Book Series Speculum musicae, vol. 16

Beyond Notes: Improvisation in Western Music of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Rudolf Rasch (ed)

  • Pages: 387 p.
  • Size:210 x 270 mm
  • Illustrations:99 b/w
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2011

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-54244-7
  • Hardback
  • Available


"Wer Anregungen zum weiteren Nachdenken sucht, wird in diesem Sinne daher gerne auf den vorliegenden Band (...) zurückgreifen. (...) Wie immer bei Brepols ist die Ausstatung vorzüglich." (Michael Kube, in: Schweizer Musikzeitung, Nr. 7/8/2014 - Juli 2014, p. 13;



Improvisation is an important aspect of music, not only in jazz and other ‘improvised music’, but also of classical music. Pianists may add improvised interludes to their recitals and cadenzas to a concerto they perform. They may conclude their recitals by playing compositions composed on the spot, freely invented or on themes handed to them by the public. Violinists and other instrumentalists may do the same. Singers may add embellishments to their arias which are not notated in their scores, a practice widely spread in nineteenth-century opera. For the listener it may perhaps not make very much difference whether or not what he hears is improvised or composed, but for the performer it does, of course. In fact, the improviser shows that he is a real master of the art: he can do at once, without preparation, what others can do only with preparation. But there is also a genre of written compositions which is supposed to sound as improvisations, especially those entitled Improvisation, Fantasy, Impromptu, Prelude, and so forth.

Beyond Notes: Improvisation in Western Music of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries brings together twenty essays that do confirm the many sides of the concept of ‘improvisation’ and the wide range of approaches that can be taken to it. Because of the collective nature of this volume, the approaches do indeed vary greatly. Some contributions deal with improvisation from the conceptual point of view: what really is improvisation? Others deal with certain repertoires, or with specific examples. Some deal with improvised additions, others with improvisational aspects of written compositions. The contribution on the improvisations of the French organist Louis Vierne deals directly with recorded improvisations. The contribution on the flute-cadenza in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor encompasses recorded material, but this was rather semi-improvisational, prepared certainly, but not necessarily notated and not necessarily performed identically every time. Contemporary descriptions of improvisations are found in contributions on Italian music theorists and musicians in general, and in those on composers such as Hummel, Paganini, Bériot, Clara Wieck Schumann, Czerny, Liszt and Henselt. Compositions in improvisatory style are discussed in several of these contributions and in one on nineteenth-century Hungarian or so-called ‘Gypsy’ music. Ad libitum ornamentation is discussed in relation to Tartini’s violin sonatas and nineteenth-century operatic arias. Other contributions discuss the instability that is a property of nearly all music or the migration of motives and schemes from one composition to another, processes that pave the way for improvised additions. Several contributions provide theoretical reflections on improvisation.

Beyond Notes: Improvisation in Western Music of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries contains contributions by Carmela Bongiovanni (Genoa), Philippe Borer (Boudry, Switzerland), Rogério Budasz (Riverside, California), Vincenzo Caporaletti (Rome), Gregorio Carraro (Padoa), Simone Ciolfi (Rome), Damien Colas (Paris), Mariateresa Dellaborra (Pavia), Raffaele Di Mauro (Rome), Martin Edin (Stockholm), Valerie Woodring Goertzen (New Orleans), Martin Kaltenecker (Paris), John Lutterman (Walla Walla, Washington), Naomi Matsumoto (London), Laura Moeckli (Bern), Csilla Pethő-Vernet (Paris), Rudolf Rasch (Utrecht), Renato Ricco (Salerno), Rohan Stewart-MacDonald (Cambridge), and Steven Young (Bridgewater, Massachusetts).



To Begin with...

Rudolf Rasch, The Volatility of Musical Composition

The Eighteenth Century: Theory

Martin Kaltenecker, The «Fantasy-Principle»: Improvisation between Imagination and Oration in the Eighteenth Century – Carmela Bongiovanni, Testimonianze sulla prassi improvvisativa dei musicisti italiani tra Sette e Ottocento (+ English Summary) – Mariateresa Dellaborra, «L’orecchio più che ’l tempo dee servire di guida»: L’improvvisazione nella trattatistica italiana del secondo Settecento (+ English Summary)

The Eighteenth Century: Practice

Rogério Budasz, Harmonic Patterns and Melodic Paraphrases in Eighteenth-Century Portuguese Music for the Five-Course Guitar – Simone Ciolfi, Formule e improvvisazione nei recitativi delle Cantate di Alessandro Scarlatti (+ English Summary) – Gregorio Carraro, Natura e arte nell’improvvisazione di Giuseppe Tartini (+ English Summary) – John Lutterman, «Cet art est la perfection du talent»: Chordal Thoroughbass Realization and Improvised Solo Performance on the Viol and Cello in the Eighteenth Century

The Nineteenth Century: Keyboard Instruments

Rohan H. Stewart-MacDonald, Improvisation into Composition: The First Movement of Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Sonata in F-sharp Minor, Op. 81 – Valerie Woodring Goertzen, Clara Wieck Schumann’s Improvisations and Her ‘Mosaics’ of Small Forms – Martin Edin, Cadenza Improvisation in Nineteenth-Century Solo Piano Music According to Czerny, Liszt and their Contemporaries – Steven Young, Practical Improvisation: The Art of Louis Vierne

The Nineteenth Century: Bowed Strings

Philippe Borer, Paganini’s Virtuosity and Improvisatory Style – Renato Ricco, Charles-Auguste de Bériot e l’improvvisazione virtuosistica per violino (+ English Summary) – Csilla Pethő-Vernet, The Advantages and Drawbacks of Notation, or How to Face Improvisatory Elements in Nineteenth-Century Hungarian Popular Music

The Nineteenth Century: Vocal Music

Damien Colas, Improvvisazione e ornamentazione nell’opera francese e italiana di primo Ottocento (+ English Summary) – Laura Moeckli, «Abbellimenti o fioriture»: Further Evidence of Creative Embellishment in and beyond the Rossinian Repertoire – Naomi Matsumoto, Manacled Freedom: Nineteenth-Century Vocal Improvisation and the Flute-Accompanied Cadenza in Gaetano Donizetti’s 'Lucia di Lammermoor' – Raffaele Di Mauro, Improvvisazione popolare e urbana a Napoli nel primo Ottocento: dai canti del molo a «Io te voglio bene assaje» (+ English Summary)

…and to End with

Vincenzo Caporaletti, «Ghost Notes»: Issues of Inaudible Improvisations


Index of Names