The art of improvisation is as old as music itself. It certainly existed before any notation was used for composition. Hence improvisation can be viewed as instantaneous, real time composition. Before the time of recording, all improvisations were lost as soon as they were performed - although, according to certain legends, some famous composers played long improvisations and wrote them down later. But now, with CD burning capabilities on every desktop, it becomes possible to keep and to re-listen to improvisations.
In the past, most composers, especially keyboard players, were great improvisers. Bach, Beethoven and Liszt were famous in this type of exercise, and improvisation was a popular kind of encore in some concerts. Nowadays, among the classical music world, organists seem the only performers who continue the practice of public improvisation, while other types of music like jazz are entirely built around improvisation.
How is an improvisation made up then ? It would certainly be a great challenge for neurobiologists to analyze what happens in the head of an improviser. Musically speaking, an improvised piece can have no visible structure, even be totally amorphous, but may also adhere to very strict rules - some outstanding improvisers can create a 4-voice fugue in real time. To improvise on a theme is a more common practice, either playing some free paraphrase, or developing a sequence of variations. In the latter case, the melody can be kept with various accompaniments, or the harmonic structure can be reproduced, with different melodies and voicings. A simple way of improvising at the piano is to repeat a short series of notes (ostinato) with the left hand, while the right hand improvises. This is the same old trick which was used by J.S. Bach in his famous organ piece 'Passacaglia in C minor', and in some boogie-woogie tunes...
When compared to the execution of a written piece of music, an improvisation is generally less deep and rich in terms of musical ideas. However, it can only be spontaneous, and the fit between the music and its interpretation is not questionable, since they come from the same creative source. Also, in terms of communication it has the merit of providing a flow of information at a rate which can be received by the listener. By comparison, some contemporary written pieces take years to compose, and last only some minutes when executed. In such a case, there's no way for the listener to catch any of the composer's intentions.
Finally, for the pianist, improvising is another way of discovering his instrument, and can be a very relaxing kind of self-psychoanalysis.
-- Francois de Larrard (more on the author...)
'The IRCAM sessions' (1991) by Francois de Larrard
|2||Tribute to RB||3:35|
|6||But what about||3:58|
|8||Tita Descending Minor Third||2:34|
|10||Tribute to KJ||4:57|
|13||Glance at the Garden||2:30|
Explorations (an improvised suite) by Francois de Larrard
|1||Left hand alone||1:38|
|2||Right hand alone (two voices)||1:35|
|3||Two hands (four voices)||1:51|
|4||Dialogue (one voice at each hand)||2:47|
|10||A song to end||4:20|
Improvisations from 'Dandelion Seeds' by Glenn Stallcop
|3||Casting into the wind||03:52|
|4||Making a wish||03:22|
|5||Winds of promise||03:37|
|6||How many boyfriends||03:28|
|7||How many children||03:05|
|10||Where the wind takes me||03:15|
|11||A new home||04:52|
|12||Remembering a thermal||03:43|