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as improvisations?

Most of the great composers for piano were very good or even fantastic pianists and many of the were also great improvisers. Do you think(or know) that many of the greatest compositions were based mostly on improvisations while the composer was at the keyboard? I don't mean that, for example, Chopin improvised his Ballade No.1 in its final form one day, but more like much of it was at least based on his improvisations while at the piano. I haven't read or heard much about the compositional methods of most composers.

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I think that certainly certain pieces are coming out of previous improvisation sessions, but i dont think it is the case in general. First a great composer does not need to be at his keyboard to think of a theme or a section of music. The composition process is a complex one and it varies a lot by person. Certain composer like certain writers have a lot of difficulty to write music. It comes slowly with a lot of effort, trials and changes. Others are lucky to be able to write easily. It also depends on the complexity of the piece. Many forms in classical music are fairly elaborate and require some thinking. Impro sessions can certainly provide some ideas, musical themes or motives even some sections, but putting together a complex piece implies some homework to create something consistent.

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I agree that it wasn't typically or often so.

But certain pieces, quite maybe. smile

The first section of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy is sometimes said to be 'like' a written-out improvisation, and I think it could be more than just "like" one. It could literally be one, albeit probably then with some touch-ups.

I think Mozart's pieces that he called "Fantasia" (there are at least 3 famous ones) could well be mostly or entirely improvisations. I'd guess that there's some scholarship-type answer about that, which I just don't know about.
Maybe some of y'all do.....

And, a goodly portion of stuff by Schumann feels like it could have represented improvisation, although more likely it was just sort of a stream-of-consciousness approach in composing.

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According to Robert Estrin, Classical pieces started off as Lead Sheets. After the scores came out, people decided to follow the score as the "intentions" of the great composers.


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I believe so, and I believe that many more pieces started out as improvisations than people would believe.

After all, Beethoven himself said: "One can not be considered to be a good pianist, if one's extemporizations (aka improvisations) could not pass for written compositions."

I'm not saying that the resulting "improvised compositions" weren't tweaked - of course they must have been, to at least some degree. And the creation process of some other pieces may have been far more laborious and non-improvisatory. But improvisation, composition and theory were taught to children as soon as they began to study their instrument, and improvising a rondo or a simple sonata, must have been as natural to them as speaking (since speaking is, after all, improvising on words.)

I firmly believe - without no audible evidence, yes - that the improvisations of the likes of Beethoven, Liszt and Chopin were FAR beyond in scope and structural integrity from those of, say, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson, Cecil Taylor or any other great improvisers that we have recordings of. Their musical upbringing was different, the way people thought about improvisation was different.

How I wish I could hear the way Liszt improvised...

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Most Baroque composers were very good improvisers, with J.S. Bach being one of, if not the greatest improviser of all time. I think Handel and Telemann were less likely to compose improvisationally. Handel once said that Telemann could sit down at a desk and write out a high quality, original 8-part motet as one would write a letter.

I don't think Haydn composed improvisationally. Schumann may have been a good improviser before his hand injury, but probably was not after that. Brahms generally did not compose improvisationally. I think Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, and Mendelssohn were all great improvisers, but not sure about Schubert.

Renaissance and Baroque organ music was often scored in tablature form, sometimes leaving the harmony and counterpoint to be improvised. Figured bass notation has the melody, bass, and a numeric representation of the harmony, leaving the realization to improvisation. This is still used for continuo playing in Baroque ensembles today.


Play classical repertoire from score. Improvise blues.
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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Most Baroque composers were very good improvisers, with J.S. Bach being one of, if not the greatest improviser of all time....

The great cadenza of the 5th Brandenburg Concerto might be a great example.
To me it is one of the most exhilarating moments in all of art.

It starts at 7:04, but best to begin at least a little before....


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Beethoven was a great improviser, yet his compositions seem to all be arhictected toward a certain vision. IIRC Chopin, would have a moment of inspiration while away from the piano, work on a first draft, and then agonize over details for months while eventually returning relatively closely to an early draft.

I feel that (based on not much information whatsoever):
1. Chopin's compositions are too elegant to be based in improv, though he was known to be a great improviser
2. Beethoven's are too focused on his vision of what the structure should be and sometimes doesn't let them wander based on a melody as much as he should, which to me means that he came up with a vision first, then fit the music to the vision - if he had something laying around that would hew to it, he would use it, but he didn't start with a motif and then compose a sonata based on it
3. Mozart's style seems to lend itself more closely to improv, he seems to toy with small themes a lot more in his sonatas, you can see how they could grow out of him playing at the keyboard

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I suspect that consistent, focused improvisation was central to Chopin's working method.

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I know the Fantaisie Impromptu was mostly based on an improvisation, but otoh it isn't Chopin's deepest work.


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