Importance of Improvisation in Music

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The Importance of Improvisation in Music History

When one thinks of jazz, one's mind should immediately spring to 'improvisation.' It is a true characteristic of the jazz art form, but it truly is a rarity when seen in a historical context.

Improvisation has been an integral part of music since the very beginning of music, and it has

been a very important element in Western Classical music for most of the past 1000 years.

The following is a list of examples:

a) When the single voice 'Plainsong' started to develop into the 2, 3 or 4 part

'Organum' (during the mid Medieval Period 1000 - 1300) , one or more of the parts

were also commonly improvised, weaving free counter lines around the written melody


b) Original score notations for Medieval organ music for example, commonly include

instructions for improvisation and embellishments. Scales that were used were

selected according to the same improvisation principles now used in Jazz.

c) Improvistional sections were often included in many classical scores. The preludes to

keyboard suites by Bach and Handel for example consisted solely of a progression of chords.

The performers used these as basis for their improvisation (again : like in Jazz).

In the scores of to day most of these progressions have been translated into full music

notations by various editors.

d) Later, during the Baroque - (1600 - 1750), Classical - (1750 - 1830), and Romantic -

Periods (1830 - 1900) improvisation flourished, especially for keyboard players. J.S.Bach,

Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and many other distinguished composers

and virtuoso pianists, excelled in the art of improvisation, in those days called


e) Liszt was a famous boy improvisor. At age 12 his concert in Manchester was

advertised as 'An Extemporary Fantasie on the Pianoforte by Master Liszt, who will...