A good continuo player improvises his part from the figures. Mozart expected (and did himself) that the performer would embellish the solo part particularly in the slow movements. Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and Liszt were known for their improvising.
    Per aspera ad astra

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    Forte User Trumpet guy's Avatar
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    Re: Improvising in classical music

    A lot of old pieces with the ABA or ABB form were written expecting the player the embellish the repeated part the second time around. Especially in the baroque era, when many pieces had a small instrumentation, people did this a lot. Later, when instrumentation became larger and orchestration became more complicated, less room was given for improvisation. That's why jazz bands are always small compared to orchestras and wind bands and improvisation is always reserved for the solo or duet lines, stuff that doesn't happen as often in classical music as it does in baroque or jazz.

    I think another reason why people are afraid of improvisation in classical music is because their school band directors stress about "playing what's written on the page." There were several times when the first trumpets at my school were scorned for adding a high C after the G in the fermata at the second to last big chord in the National Anthem. Other times there's just not enough opportunity because there are just so many lines going around in a classical piece that, unless you are the soloist up front, any extra frills would muddle up the piece.
    Last edited by Trumpet guy; 11-11-2008 at 11:29 PM.
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    Pianissimo User tunefultrumpet's Avatar
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    Re: Improvising in classical music

    I like the quote from Hummel. It would be nice to go to a classical concert and hear a concerto soloist improvising their cadenza.......do any actually do this?

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    Forte User Trumpet guy's Avatar
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    Re: Improvising in classical music

    I'm sure there's someone out there. But cadenzas are written out now and most people just take the written ones.
    "If you're not improving, you're falling behind." - My Trumpet Teacher, Steve
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    Re: Improvising in classical music

    OTOH, if you listen to different recordings and alternate takes of pre-bebop jazz you'll often find a high degree of similarity between different improvisations. It's as though the improvisation was more like un-notated composition than spontaneous invention each time around. Since the solo is not notated, there will be differences from one occasion to the next, but the basic lines and tactics are the same.

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    Re: Improvising in classical music

    TMers,

    I believe that trumpetlore is gently steering us towards a discussion of free improvisation (one of the great art forms), not the obvious of baroque ornamentation and classical cadenza. His point is that free improvisation has been part of the classical tradition for centuries. Mozart and, especially, Hummel were celebrated improvisers, as were a host of others.

    Relevant to today's trumpet world, creative musicians such as Wadada Leo Smith, Peter Evans, Jeff Kaiser, Kris Tiner, Markus Stockhausen, and the latest formation of the New York Trumpet Ensemble, devote all of their playing to creating music in the moment. Free improvisation is a huge part of the creative energy at CalArts, and it's finding its way into the hallowed halls of McGill, Juilliard, and other schools as well. Every highschooler who takes my month-long course at the California State Summer School for the Arts http://www.csssa.org is required to join a small improv ensemble as a way to foster listening and creativity. It works. Our ears are portals to our imagination. Our chops simply realize what we wish to express.

    Best,
    EC

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    Re: Improvising in classical music

    Of course "free improvisation" is likely to mean one thing to Hummel and something rather different to, e.g. Cecil Taylor.

    And then there's the "mystique" that seems to shroud improvisation for some, and make it seem like some strange exotic custom accessible only to those "special" ones who've done the right rituals, etc.

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    Moderator Utimate User Vulgano Brother's Avatar
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    Re: Improvising in classical music

    Free improvisation alone is already good, but with two or more, some magical and strange things can happen--plowing through the Haydn one more time is fine, but free improvisation is time well spent, and can be combined with a hike or a trip to the park.
    "A tool good enough to be so used and not too good"
    C.S. Lewis That Hideous Strength

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    Pianissimo User trumpetlore's Avatar
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    Re: Improvising in classical music

    As usual, Ed gets to the heart of what I'm bringing up, though I must say that Bill hit's on an important aspect as well (though maybe by accident?).

    There's not only the idea of free improv, but the suggestion that we each have a language which surrounds what we hear and understand. The free improv that Mozart, Bach, or Hummel would engage in would surely be different from what Markus does. Each person creates in the language they know. You don't find a poet writing in a language they can't speak. The same is true with music.

    Maybe an important question is how many of us understand the language we play in? How can free improv help us understand that? I'd bet that most of Hummel's "free improv" still centered around the rules he knew. I also know that Markus centers his improv around the rules he knows, even if the only rule he's following is his ear, and his feelings. Clearly he doesn't just play random notes. They each have a reason.

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