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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I hope this doesn't get derailed into classical vs. jazz thread. You can always start a separate thread about that if you want.

Right, I didn't want to start a classical vs. jazz argument. I love both. My only point is I believe there are a few non-classical pianists who deserve a place on the list of greatest pianists. If they intended to restrict the list to classical maybe they should have said that. When a jazz magazine or website posts such a list, it's more likely to say "greatest jazz pianists" than simply "greatest pianists".


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I subscribe to BBC Music Magazine, and remember reading an article about this topic some time ago. I probably still have the copy, but It will take me some time to find it.

When I put a search on this site, I came up with this, from 2010:
https://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2134292/1.html

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Originally Posted by liliboulanger
I subscribe to BBC Music Magazine, and remember reading an article about this topic some time ago. I probably still have the copy, but It will take me some time to find it.

When I put a search on this site, I came up with this, from 2010:
https://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2134292/1.html
That looks like a thread I started way back then. I didn't compare that list to the one in the article I posted on this thread but it looks suspiciously close or maybe exactly the same. If it's exactly the same the article should have at least said the ranking was based on polling from 2010!

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Originally Posted by Taushi
Perhaps he did improvise a 3-part fugue on an “intricate” theme? Who determines whether the theme was intricate or not?
The theme became the basis of "A Musical Offering" and is well known. The 2nd movement "Ricercare a 3" is almost surely the fugue Bach had improvised. So you can decide for yourself.

By the way, the following video is of a fun re-enactment of the scene based on what was written about it.



JS Bach's son C.P.E. was the court keyboardist for Frederick's chamber orchestra. Frederick himself was a competent flautist. I've read that it is thought that C.P.E. had previously devised the theme to be difficult to work with to try to trip up the old man.


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by liliboulanger
I subscribe to BBC Music Magazine, and remember reading an article about this topic some time ago. I probably still have the copy, but It will take me some time to find it.

When I put a search on this site, I came up with this, from 2010:
https://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2134292/1.html
That looks like a thread I started way back then. I didn't compare that list to the one in the article I posted on this thread but it looks suspiciously close or maybe exactly the same. If it's exactly the same the article should have at least said the ranking was based on polling from 2010!
Well, I just compared the list from 2010 to the one from 2022 and they are exactly the same!

This means, of course, there was no new polling of pro pianists for "new" 2022 article which is disappointing. It might be interesting to compare posters' comments when I posted the article in 2010 vs. comments in this thread. I feel like the 2022 article was dishonest by not stating that they were using the poll results from 2010 although at least they added additional information and recordings about each pianist for the 2022 article.

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Most jazz improvisation is playing over the chords, not improvising new harmony, and I've never heard a jazz musician improvise anything contrapuntal, but maybe some have. Only twice have I seen a live performance where a player asked the audience for a theme-- one was a jazz/pop pianist who did a nice job of harmonizing and varying the melody to create a basic pop tune, and the other was a classical organist who has won improvisation competitions. His improv was more intricate, but spent too much time vamping on chords to rival the descriptions of improvisations by great organists of the Baroque era.


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Originally Posted by KenBakerMN
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I hope this doesn't get derailed into classical vs. jazz thread. You can always start a separate thread about that if you want.

Right, I didn't want to start a classical vs. jazz argument. I love both. My only point is I believe there are a few non-classical pianists who deserve a place on the list of greatest pianists. If they intended to restrict the list to classical maybe they should have said that. When a jazz magazine or website posts such a list, it's more likely to say "greatest jazz pianists" than simply "greatest pianists".

Something to think about anyway.

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Yes. We would need to relax the requirement of having recorded their own playing to have a meaningful expansion to composers of classical piano music.


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I've heard that people such as Chopin would improvise as well. So it's hard to know what any of that would've sounded like. I suspect any of the big composers would rival any pianist from the recording era onwards.

With jazz players...the best of them are incredibly good. Equally or even more complex compared to baroque music (albeit in different ways), very mathematical (though doesn't have the baroque sound).

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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Most jazz improvisation is playing over the chords, not improvising new harmony, and I've never heard a jazz musician improvise anything contrapuntal, but maybe some have. Only twice have I seen a live performance where a player asked the audience for a theme-- one was a jazz/pop pianist who did a nice job of harmonizing and varying the melody to create a basic pop tune, and the other was a classical organist who has won improvisation competitions. His improv was more intricate, but spent too much time vamping on chords to rival the descriptions of improvisations by great organists of the Baroque era.
"The chords" that are improvised over change from one pianist to another and can change even for the same pianist for different performances(although this may be relatively rare). Keith Jarrett and George Shearing(and I suspect many others)both have performances where they play very contrapuntally although that may not have been improvised on the spot. Any good jazz pianists could easily improvise over a melody they had never heard before but they usually prefer to use a great song or one of their own compositions as the starting point.

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Originally Posted by bennevis
You've basically confirmed what I've been suspecting all along - everything you've posted has been based on google search and what you read from wiki, rather than what the reality is.

Mine is based on what I've personally experienced and gleaned from chatting to lots of people of all ages, as well as what the reality is 'on the ground' when I visit all those countries I mentioned. For instance, when I visited Poland, I discovered that though Chopin is heavily promoted (you can sit on "Chopin benches" in Warsaw to listen to Chopin anytime), the reality is that classical music - and Chopin - is not 'popular'. But I did attend a classical concert of chamber music and songs (by Haydn, A.Panufnik and Szymanowski - no Chopin), as well as the most popular jazz club in Poland, where I spent a whole evening listening to up-and-coming Polish jazz performers as well as established ones. Guess what? Everyone played from the music, there was a lot of virtuosity (especially from the pianists, who were all classically trained) - but no swinging, and the various solos seem rehearsed rather than improvs. The style is most definitely jazz, but I can imagine that Americans won't think it is, especially if they take the Duke's admonishment to heart.......

Incidentally, in the non-Western country I came from (and its surrounding neighbors), classical music can easily be heard in homes, because all kids learning piano are taught via the classical ABRSM syllabus, and most middle-class homes have upright pianos. Western pop is, of course, far more popular than classical, but jazz is basically non-existent there.

No, actually - if you read my 10,000+ posts - you'll know that I enjoy chatting to people about music, and I get plenty of opportunities because I play on public pianos wherever I find them, as well as a monthly recital. What I wrote was the general opinion of the public, not mine.

You need to disentangle the reality of the perception of ordinary people from your own opinions. What I said is the reality, based on decades of experience of talking to lots of people as well as what I see for myself.

You want to separate jazz completely from pop? Let's see what your favorite source of info, wiki, has to say:

BTW, classical music too was the popular music of its day........(Mozart loved it when people went about the streets of Prague singing tunes from Le nozze di Figaro, after it was performed there).

Perhaps you'd like to hear another anecdote from me, from my last visit to the U.S. when I travelled from San Francisco to New York by road over several weeks in 2018, with a group of British and European people from various backgrounds and ages? wink We visited Nashville as well as New Orleans along the way. None of the people in the group had any interest in exploring the jazz culture in New Orleans, but when we were in Nashville, everyone took part in the line dancing, and even singing in one of the live events there. Most of the group had very limited experience of (American) country music, but everyone enjoyed it.......somewhat to my surprise.

Yes, we definitely should thumb.

So, again, when called upon to provide facts, you fail to do it. You, once more, resort to ad hominems, appeals to accomplishment/expertise, and red herrings, all of which are logical fallacies.

I used Wikipedia as a SOURCE for my knowledge on the subject, to provide scholarly support to my statements. Unlike you, every word I say can be supported by scholarly facts. You, on the other hand, want to tell us about how much you traveled the world and how that makes you an expert. It doesn’t. We have no proof of your travels and you have no research or data to support any of your claims.

Again, if you have research from your travels that support any of your statements, the way I provided sources for mine, I welcome that. Otherwise, it’s just more literary flapping and flailing.

Your travels are irrelevant. Your “decades of experience talking to people” are irrelevant. It’s all anecdotal and there’s not any proof of a word you say. Facts matter. Not unproven claims. I am completely uninterested in your unproven, non-scholarly travels, your friends, or the various folks people you claim to have met along the way. None of that is a source, nor does it defend your completely non-factual statements.

You have not shared the opinion of the “general public”. You shared your own. You have no source, no data, no proof to back any of what you’ve said.

Your quote from Wikipedia was also cherry picking. The quote said “Jazz…has been recognized as a major form of musical expression in TRADITIONAL and popular music.” That is not the same as jazz is pop music. Isolating words and attempting to remove context does not work on those of us who read for comprehension.

I am interested in no further anecdotes, tall-tales, and claims of travels. You could’ve traveled to the Moon and to Mars, talked to princes and vagabonds, and even gone back in time and forward to the future…but if you didn’t come back with data to support your false claims, none of it matters.

Our conversation has ended.

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Originally Posted by Sidokar
That particular event is actually well known. It took place when Bach visited his son at the court of Postdam where he met Frederick II of Prussia. As you probably know Frederick II was fond of music and the son of JS Bach (CPE Bach) was at the time employed as Harpsichordist at the court with Quantz and other well known musicians.

Bach improvised a 3 voices fugue on a theme given by FII. He then was challenged to improvise a 6 voices fugue but he said that the theme created by FII would not support such a development and created his own theme and improvised on that. Not fully satisfied with his work he said he would send a more complete work to FII later on. Which he did and this is the Fugue a 6 in the musical offering which was published in September 1747. The session with FII was public and took place in presence of his musicians. FII had at the time acquired Silbermann new pianos and Bach visit was an opportunity to test them. Bach already had a reputation of great keyboardist and improviser at the time. There are several newspaper article in Berlin that state that. We have a number of documented testimony that Bach was considered a great keybordist and as such invited to test out new organs for example.

You can read the account of that meeting in Forkel bio, also reported by C. Wolff in his bio on Bach, Charles Rosen, ...... The report of the visit with details is also available in a newspaper, the Berliner Nachrichten on May 11 1747, with also prints in other newspapers like in Leipzig.

It is of no doubt that at the time improvisation was a key skill and that most musicians like Haendel were very good at. So when Bach is said to be a great improviser, it is based on a certain level of expectations at the time.

Now, of course none of that says exactly how good he was per modern standards. But the usual education of musicians included improvisation as a topic which people were trained at. We have testimony about that on Bach early education (see Wolff, the learned musician) but also all baroque musicians were trained very early to improvise, create accompaniement out of a bass line, ....

Was Bach as good a keyboardist as modern pianists, very likely not. But then as good as Liszt was, our modern pianists are better. Just like young virtuoso of 18 years old now have a better technique than Hofman.

Thank for providing details.

That said, we are still unable to use these statements to support your claim that “Bach was probably the greatest improviser of all time.”

Again, improvising a 3-voice fugue does not automatically translate to the greatest example of improvising ever. I ask the same questions I asked earlier. Who determines whether the theme was intricate or not? Is that theme more intricate than anything in jazz? If it’s the theme shared in the video you posted, it isn’t. Again, we have no actual recordings of what Bach played, nor we even have notated sheet music of the claimed improvised fugue, whereby we can determine whether the fugue was some masterpiece of improvisation or merely just an elementary exercise in fugue based on a theme from a friend to entertain the people in the room? Were the people in the room accomplished musicians who could determine whether the fugue was great improvisation or not? Who suggested or determined that improvising a fugue is the peak demonstration of improvisational skill? Is a fugue the absolute peak of piano writing or was it *a* style of the time that is no more complex or complicated than other styles of keyboard writing that developed thereafter? How can we know whether the improvised fugue sounded good or whether it was just a bunch of running/rambling voices with elements of the theme? How long was his improvisation? Several minutes or thirty seconds? How much of the theme was actually used?

These questions remain unanswered. And the reenacted movie scene doesn’t answer them, either.

What you shared also begs more questions. Was the “standard of improvisation” better then than it is now. How do we determine that? What musicological or scholarly majority consensus supports that statement.

Could Bach do what a jazz pianist does?

Originally Posted by Sidokar
I think it makes little sense to argue about whether a jazz player can improvise like Bach. Bach lived in a completely different environment with different expectations. Those sort of comparisons are senseless.

Agreed. And it makes little sense to debate where Bach could improvise a jazz player. They live in different times with different expectations. Which is why I thought it was odd to mention Bach as the greatest improviser of all time as a means to minimize claims about jazz pianists.

Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Most jazz improvisation is playing over the chords, not improvising new harmony, and I've never heard a jazz musician improvise anything contrapuntal, but maybe some have. Only twice have I seen a live performance where a player asked the audience for a theme-- one was a jazz/pop pianist who did a nice job of harmonizing and varying the melody to create a basic pop tune, and the other was a classical organist who has won improvisation competitions. His improv was more intricate, but spent too much time vamping on chords to rival the descriptions of improvisations by great organists of the Baroque era.

Not true.

Jazz improvisers not only improvise melody, but also improvise chords as they go along. This is one of the common practices of advanced jazz playing. Scholarly research on jazz improvisation supports it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_improvisation

“Jazz improvisation is distinguished from this approach by chordal complexity, often with one or more chord changes per bar, altered chords, extended chords, tritone substitution, unusual chords (e.g., augmented chords), and extensive use of ii–V–I progression, all of which typically move through multiple keys within a single song. However, since the release of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, jazz improvisation has come to include modal harmony and improvisation over static key centers, while the emergence of free jazz has led to a variety of types of improvisation, such as "free blowing", in which soloists improvise freely and ignore the chord changes.”

Nina Simone often used contrapuntal improvisation during her performances. In twenty seconds, off the to of my head, I was able to find a video of her making use of counterpoint to improvise during a live performance:


So just because one hasn’t heard a thing doesn’t mean the thing doesn’t exist. Moreover, counterpoint is not the standard by which all music should be judged.

That you’ve only seen a jazz pianist call for a theme twice doesn’t mean that it’s not something that happens regularly. That’s an anecdotal statement, not a statement of fact. The same can be said of your witnessing of a jazz pianist improv-ing via only vamping on chords. That doesn’t mean that’s the standard, nor that an advanced jazz pianist would be unable to rival the “descriptions of improvisations by great organists of the Baroque era”.

And if we want to use descriptions as the standard by which to judge, we can find gushing descriptions of jazz pianists that sound just as grand as the “descriptions of improvisations” from the Baroque era. A description of Art Tatum from Brittanica Encyclopedia reads as follows:

“In his improvisations Tatum was given to spontaneously inserting entirely new chord progressions (sometimes with a new chord on each beat) into the small space of one or two measures. His reharmonization of pop tunes became a standard practice among modern jazz musicians, horn players as well as pianists. In rhythmically unpredictable spurts, he often generated lines with notes cascading across each other while weaving in and out of tempo.” -Source

That description not only contradicts your statement that jazz pianists only improvise over the chords and don’t improvise new harmony, but it’s also a gushing testament to Tatum’s ability.

Another description reads just like the descriptions we hear of Baroque organists & keyboardists: “Art Tatum is known to the world of jazz piano as the supreme master of the keyboard, the pianist whose virtuosity baffled classical and jazz musicians alike. Nearly blind and mostly self-taught, Tatum played with the speed of light, adding complex chordal combinations to a swing that was exceptionally powerful, even without the support of a rhythm section.” Source

Another jazz pianist compared him to a deity: “The great stride pianist Fats Waller famously announced one night when Tatum walked into the club where Waller was playing, ‘I only play the piano, but tonight God is in the house.’” - Source

So, do descriptions only matter when they’re regarding Baroque keyboardists, or for all. Because if that’s the case, Baroque keyboardists aren’t the only ones with gushing descriptions.

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Well, then, that was surely an interesting argument to read...

Anyways, back to the point. I'm very disappointed Guiomar Novaes didn't make this list, but it also isn't surprising. I would have tied her with Horowitz: they're equals in my eyes.


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I believe certain composers and their pieces in the less-played repertoire ought to be re-examined.
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I hate to tell you this, but Nina Simone thought La Boheme was written by Wagner...

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Originally Posted by Taushi
Jazz improvisers not only improvise melody, but also improvise chords as they go along. This is one of the common practices of advanced jazz playing.
I said most jazz pianists just improvise a melody over chords. Have you ever seen a Fake Book or the Real Book with Tab sheets? Lots of jazz pianists do not improvise much harmony. I've heard too many of them perform. I don't think it would be productive to speculate on percentages.

Originally Posted by Taushi
Scholarly research on jazz improvisation supports it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_improvisation
I'm not taking a position on what is in the wiki, but wikipedia is not an accepted source for scholarly research.

I would add that the evidence that Chopin composed improvisationally is that he found it a burden to prepare scores for finished or nearly finished works, and only or primarily did so to publish them.

Originally Posted by Taushi
Who determines whether the theme was intricate or not? Is that theme more intricate than anything in jazz? If it’s the theme shared in the video you posted, it isn’t.
It is an intricate theme for which to improvise a fugue because of its length. Try improvising a 3-part fugue on it and report back. Try improvising a 3-part fugue period. It is much more difficult to do than to improvise jazz.

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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Originally Posted by Taushi
Jazz improvisers not only improvise melody, but also improvise chords as they go along. This is one of the common practices of advanced jazz playing.
I said most jazz pianists just improvise a melody over chords. Have you ever seen a Fake Book or the Real Book with Tab sheets? Lots of jazz pianists do not improvise much harmony. I've heard too many of them perform. I don't think it would be productive to speculate on percentages.

I'm not taking a position on what is in the wiki, but wikipedia is not an accepted source for scholarly research.

I would add that the evidence that Chopin composed improvisationally is that he found it a burden to prepare scores for finished or nearly finished works, and only or primarily did so to publish them.

It is an intricate theme for which to improvise a fugue because of its length. Try improvising a 3-part fugue on it and report back. Try improvising a 3-part fugue period. It is much more difficult to do than to improvise jazz.

- You can’t even say *most* jazz pianists. Again, you have no data to support that claim. And the actual data contradicts your claim. By what source, data, or information can you say “most jazz pianists just improvise over chords”? What supports that? Your own anecdotal experience is not proof. That’s just your experiences, and your lack of experience with something doesn’t imply that the thing doesn’t exist. It just implies that you have not experienced it. Moreover, if you don’t think it would be productive to speculate on percentages, than it’s also not productive to say “most”, because most implies over 50%.

- Wikipedia serves a starting point for scholarly research, which is one of the reasons I select it when going through general information. It’s an easy all-in-one collection of data. The articles are generally peer-reviewed for accuracy, and links to every statement made it required. Using the numbers following every major claim, you’ll be linked to the scholarly data which supports it. So while Wikipedia itself is more a repository than the research itself, it leads to the research. Were I writing a paper, article, or research document, I would not use it. If I’m having an informal discussion online, Wikipedia is a great jumping-off space for research.

- Evidence of Chopin improvising while composing is NOT evidence that he was a better improviser than a jazz musician or vice versa. It’s just evidence of how he composed, which, quite frankly, isn’t that different from how much composers performance. Nor does it in any way support your statement that Bach was the greatest improviser of all time.

- Again, do we have any real evidence of the length or intricacy of the theme that was supplied to Bach? You’ve presented a story of it, a movie/video reenactment of it, and claims that the theme may have ultimately led to another published piece, but we have no means by which to assess the length or intricacy of the theme as it was presented to Bach. Moreover, the theme as it appears in The Musical Offering is not exactly what was presented to him. The collection is inscribed: “Regis Iussu Cantio Et Reliqua Canonica Arte Resoluta" or theme from the king, with additions, and resolved in canon style. So how much of the theme as used in The Musical Offering was actually supplied to Bach, and how much were his additions and the canonic resolution that he later added?

- Can Bach improvise in the style of Tatum, or any of the other jazz masters who turned the heads of their classical counterparts? A fugue is not the be-all-end-all of composition or piano playing. It’s literally just three voices, and any musician worth anything whose been trained counterpoint, can improvise a fugue, especially when the standard is just to play a few seconds of something for people in a room. And Bach’s ability to do what he was always does, e.g. create fugues, still does not support a claim that he may have been the greatest improviser of all time. There’s others styles and skills as equally as complex. Your bias in assuming that a three part fugue is supreme to anything else impacts your perception.

- How do we know whether Bach’s improvisation was anything superb? Again, it may have just been three rambling voices with some similarity to theme. Ultimately, what became The Musical Offering was after Bach went back home, worked with the theme for several months, then composed a collection. That is, still, no indication of what he may have done originally.

- Shifitng the burden of proof of your claims to me by asking me to improvise a 3-part fugue is not proof of your claim, nor does it answer any of the questions I asked. One could ask you to improvise in the style of jazz, but what bearing would that have on this conversation.

Originally Posted by Auntie Lynn
I hate to tell you this, but Nina Simone thought La Boheme was written by Wagner...

- Do you have proof of this claim, or are we pulling more things out of a cloud to support an elitist stance?

- And even were it true, what would that have to do with her knowledge regarding Bach, her counterpoint improvisations, or the video supplied of her actually doing counterpoint improvisations in her music?

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Originally Posted by Taushi
So, again, when called upon to provide facts, you fail to do it. You, once more, resort to ad hominems, appeals to accomplishment/expertise, and red herrings, all of which are logical fallacies.

I used Wikipedia as a SOURCE for my knowledge on the subject, to provide scholarly support to my statements. Unlike you, every word I say can be supported by scholarly facts. You, on the other hand, want to tell us about how much you traveled the world and how that makes you an expert. It doesn’t. We have no proof of your travels and you have no research or data to support any of your claims.
Tell you what Taushi, as we're all friends here, and you really do need some fresh air away from your own bubble - why don't you come and visit me (I'll provide the accommodation), and I'll show you my photos and videos of my travels. Everywhere from Tibet to Tanzania, from Alaska to Cape Horn. Not only that, I'll take you around the country (a green & pleasant land, so the Tourist Board tells tourists cool) - anywhere you like (so you don't accuse me of 'selective bias' or whatever) and you can speak to everyone you meet. Everyone loves Americans, and they'll enjoy chatting to you. (I'll even translate for you in case you have difficulty with some of the regional accents. whistle)

The question is - do they love (or even care about) jazz? grin

You really do need to get away from so-called "facts" for "scholarly support" - which are rubbish and just confirmation bias - as provided by enthusiasts in wiki or whatever source you use on your screen. You don't seem to realize that everything you've been quoting is just someone's version, throwing in lots of unsupported biased statements which are nothing but opinions. You know, my job requires the input of real-life proper research based largely on randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind trials, and I myself am presently involved in one. One thing everyone knows is that if you want "evidence" to back up any crack-pot 'theory' (for example, the deniers of what's been happening in the past two years, or even what's been happening in the past few decades), you can easily find it with a click of a mouse. But is that real evidence? Think logically......(you did mention 'logical fallacies', didn't you?)

The truth is out there (as X-Files tell us smirk ): all you have to do is get out and look. Seek and ye shall find.........


Quote
Our conversation has ended.
It should have never started, but you evidently do enjoy starting arguments with everyone, so I had no choice....... ha


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Originally Posted by Taushi
Thank for providing details.

That said, we are still unable to use these statements to support your claim that “Bach was probably the greatest improviser of all time.”

Again, improvising a 3-voice fugue does not automatically translate to the greatest example of improvising ever. I ask the same questions I asked earlier. Who determines whether the theme was intricate or not? Is that theme more intricate than anything in jazz? If it’s the theme shared in the video you posted, it isn’t. Again, we have no actual recordings of what Bach played, nor we even have notated sheet music of the claimed improvised fugue, whereby we can determine whether the fugue was some masterpiece of improvisation or merely just an elementary exercise in fugue based on a theme from a friend to entertain the people in the room?

Your desire to make your point leads you to make some silly statements and questions which shows that you are unfamiliar with counterpoint composition, with the particular event described and the baroque improvisation practice. But most of all it gets into a discussion that has no point.

Maybe I was not very precise in my description. So I'll repeat. The theme which was chosen by the king itself is the same one that is in the ricercar a 3 of the musical offering. It is a very long theme of 8 bars. The length of the theme makes it a challenge to improvise a 3 part fugue but overall it is well suited. Still to improvise on the spot requires a lot of skills, which would be within Bach range as he was frequently improvising such pieces on the organ. You can try by yourself to see if thats easy or not.

The King then asked Bach to improvise a 6 voices fugue. That is extremely difficult to do with such a theme, probably nearly impossible to improvise on. Thats why Bach amended the theme to make it more suitable. However being a sincere craftsman and also for other reasons (irrelevant to this discussion) back home he actually put it back to work and wrote a full 6 voices ricercar on the original Royal theme. You can also listen to that on any YT video. That is a heck of a composition. Now there are plenty of musicians who have anayzed that theme. So its not like we are talking about some obscure composition.

Also, the theme is only a part of the equation. There are wonderful compositions which uses only a very basic theme like a descending tetrachord. Or a simple chromatic scale. It is how one develops the theme that is also important.

[quote=Taushi]

Were the people in the room accomplished musicians who could determine whether the fugue was great improvisation or not? Who suggested or determined that improvising a fugue is the peak demonstration of improvisational skill? Is a fugue the absolute peak of piano writing or was it *a* style of the time that is no more complex or complicated than other styles of keyboard writing that developed thereafter? How can we know whether the improvised fugue sounded good or whether it was just a bunch of running/rambling voices with elements of the theme? How long was his improvisation? Several minutes or thirty seconds? How much of the theme was actually used?

The fact that you ask the questions shows that you know little about the practice of the time. So yes the people in the room were amongst the best musicians at the time. The King was fond of playing music himself, had 15 keyboard instruments and was practising every day. His court employed the best musicians of the time, like CPE Bach himself, Quantz the best flutist around (in case you dont him, he is very famous) and several others of similar caliber.

Your detailled questions dont make any sense to start with. You are asking details which you know perfectly can not be answered but which are also irrelevant. Bottom line it boils down to a simple interrogation, which is legitimate, and that is since we dont have any recording, how do we know what was the quality of what Bach did. To judge of that we can study what baroque musicians used to do at the time with the various testimony and documents we do have. Many musicians/scholars have written on the subject.

All the reports of that event say that Bach performance was stunning. Did Bach improvised exactly what he then wrote on paper, probably not, but given that Bach is one of the greatest composer in our history, one can assume with little risk that it was of high quality. The quality of the music has to be judged in relation with the composition standards of the time. If people were composing tam tam music then one could wonder how complex an impro could have been. But living in a time were composers were Vivaldi, Haendel, Bach, Buxtehude before them, .... one can assume the standard was high. When evaluating these things you have to apply some common sense judgement. When one sees what a classically skilled musician today can improvise on a new theme, you can assume quite safely that Bach did was of pretty high quality. Can we prove it 100%, no; but there is enough evidence that we can be pretty certain of it.

Originally Posted by Taushi
Was the “standard of improvisation” better then than it is now. How do we determine that? What musicological or scholarly majority consensus supports that statement.

I dont know of any standard of improvisation. Today like yesterday musicians improvise over a skeleton that is already there most of the time. They use predefined patterns which they are familiar with. Improvising a fugue is very difficult because you cant get away with just some chords and a melody on top. You have to follow a structure, and use the same subject to combine in different voices while maintaining a harmony. There is a ton of musicological studies out there that you can consult.

Originally Posted by Taushi
Could Bach do what a jazz pianist does?

That question makes absolutely no sense. People develop abilities to play what they need to play. If writing and playing fugues was fashionable today, musicians would develop skills to do so, including impro. Bach was a "genius" (dont like that word too much) or lets say more skilled than others in that particular practice, so what he did was superior to what most people in his time could do.

This whole discussion to try to prove that jazz players are as good or not as good as past musicians is senseless. They just play different types of music, which they are good at. Musicians today are no less skilled nor intelligent than in the past and vice versa. They play the music that is fashionable.

If we are able to build skyscrappers of 600 meters or more, we could improvise a 6 voices fugue as well if we had to. We just dont compose that type of music anymore. Bach music is one of the most complex ever written (not necessarily a good thing in itself) in his particular style of composition and it is the culmination of several centuries of musical evolution. Our modern music is not trying to emulate that complexity and is built on other criteria.


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Originally Posted by Taushi
Thank for providing details.

That said, we are still unable to use these statements to support your claim that “Bach was probably the greatest improviser of all time.”

Again, improvising a 3-voice fugue does not automatically translate to the greatest example of improvising ever. I ask the same questions I asked earlier. Who determines whether the theme was intricate or not? Is that theme more intricate than anything in jazz?

Your desire to make your point leads you to make some silly statements and questions which shows that you are unfamiliar with counterpoint composition, with the particular event described and the baroque improvisation practice. But most of all it gets into a discussion that has no point.

Maybe I was not very precise in my description. So I'll repeat. The theme which was chosen by the king itself is the same one that is in the ricercar a 3 of the musical offering. It is a very long theme of 8 bars. The length of the theme makes it a challenge to improvise a 3 part fugue but overall it is well suited. Still to improvise on the spot requires a lot of skills, which would be within Bach range as he was frequently improvising such pieces on the organ. You can try by yourself to see if thats easy or not.

The King then asked Bach to improvise a 6 voices fugue. That is extremely difficult to do with such a theme, probably nearly impossible to improvise on. Thats why Bach amended the theme to make it more suitable. However being a sincere craftsman and also for other reasons (irrelevant to this discussion) back home he actually put it back to work and wrote a full 6 voices ricercar on the original Royal theme. You can also listen to that on any YT video. That is a heck of a composition. Now there are plenty of musicians who have anayzed that theme. So its not like we are talking about some obscure composition.

Also, the theme is only a part of the equation. There are wonderful compositions which uses only a very basic theme like a descending tetrachord. Or a simple chromatic scale. It is how one develops the theme that is also important.


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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Originally Posted by Taushi
Jazz improvisers not only improvise melody, but also improvise chords as they go along. This is one of the common practices of advanced jazz playing.
I said most jazz pianists just improvise a melody over chords. Have you ever seen a Fake Book or the Real Book with Tab sheets? Lots of jazz pianists do not improvise much harmony. I've heard too many of them perform. I don't think it would be productive to speculate on percentages.
Good jazz pianists are going so far beyond a fake book that that idea becomes irrelevant. Just compare the fakebook harmonies to what a good jazz pianist does and this becomes obvious.

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