I think it's generally not too helpful to use Liszt and Mozart, et al., as examples of anything.
Why not? They were humans.
Their experiences do not generalize to most other musicians.
But appreciation of their musical output sure does
generalize to many, many, many people. "Non-musicians" included.
Liszt may have been able to play Hummel concertos by ear, but I suspect that skill is unavailable to nearly 100% of other musicians.
Why? Because that's what seen nowadays?
I suspect also that this skill cannot be taught using any method we currently know of.
I conjecture that it can be fostered with the proper environment, and minimal interference. What say you about that?
the overwhelming majority of musicians, or trainee musicians, who want to play in the western classical tradition will simply have no practical alternative than to learn to read music
Here's the issue: you presuppose that the great composers whose music constitutes the Western classical tradition achieved what they achieved through reading music.
This is a harmful assumption. See the latter part of my post here
Ironically, all the great composers whose legacies the Western tradition purports to be upholding are all rolling in their graves. Improvisation was something that they revered. Foisting sheet music is the first step in cutting off a student's own creativity.
... the cultural expectation... is note-pefect conformity to some published score, with tightly constrained interpretive freedom... that's the way things are now.
â€œImprovisation is something you do if you want to study jazz,â€ classical tradition teachers say.
The vitality of improvisation has been drained out of our historical conception of what classical music was. Common conceptions of how composers thought and worked is flipped on its head, and understanding of the evolution of Western music has been terminally distorted.
Johann Sebastian Bach, known as the godfather of music, was little-known as a composer when he was alive. However, he was renowned as the greatest improviser on the organ in all of Europe. Bach put improvisation skills at the center of his teaching. He often wrote out several different versions of his most popular pieces, such as the inventions, to show how a student might improvise on the structure.
Bachâ€™s uncle Johann Christoph (who Bach called a â€œprofound composerâ€) was known for organ preludes that were known to be â€œwritten-down improvisationsâ€. Bachâ€™s predecessors, the German composers Andreas Werckmeister and Dieterich Buxtehude also put contrapuntal improvisation front and center. They completely tore down Renaissance composer Gioseffe Zarlinoâ€™s rules, because, â€œserious improvisers regarded them as so complicated and obscure that one couldnâ€™t easily in a moment recall them.â€
Werckmeister promoted the need to â€œnot thinkâ€ while improvising. Werckmeisterâ€™s circle of fifths completely shattered Zarlinoâ€™s paradigm of treating chromatics as mere â€œornaments to adorn the diatonicâ€.
Werckmeister wrote of the superiority of improvisation to much of written music, and wrote about the importance of removing constraints on improvisation. He said, â€œLegitimate musicians get more from creating something on the clavier extemporaneously than by depending too much on the tablature.â€ He effectively liberated the keyboard into full modulation participation.
Half a century after J.S. Bach died, it was written that his improvisations, sometimes called his â€œextemporal fantasiesâ€, were superior to his written pieces. It was agreed that they were more â€œfree, brilliant, and expressive.â€
Bach had a bunch of kids, the most well-known of them being his son, Carl Phillip Emmanuel, known widely as C.P.E. This young boy was blown away by the intensity his father improvised with. He would eavesdrop on his father as he improvised upon their clavichord. Contemporaries gave enthusiastic reports about Bachâ€™s improvisations, all conveying a person possessed.
â€œIn his free fantasies he was quite unique and inexhaustible. For hours he loses himself in his ideas and in an ocean of modulations. His soul seemed to be far removed, the eyes swim as though in some ravishing dream, the lower lip drooped over his chin, his face and form bowed almost inanimately over the instrument. Only in his improvisations does Bach tickle the ears of his listeners with a larger palette of musical interval contrasts.â€
Entire elaborate improvisations emerged from from a single melodic idea. Whereas his scores were described as â€œfrozenâ€ improvisation, seemingly made â€œplasticâ€ through notation. In improvisation, Bach could let himself go, fueled by the energy
inherent to circular well temperament tuning. Today, Bachâ€™s written music is treated like the bible printed on gold leaf paper.
Other composers revered improvisation too. Handel wrote a treatise on performance â€“ and half of it was devoted to improvising dances and fugues.
Mozart was most famous in his day, according to scholars, â€œfirst as an improviser, then as a composer, then as a pianistâ€. In a famous piano competition in front of the Pope, Mozart and Muzio Clementi not only had to improvise in the final round, they had to improvise pieces together.
Beethoven became famous in Vienna not as a composer but as an â€œastoundingâ€ improviser. It was a full ten years that he was known as an improviser before he started gaining recognition for his compositions. He improvised publicly until the end of his life, but way before that, when young Beethoven got to meet older Mozart, the meeting didnâ€™t start so well. Mozart considered the piece that Beethoven had prepared to be nothing more than a a flashy show-piece. So - Mozart was somewhat cold in his expression of admiration, and Beethoven took notice. Beethoven then begged Mozart for a theme to improvise on. Mozart obliged, and, Beethoven, inspired by the presence of his idol, poured his heart out with this improvisation. It was only then that Mozart turned and quietly said to a colleague, â€œMark that young man. Someday, he will give you something to talk about.â€
Schubert was almost completely unknown as a composer in his day â€“ but he was renowned as an improviser, playing in taverns all night, improvising waltzes, dances, character pieces, and because he was in taverns - drinking songs.
Brahms did the same thing - he made money as a child playing the piano in bars, improvising waltzes and dances in Viennese fashion.
Debussy saw improvisation as his main creative source, claiming that his harmonic innovations came from, â€œfollowing the law of pleasure of the earâ€. In particular Debussy, with his love of exotic sonority, loved to improvise on out of tune pianos, letting the novel sonorities move him in innovative ways.
Liszt gave solo piano recitals, which consisted of playing prepared, memorized music. However - Liszt would close his concerts with dazzling improvisations on the themes of the local operas and ballets that were familiar to his audiences at the time.
Rachmaninoff improvised, and he would deviate from the harmonies in his printed scores all the time - even when he recorded his own works. When interviewed about his improvisatory facility, he said, â€œMy music comes directly from my heart.â€
So too for one ofÂ Rachmaninoffâ€™s greatest inspirations: Chopin.Composers disagree though
- for example, take Sergei Taneyev - a little-known Russian composer. He published a gigantic two-volume treatise called â€œConvertible Counterpoint in the Strict Styleâ€ - it took him 20 years to write. Taneyev used a quotation from Leonardo da Vinci as its inscription:
"No branch of study can claim to be considered a true science unless it is capable of being demonstrated mathematically.â€
In it, the laws of counterpoint are broken down, explained and brought into focus as a branch of pure mathematics. He thought musical creativity should be both deliberate and intellectual, with preliminary theoretical analysis and preparation of thematic materials. His
teacher said, â€œWhoah, whoah, whoah. Not the way to go!â€ - and that teacher was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Above all else, Tchaikovsky prized spontaneity in musical creativity
. Dropping out of studies in law school to do music, he would sit at the piano, improving via improvving.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who wrote this
firecracker of a hit, considered Taneyev's compositions "most dry and labored in character.â€
Not just Rimsky-Korsakov, however. Music lovers around the world have agreed with their clicks. On YouTube, most of Taneyevâ€™s compositions have less than five thousand views, and there isnâ€™t one that cracks forty thousand. There is something of his with 95,000 views - this - itâ€™s an amateur pianist playing his arrangement of Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky.
Sure, Leonardo da Vinci may have dropped the line about a study not being â€œtrue scienceâ€ unless it is, â€œcapable of being demonstrated mathematicallyâ€, but he also dropped the line that goes, â€œPoor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.â€
Last, but not least, we have Master Einstein.
His mother Pauline, a talented musician, introduced him to the piano when he was a small boy and encouraged his passion for the violin, an instrument he studied from ages six to thirteen. He remarked that he never thought in logical symbols or mathematical equations, but in images, feelings, and even musical architectures.
Einsteinâ€™s autobiographical notes say, â€œI have no doubt that our thinking goes on for the most part without the use of symbols, and, furthermore, largely unconsciously. No scientist thinks in equations.â€
In other interviews, he attributed his scientific insight and intuition mainly to music. "If I were not a physicist," he once said, "I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music... I get most joy in life out of music.â€
He regretted that â€œ[i]n Europe, music has come too far away from popular art and popular feeling and has become something like a secret art with conventions and traditions of its own". As a result of this specialization, music performance achieved high standards, certainly, but any variation or deviation from the work as composed was â€œoften prescribedâ€ - if tolerated at all.
Einstein was thinking of the practice among 19th century musicians of improvising on the pieces they played during performance, making recitals both unpredictable and exciting. By the 1930s this practice had long since died out, to be replaced by an overweening respect for the written notes of the score. He could (and on occasion, he did) play all the notes of his favorite composers, but he improvised as well. His sister Maja recalled that when he took up the piano, he quickly became dissatisfied with the written notes and "constantly searched for new harmonies and transitions of his own invention.â€ According to Mueller, Einstein's friend Alexander Mozskowski says that, â€œEinstein recognized an unexplainable connection between music and his science, and notes that [Einstein's] mentor Ernst Mach had indicated that music and the aural experience were the organ to describe space.â€ Music also embodies time. Could music have therefore provided Einstein with a connection between time and space through its combination of architectonic, or structural, nature combined with its spatial and temporal aspects? Mueller has conjectured that the physicistâ€™s, â€œdisposition to architectonic logics of abstraction was formulated by Einstein's musical experiences, and even enlarged by a constant struggle for musical experiences which helped him build a rich mental perceptual fabric of space and time in which to perform his scientific theorizing.â€ His son, Hans, amplified what Einstein meant by recounting that, â€œwhenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or into a difficult situation in his work, he would take refuge in music, and that would usually resolve all his difficulties.â€ Something in the music would guide his thoughts in new and creative directions, and after playing piano, his sister Maja said, Albert would get up saying, "There, now I've got it.â€
â€œEverybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.â€ If we wanna see efficiency, weâ€™ve got to see... uh... fish... in... (the)... sea.