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Concepts of Improvisation Between the Two World Wars

Performativity, Staged Presence and Participation in Music

30 September-1 October, 2016, University of Basel, Department of Musicology

Conference Committee:
Matthias Schmidt (University of Basel)
Tobias Schabenberger (Hochschule für Musik Basel, FHNW)
Andrew Wilson (conference director, University of Basel)

While research on means of composition and musical performance that rely on improvisation,
chance, or nature has attracted a certain amount of scholarly attention since the end of the
twentieth century, their impact on the art music community of the first decades of the twentieth
century has generally been neglected in historical musicology. The conference, which is held as
part of the SNSF-funded research project “Concepts of improvisation and their impact on early
twentieth century art music”, is organized by the Musicology Department of the University of
Basel in partnership with the Hochschule für Musik Basel, FHNW. It aims to advance current
musicological research on the interplay between Western art music of the first half of the
twentieth century and notions of improvisation, randomness, participatory music, and open
form. It will also investigate some of the period’s improvisatory approach to classical
performance and the use of extempore techniques in popular and functional music. Moreover, it
seeks to integrate in its deliberations current theories of ‘staged improvisation’ and
‘performativity’. Echoing the internationalism of the conference’s thematic fields as well as that
of its delegates, the chosen languages of the conference are English and German. The
conference will take place in the Vortragssaal (main auditorium on the ground floor) of the
Musikwissenschaftliches Seminar der Universität Basel (Petersgraben 27, CH-4051 Basel).

The Department of Musicology of the University of Basel is delighted to welcome the two
keynote speakers Sabine Feisst, Professor of Music History and Literature at Arizona State
University, and Michael Fjeldsøe, Professor of Musicology at the Department of Arts and
Cultural Studies of the University of Copenhagen.

Likewise, the conference committee sincerely thanks the students of the Hochschule für Musik
Basel, FHNW, their professors, and the other musicians for their contributions to the
conference’s musical programme. The performances will take place on September 30, 2016 at
20:00 at the Neuer Saal of the Musik-Akademie Basel.

It also gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Swiss National Science Foundation
(SNSF) and the Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft Basel (FAG) in making this conference



Friday, 30 September, 2016. Vortragssaal (main auditorium, ground floor),

Musikwissenschaftliches Seminar der Universität Basel.

13:30 Welcome (Andrew Wilson, Matthias Schmidt, Tobias Schabenberger)

14:00 Keynote speaker

• Sabine Feisst (Arizona State University, Tempe USA)

“Composition as Slowed Down Improvisation”: Concepts of Improvisation, Inspiration, and
Spontaneity in Arnold Schoenberg’s Works

15:00 Coffee or Tea break

15:15 Paper session 1

• Philip Felhordt (Folkwang Universität der Künste, Essen Germany)

Was ist “improvisatorisch” an notierten Improvisationsbeispielen? Analysen zu Carl
Czernys Systematischer Anleitung zum Fantasieren auf dem Pianoforte

• Robert Hill (Hochschule für Musik Freiburg, Germany)

Paul Bekker's 'Improvisation und Reproduktion' (1921) Revisited

16:15 Coffee or Tea break

16:30 Paper session 2

• Christopher Anderson (Southern Methodist University, Dallas USA)

Max Reger Improvises: Thoughts on Musical Presence as Cultural Critique

• Alexandre Robert (Université Paris-Sorbonne, France)

Analysing the Development of “Improvisatory Writing” of Déodat de Séverac

• Andrew Wilson (University of Basel, Switzerland)

Spot the Difference! Darius Milhaud’s Cocktail aux Clarinettes (1920) and Otto Luening’s
Trio for Flute, Violin, and Soprano (1923/24)

18:00 End paper session 2

Friday evening

20:00 Musical performances at the Hochschule für Musik Basel (Neuer Saal)

Schulhoff, Luening, Cowell, Lourié, Milhaud, and more presented by Tobias Schabenberger
(Hochschule für Musik Basel FHNW)


Saturday, 1 October, 2016. Vortragssaal, Musikwissenschaftliches Seminar der Universität


9:30 Keynote speaker

• Michael Fjeldsøe (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

From “Syncopation” to “Swing” and “Improvisation” – Ideological Concepts of Jazz within
the Context of European Neue Sachlichkeit

10:30 Coffee or Tea break

10:45 Paper session 3

• Ursel Schlicht (Kassel Germany)

Between Composition and Improvisation: Extemporizing in Entertainment Settings from
Vaudeville to Art Music

• Margarethe Maierhofer-Lischka (University of Music and Performing Arts, Graz Austria)

Phenomena of “Openness” in Beat Furrer’s Music Theatre and its Roots in Context of the
European Avant-Garde (paper read by Andrew Wilson)

• Alexander Kopp (Singen Germany)

Zum Hintergrund einer etwas revolutionären Kompositionsweise

12:15 Lunch break

13:30 Paper session 4

• Yusuke Nakahara (Budapest Bartók Archives, Hungary)

Some Improvisatory Aspects in Béla Bartók’s Musical Thinking

• Laura Moeckli (Basel, Switzerland)

“Freiheitlichere Anwendung des Alltäglichen” – Composing Declamatory Freedom from
Wagner to Wolpe

14:30 Coffee or Tea break

15:00 Round table discussion
17:00 End



Sabine Feisst (Arizona State University, Tempe USA)

“Composition as Slowed Down Improvisation”: Concepts of Improvisation,
Inspiration, and Spontaneity in Arnold Schoenberg’s Works

At first glance an examination of concepts of improvisation in Arnold Schoenberg’s works may

seem like an unpromising topic and suggest little more than speculative outcomes. Schoenberg
was not known as an improvising performer and, unlike some of his contemporaries, he never
composed scores that allowed performers much interpretive freedom. But as a prominent figure
between the two World Wars, a self-conscious artist, an astute observer of his diverse cultural
environments in Europe and the United States, a friend and teacher of such improvisers and jazz
musicians as George Gershwin, Artie Shaw, and George Tremblay, and as an articulate
commentator on the arts, he had important things to say about improvisation, inspiration and
In this talk I will trace how Schoenberg came to terms with improvisation and jazz in
Europe and America in the 1920s and 1930s, elaborate on his notions of improvisation in
creative processes, specifically on his idea of “composition as slowed down improvisation,” and
show how improvisation and spontaneity found their way into his works at different stages in his
career: before World War I, and before and after World War II. I will draw on recent literature
on improvisation, published and unpublished writings by Schoenberg, music analysis, and
studies on Schoenberg’s cultural contexts.

Michael Fjeldsøe (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

From “Syncopation” to “Swing” and “Improvisation” – Ideological Concepts of
Jazz within the Context of European Neue Sachlichkeit

The concept of jazz as well as jazz reception changed radically from the 1920s to the mid-1930s.
Most of what was considered jazz in the 1920s was later perceived as inauthentic Europeanized
entertainment, which lacked the core characteristics of African-American jazz as perceived in
the 1930s. Until 1930, some initial efforts were undertaken to take jazz seriously as music and
most commentators referred to a feature of notation: syncopation was the original ‘mark’ of jazz


music. In the 1930s two trends can be observed: while jazz was slowly institutionalized as a
specific musical domain with its own journals, public sphere, aesthetics and infrastructures
(venues, clubs, formalized education), a distinct jazz reception influenced by Neue Sachlichkeit
was being shaped. In this case, jazz was conjoined with a number of positive qualities that
extended beyond its essential capacity of being music. This reception included the ‘black trope’,
perceived as a positive quality. It also reshaped the notion of what was the core feature of jazz.
Instead of syncopation, the grounded feeling of jazz as a bodily phenomenon was termed
‘swing’ whereas improvisation, as a cursor of creativity and freedom, was distinctively marked.
In the case of Danish musical life, one can follow how the professionalization and
institutionalization of jazz starts out as a common project which included a jazz pedagogical
milieu established by musicians associated with Neue Sachlichkeit. In the mid-1930s, these
people developed a highly sophisticated style of composed music for young amateurs based on
the two specific features of jazz they considered essential: swing and improvisation – while the
professional jazz musicians established their own jazz scene in an attempt to be recognized as an
art form on its own terms.



Christopher Anderson
Southern Methodist University, Dallas USA
Max Reger Improvises: Thoughts on Musical Presence as Cultural Critique

During a brief but intensive career, Max Reger (1873–1916) distinguished himself not only as a
composer, but also as a remarkable performer respected for an advanced ability in
improvisation. This suggests the larger question of the role of extemporization in Reger’s
distinctive musical thinking, read from his activities as keyboardist, conductor, pedagogue, and
composer. It is clear that Reger came to his studies with Hugo Riemann already practiced in
thoroughbass playing, and that these skills were further sharpened by means outlined in
Riemann’s Anleitung zum Generalbaß-Spielen of 1889. Likewise clear is the mature composer’s
practice of improvising the continuo parts in performances of J. S. Bach’s instrumental music,
and of indulging in free keyboard fantasies at the piano and organ in both public and private
Less well understood, however, is Reger’s improvisatory practice as a mode of music-
making consistent with (and supportive of) his larger aesthetic priorities. Foremost among those
priorities was an active critique of progressive musical culture as based in the illusory values of
inspiration, genius, and virtuosity. Music, as Reger never tired of saying, springs from ability
and Handwerk, a facility born of hard work rather than elitist inspiration. Even as a conductor,
Reger sought to refute the aesthetic of the Pultvirtuosen of his time by training the Meiningen
Court Orchestra to play (seemingly to “improvise”) without his direction, thus performing out
the value of exacting preparation and exposing, he believed, the redundancy of the virtuoso
conductor. As a chamber pianist, he seems often to have applied his facility in extemporization
even in his own notated music, to the distress of his performing partners.
These ways of being musically present clearly abetted Reger’s image as a representative
of the values of earlier eras, as a “second Bach,” and ultimately as a composer whose raw
facility outpaced his artistic judgment. I will argue that we should understand Max Reger first as
a musician broadly, and only then as a composer specifically. At the center of his musicianship
stands the radical persona of the improviser who exercises craft by virtue of competence rather
than revelation.


Christopher Anderson is Associate Professor of Sacred Music at Southern Methodist

University, Dallas, where he teaches organ and courses in history and theory. He is an organist
and scholar with particular interests in early musical modernism, modern German history and
philosophy, the organ’s position in Western culture, and the composer Max Reger. He has
written extensively on Reger and his music in two books (Max Reger and Karl Straube:
Perspectives on an Organ Performing Tradition, Ashgate 2003; and Selected Writings of Max
Reger, Routledge 2006) and many essays. Recently, he has translated into English the second
volume of Jon Laukvik’s Historical Performance Practice in Organ Playing (Carus, 2010) and
edited the first complete survey of organ music in the twentieth century (Twentieth-Century
Organ Music, Routledge 2011). Currently he is at work on the first biography of Karl Straube.
He serves the OHS publishing program and holds the PhD in Musicology–Performance Practice
from Duke University.

Philip Felhordt
Folkwang Universität der Künste, Essen Germany
Was ist “improvisatorisch” an notierten Improvisationsbeispielen? Analysen zu Carl
Czernys Systematischer Anleitung zum Fantasieren auf dem Pianoforte

Czernys Systematische Anleitung zum Fantasieren auf dem Pianoforte, auch in den 1920er
Jahren rezipiert 1 und nach dem Urteil Ulrich Mahlerts neben Hummels Klavierschule die
wichtigste Quelle zum Fantasieren im 19. Jahrhundert,2 lohnt in der Tat die Auseinandersetzung.
Auf mehr als einhundert Seiten widmet sich Czerny in dem 1829 erschienenen Lehrwerk
ausschließlich dem Improvisieren. Im Zentrum stehen dabei improvisierte Fantasien mit einem
Thema oder mehreren Themen, Potpourris und Variationen, die Czerny als „Gattungen des
Fantasierens“ behandelt. Jede dieser„Gattungen“ erläutert Czerny zunächst sprachlich und
illustriert sie dann mit relativ ausführlichen und kaum kommentierten musikalisch notierten
Beispielen; außerdem verweist er auf komponierte Musikstücke der Klavierliteratur.
Schriftliche Improvisationslehren wecken die Hoffnung, improvisatorische Verfahren
musikhistorischer Epochen analysierbar zu machen, indem sie Material liefern, wo sonst
Vgl. Karel August Textor, „Een vergeten werk. Carl Czerny, systematische Anleitung zum Fantasieren auf dem
Pianoforte, op 200“, in: Gedenkboek aangeboden aan Dr D. F. Scheurleer op zijn 70sten verjaardag. Bijdragen van
Vrienden en Verdeerders op het Gebied der Muziek, hrsg. von E.D Pijzel, ´s-Gravenhage 1925
Ulrich Mahlert, „Einführung“, in: Systematische Anleitung zum Fantasieren auf dem Pianoforte. Op. 200, hrsg.
von Ulrich Mahlert, Wiesbaden 1993, S. VII.


Material fehlt. Allerdings schließt eine schriftliche Improvisationslehre das Problem ein, den mit
Spontaneität assoziierten „Gegenstand“ Improvisation in sprachlich und notenschriftlich
fixierter Form bearbeiten zu wollen. So stellt sich die Frage, was an notierten Musikbeispielen
eigentlich „improvisatorisch“ sei.
Ein Beispiel für den Umgang mit dieser Frage lieferte 1986/87 Michael R. Sitton, als er
in einer Kurzanalyse zu ergründen suchte, ob Beethovens Klavierfantasie op. 77 als
„improvisational document“ gelten könne. 3 Ein ähnliches Verfahren auf die Beispiele in
Czernys Anleitung zum Fantasieren anzuwenden erscheint sinnvoller, als sie wie eine
Komposition zu analysieren (um zu dem Ergebnis zu kommen, dass die Beispiele konventionell
und flach seien4 oder „meisterhaft ausgearbeitet“5).
In meiner Analyse ausgewählter Beispiele aus Czernys Anleitung zum Fantasieren
versuche ich, improvisationsspezifische Elemente herauszuarbeiten. Als
improvisationsspezifisch sehe ich dabei in einer pragmatischen Perspektive solche Elemente an,
die überhaupt improvisatorisch bewältigt werden können. Dabei zeigt sich, dass Czerny in der
Tat standardisierte Mittel (in Bezug etwa auf Harmonik und Spielfiguren) einsetzt, die mitunter
die Illusion kompositorischer Dichte entstehen lassen und doch improvisatorisch ausgeführt
werden können.

Philip Feldhordt, geboren 1984, Studium der Kirchenmusik, Schulmusik, Musikwissenschaft,

Geschichte und Erziehungswissenschaft an der Folkwang Universität der Künste und der
Universität Duisburg-Essen. Promotionsstudent (Forschung zu Carl Czernys
Improvisationslehre). Lehrauftrag für Klavierimprovisation an der Folkwang Universität.
Michael R. Sitton, „Beethoven's opus 77 fantasy: an improvisational document?“, The American Music teacher:
official journal of the Music Teachers National Association (1986/87).
Vgl. Textor, S. 343.
Vgl. Anonymer Rezensent, „Systematische Anleitung zum Fantasieren auf dem Pianoforte, von Carl Czerny,
200. Werk“, Monatsbericht der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde des Österreichischen Kaiserstaates 1830, S. 39- 43,
hier S. 43.


Robert Hill
Hochschule für Musik Freiburg, Germany
Paul Bekker's "Improvisation und Reproduktion" (1921)

The German music journalist and critic (and, one would have to add, music philosopher) Paul
Bekker (1882-1937) invokes a dialectic between musical improvisation and reproduction to
delineate the forces animating musical practice in the late 19th century and the forces behind
fundamental changes taking place in the role of music and musicians in society in the first
quarter of the 20th century. Essential for his view is the encompassing nature of musical
improvisation, which for Bekker includes not only all varieties of extemporaneous
composition, but subjective expression as well, including spontaneous tempo modification
during performance. For Bekker, improvisation was the primal expression of the musical
impulse; it constituted the very essence of music-making and superlative musicianship.
Bekker saw this musical force as encroached upon by social forces and institutions:
commercialization and unionization, but also what he saw as a creeping mediocrity of
the musical imagination, a phenomenon he attributed in the first place to the academy,
resulting from an uncritical allegiance to what he regarded as the scurrility of the mindset of
Werktreue. Almost one hundred years later, his perspective provides an historical benchmark
to aid in articulating the role of improvisation in classical music performance and pedagogy
for the 21st century.

Harpsichordist & fortepianist Robert Hill has been Professor of Historical Keyboard
Instruments and Performance Practice at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg, Germany since
1990. After harpsichord study with Gustav Leonhardt at the Amsterdam Conservatory
(Soloist Diploma 1974), he earned the Ph.D. in Musicology at Harvard University in 1987 for
his dissertation on authenticity issues in the early keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
A prize-winning soloist on historical keyboard instruments, his scholarly research
concentrates on paradigms of musical time-keeping as a problem of reception.


Alexander Kopp
Singen Germany
Zum Hintergrund einer etwas revolutionären Kompositionsweise

Erste Kompositionen in elastic form, einer Frühform indeterminierten Komponierens, finden

sich bereits 1913 bei Henry Cowell. Damit verlässt Cowell im Alter von 16 Jahren einen
tradierten Werkbegriff und deutet weit über seine Zeit hinaus bis hin zu offenen Formen eines
John Cage, der im übrigen sein Schüler war. elastic form ist eine modulare
Kompositionsweise - was hier nicht näher erläutert werden soll – deren Anzahl weniger
auffällig ist als deren Verteilung über Cowells gesamtes Leben. Lassen einzelne
Kompositionsweisen des auch als Autor und Lehrer tätigen Weltreisenden mit der Zeit „nach“
oder werden durch andere ersetzt, so bleibt elastic form über 50 Jahre eine stabile Idee.
Cowells Inspirationsquellen hierzu sind in ihrer Wirkung breit gefächert und entfalten sich in
viele Unterkategorien. Als die wichtigsten seien genannt: Primitivismus, offene Formen
präferierende Entwicklungen musikalischer wie nicht-musikalischer Natur, ein Hang zu
experimentellem Vorgehen, das Interesse an Naturgesetzlichkeiten wie z.B. der Obertonreihe,
eine Bevorzugungrhythmischer und kontrapunktischer Arbeit gekoppelt mit einer Ablehnung
der Harmonik und das Bestreben, Ganzheiten zu schaffen.
Cowells Ziel war es, Musik weitgehend von einem künstlichen Regelwerk zu befreien
und auf natürliche Quellen zu gründen. Elastic form stellt den weitaus wichtigsten Teil von
Cowells universal musical style dar. Elastic form ist die Innovation Cowells, die die meisten
seiner Ideen zu vereinigen vermochte und am leichtesten zu realisieren ist. Elastic form ist der
Gipfel in Cowells Schaffen, als eigenständige Methode als auch in ihrer Zugehörigkeit zu
Cowells universal musical style: Wie der universal musical style ist sie die Summe aller
Einflüsse, denen Cowell ausgesetzt war, und repräsentiert das, was aus diesen entstand.

Alexander Kopp, geboren 1964 in Singen am Hohentwiel. Studium der Philosophie (Norbert
Bolz, Klaus-Christian Köhnke) und Musikwissenschaft (Helga de la Motte (Neue Musik,
Musikästhetik, Musikpsychologie), Carl Dahlhaus, Rudolf Stephan) an der Technischen
Universität Berlin. Magister Artium 1992. Unterrichtstätigkeit an der TU Berlin. Zahlreiche
Veröffentlichungen über Neue Musik. 1998-2000 mehrere Forschungsaufenthalte in den USA
mit Unterstützung von H. Wiley Hitchcock. Promotion 2002 über Henry Cowell. Davor
betriebswirtschaftliche Ausbildung und fortan Tätigkeit in Medienfirmen (z.Bsp.
Bertelsmann) im Vertriebsbereich und Productmangement.


Margarethe Maierhofer-Lischka
University of Music and Performing Arts, Graz Austria
Phenomena of “openness“ in Beat Furrer’s music theatre and its roots in context of the
European avant-garde

Discussing open moments in recent works of music theatre, the analytical focus of debate in
musicology and theatre studies is often based on current theories of performative processes,
such as Umberto Eco’s “opera aperta“ or newer approaches by Richard Schechner, Victor
Turner and Erika Fischer-Lichte. On the other side, when composers themselves speak about
their own works, they tend to access the same phenomena not from a theoretical standpoint
but rather see themselves embedded in an evolving historical context of music, literature,
performing arts and visual arts.
My proposal for the conference “Concepts of Improvisation” focuses on phenomena
of “openness“ in recent music theatre works by Swiss composer Beat Furrer. Furrer’s
theatrical work is known for its intense inner dramaturgies that are not only created by his
musical language but by his employment of contrasts between a strict musicodramaturgical
structure and free moments that allow for improvisation, spatial and temporal expansion and
thus unite performers and audience in the experience of a performative moment.
Furrer’s work has so far been mostly discussed in relation to itself or to recent contemporary
music examples. My aim is to trace the historical contextualization of Furrer’s mobile forms
and dramaturgies, linking his ideas to artistical experimentation with open forms and
participatory ideas that were en vogue in Viennese early-20th-century culture (music,
literature, film, theatre) and European, especially Italian, avant-garde, both important
influences for Furrer’s artistical formation. By example of Furrer’s FAMA (2005), the open
elements in Furrer’s dramaturgy are explained as parts of a dense intertextual and
interdisciplinary network that is more connected to its cultural past than inventing a new
future format of music theatre.
Expanding this point of view towards other works of music theatre, this paper seeks to
broaden our understanding of open aspects in context of “current music theatre“ towards a
notion of performative phenomena as embedded in a continuous and notably interdisciplinary
artistical practice.


Margarethe Maierhofer-Lischka (born 1984 / Germany) lives and works in Graz, Austria.
Studies of Double Bass, Musicology, Instrumental Pedagogy and Contemporary Music in
Dresden, Rostock and Graz. PhD candidate in musicology („Staging auditory perception in
contemporary music theatre“). Currently working as University Assistant at the Institute of
Music Aesthetics at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Graz. As a performer, she
is focused on improvised and contemporary music, music theatre and sound art.

Laura Moeckli
“Freiheitlichere Anwendung des Alltäglichen” – Composing Declamatory Freedom from
Wagner to Wolpe

Recitative was traditionally one of the areas of operatic composition which demanded intense
improvisational freedom, since its notation merely provided a musical scaffolding around
which singers developed and demonstrated their dramatic declamatory art. Throughout the
nineteenth century, however, the relations between composers and singers gradually changed,
so that composition gained unprecedented artistic status as the most abstract of the arts, and
scores became “sacrosanct” reflections of a composer’s genius, rather than practical tools
which enable interpretation. With the expansion of the orchestra, further constraints and
challenges emerged for declamatory improvisation. In this context, many composers sought to
limit the scope of freedom in recitatives and impose declamatory parameters through more
precise means of notation. Yet at the same time, their ultimate goal was never to create a rigid
or monotonous declamatory style, but rather to capture on paper those aspects of performance
that had formerly been left to the inspiration of singers.
In this presentation I will consider this enduring paradox of seeking declamatory
freedom through constraint by considering some nineteenth-century attempts at “taming”
operatic declamation, in particular in the recitatives of Richard Wagner, before pursuing
speech-song developments in the context of German opera of the 1920s, notably comparing
and contrasting the various treatments of declamatory freedom in Richard Strauss’ Intermezzo
(1924), Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (1925) and Stefan Wolpe’s Zeus und Elida (1928), in terms of
prosodic distribution, notational detail, dramaturgical intention and performance quality.

Laura Moeckli studied musicology, English literature and philosophy at the University of
Fribourg, and was subsequently awarded a three-year research grant from the Swiss National


Science Foundation (SNSF) for an interdisciplinary project dedicated to the Parisian operas of
Giacomo Meyerbeer. In fall 2015 she obtained her PhD from the University of Bern with a
thesis on recitative in nineteenth-century German and French opera. Laura has worked as a
research assistant at the Universities of Fribourg and Bern, as well as the Bern University of
the Arts and the Johannes-Gutenberg University Mainz, where she taught and organised
several international workshops and conferences. Her areas of specialisation include
nineteenth-century opera, musical gesture and narration and performance practice. She is
currently pursuing a postdoc project on transatlantic transformations in early twentieth-
century music.

Yusuke Nakahara
Budapest Bartók Archives, Hungary
Some Improvisatory Aspects in Béla Bartók’s Musical Thinking

‘You do not have to so precisely follow the score; you can place ornamentations imitating the
noise of night anywhere and play of them as many as you like. In this case, accuracy is not
obligatory.’ One can hardly imagine that these sentences were comments made by Béla
Bartók on his own work, Bartók being perceived as a composer in a traditional sense.
Although he considered himself an innovator of musical language—by means of
incorporating East-Central European peasant music with his own—he intended to continue art
music tradition rather than radically breaking away from it. Certainly, his immersion in folk
music is unparalleled in music history. As far as improvisatory qualities are concerned,
however, his primary interest was to precisely record (in a certain sense) improvised
performances and, when using elements derived from folk music as a part of his composition,
to set them in a conventional musical structure (in regard to their notation, his folk song
arrangements do not essentially differ from those of other contemporary works).
Nevertheless, some of Bartók’s compositions reveal improvisatory aspects of his
musical thinking. In my presentation, I first discuss the influence of folk music practice on
some of his works, namely Allegro barbaro (1911) and Mikrokosmos No. 103 ‘Minor and
Major’ (1933), which contain some undefined repetitions of measures that may be derived
from instrumental folk music practices. Second, I turn to the supposed free application of
repetition in ‘The Night’s Music’, the fourth piece of Out of Doors (1926, the aforementioned
quote refers to this piece), which could be considered to be an abstract development of the
former case. However, the source of Bartók’s unique musical imagination is not necessarily


limited to certain folk music. In Mikrokosmos No. 102 ‘Harmonics’ (1939), Bartók exploits
an unconventional piano technique (silently pressed keys). It is likely that he borrowed the
idea from Schoenberg’s Three Pieces, Op. 11; here, however, some unpredictable overtones
primarily surprise the players (rather than the listeners), who eventually need to adopt an
improvisatory approach, which is truly extraordinary in a piece originally designed for

Yusuke Nakahara, born in Japan, studied musicology at the Liszt Ferenc Music Academy in
Budapest (2007–2012) where he went on to become a PhD candidate on a Hungarian state
scholarship (2012–2015). His doctoral dissertation focuses on the compositional sources of
Béla Bartók’s Mikrokosmos. Since September 2015, he has been a research assistant at the
Budapest Bartók Archives and has been contributing to work on the Béla Bartók Complete
Critical Edition in preparation.

Alexandre Robert
Université Paris-Sorbonne
Analysing The Development of “Improvisatory Writing” of Déodat de Séverac

From 1903 to 1904, Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921) composes a piano suite entitled En
Languedoc in which he uses a set of methods of writing that can be called “improvisatory
writing”: the establishment of silences and pauses to mark transitions between sections within
each piece, the recurring presence of typical traits of piano improvisation (scales, fast
arpeggios, glissandos, etc.) or the proliferation of melodic ornamentation patterns
(appoggiaturas, embroideries, acciaccaturas, etc.). This way of writing is remarkable for two
reasons. On the one hand, it is almost absent in earlier piano compositions of Séverac as the
Sonate en si bémol mineur (1898-1899) or the suite entitled Le Chant de la Terre (1899-
1900). On the other hand, it becomes a specific way of writing compared with other pianistic
productions of the French musical field of the time.
How Séverac comes to develop this improvisatory writing? I will try to answer this
question by adopting a sociomusicological framework of analysis focused on socialization
processes, that is to say processes by which groups or institutions shape and transform
individuals. Crossing musicology and sociology, I will show how one can articulate musical
analysis and reconstruction of “socializing experiences” of the composer in order to
understand the genesis of his “personal” way of composing. Indeed, I will locate Séverac at


the intersection of three frames of socialization that are the Schola Cantorum, the regionalist
writers and the group of the “Apaches”.
My methodology is based on a link-up of three components: an identification of the
frames of socialization in which Séverac is immersed; an analysis of the writings of Séverac;
a musical analysis of his piano works.

Alexandre Robert is PhD candidate and ATER at the department of musicology of Paris-
Sorbonne University and member of the Institut de Recherche en Musicologie. He
has published on the early XXth French music from a socio-musicological perspective.

Ursel Schlicht
Kassel Germany
Between Composition and Improvisation: Extemporizing in Entertainment Settings
from Vaudeville to Art Music

“The art of keyboard composing, otherwise called improvisation or extempore playing, is (…) a source of
delight and interest to every pianist; and it is a subject that should be studied by every intelligent music teacher.”
A. Madeley Richardson: Extempore Playing. Forty Lessons in the Art of Keyboard Playing.

Richardson offers in his 1922 method of studying extempore playing not only a thorough
variety of exercises how to create personal variations of harmonic progressions, melody and
form, but in his introduction also an idea of what improvising encompassed: unlike
contrasting improvisation and composition as opposite ends, here, composing at the keyboard
flows seamlessly into improvising.
In the early decades of the 20th century, a surprising number of methods circulated
how to learn to extemporize, or how to learn to become a good ragtime or jazz player, along
with extensive compilations of mood pieces to use in film, vaudeville and social gatherings.
A close look at annotations show very specific - and by no means then universally agreed on
- aesthetic ideas of what counted as right, wrong, musical, appropriate, and when a musical
action was considered genuine improvisation. Frank J. Sawyer, in his introduction to
“Extemporizations”, qualified “that rambling incoherence, without form or design, is
meaningless, valueless, and not music”. Henry Cowell developed radical new ideas on sound,
rhythm and form. Matyas Seiber created a first jazz class at the Hoch´sche Konservatorium.
Film composers and pianists worked freely with a range of innovative sounds.


Looking at the work of individual performers of various kinds of Gebrauchsmusik and

accounts of why someone´s work was admired, and opinionated commentary in methods of
instruction shows a quite fascinating and multifaceted realm between composition and

Ursel Schlicht is an internationally active pianist, composer, improviser, scholar and

educator. She holds a doctorate from the University of Hamburg (Germany). She has
designed and taught seminars on Music & Gender and Improvisation at Ramapo College of
New Jersey, and has taught Masterpieces of Western Music at Columbia University in New
York City. Currently she teaches Improvisation at the University of Kassel, Germany.
Schlicht has recorded as leader or co-leader on Nemu, Cadence, CIMP, Hybrid, Konnex,
Muse-Eek and Leo Records.
Fostering intercultural collaboration with a progressive political focus has been an
important focus of her work. Her project SonicExchange ( in the
summer of 2012 in Kassel, Germany, featured over 50 artists from nine countries. Ex
Tempore, formed in 2002, was comprised of musicans from Europe, India, Eritrea, Mali,
Japan, Afghanistan, Russia, and the US. She currently works with refugees who recently
arrived in Germany.
Her compositions include music between jazz, experimental and new sounds, as
featured on her latest release“The Galilean Moons” with flutist-composer Robert Dick (Nemu
Records 2015). She created improvisational scores for silent film classics Nosferatu, The
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Faust and The Adventures of Prince Achmed. called her a European talent who has the skill and finesse to
number her among the best of the free improvisers on either side of the Atlantic.

Andrew Wilson
University of Basel, Switzerland
Spot the Difference! Darius Milhaud’s Cocktail aux Clarinettes (1920) and Otto
Luening’s Trio for Flute, Violin, and Soprano (1923/24)

Darius Milhaud’s Cocktail aux Clarinettes, published in 1920, consists of four independent
clarinet ‘cadenzas’. Notated without bar lines, they are to be played ad libitum for the duration
of an unmeasured recitative. The last movement of Otto Luening’s Trio for Flute, Violin, and
Soprano, composed in 1923, consists of pitches, allowing the performers the choice of


rhythms, accidentals, dynamics, and phrasing. Although composed at a time commonly

related to the notion of art music as a ‘fixed aesthetic object, notated on paper, and conceived
by a single author,’6 both works bear striking similarities with concepts of composition and
performance usually associated with post-serial music of the second half of the 20th century.
My paper summarizes some of the findings that are to be included in my upcoming
doctoral thesis (Concepts of improvisation and their impact on early twentieth century art
music) and will be divided into two sections: In the first part I will analyse Milhaud’s Cocktail
aux Clarinettes and Luening’s Trio for Flute, Violin, and Soprano (last movement) as forms
of staged improvisation. In the second part, I will examine whether these two examples are
best regarded as aberrant or peripheral phenomena or, on the contrary, radical instances of a
larger trend. I will argue that they might be the result of a desire among some composers of
the period to mediate between their historically constructed status as ‘modernist composers’
and other forms of music making perceived at the time as improvisatory and participatory.
My presentation is partially based on unpublished documents from the Otto Luening
papers housed at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Born in 1968 in Neuchâtel (Switzerland), Andrew Wilson is currently working as a scientific

collaborator at the Musicology Department of the University of Basel. After initial studies in
computer sciences at the University of Neuchâtel and training as a classical and jazz pianist,
he has worked as an English teacher and translator. He was also active until 2009 as a pianist:
concerts, solo performances and as a member of various jazz and pop-rock groups. In October
2012, he received a Master of Arts in Musicology (major) and in English/American literature
and linguistics (minor) at the University of Basel, with honours (insigni cum laude). Since
then, Andrew Wilson has been researching his PhD topic ‘Concepts of improvisation and
their impact on early twentieth century art music’. In April 2014, this project was officially
accepted as a research program at the Department of Musicology of the University of Basel
and is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

Erinn Kynt. “Between Composition and Transcription: Ferruccio Busoni and Music Notation.“ Twentieth-
Century Music, 11 (2014), p. 38.


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