Polifonia project

Reconstructing Nineteenth Century Improvisational Practice at the Piano

Bobby Mitchell (Principal Investigator), Frans de Ruiter (supervisor), Rudolf Lutz (supervisor)
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About this project

Accomplished 19th-century keyboardists included improvisation in their daily musical practice. What traces might be left of how they improvised? Contemporary treatises on improvisation are insufficient to reconstruct the improvisational practice of the era. Thorough-bass treatises represent another point of insight into the theory behind 19thcentury improvisation. Compositional sketch material might reflect both thorough-bass method and improvisational practice. Tracing both improvisation and thorough-bass practice in compositional sketches, I expect to arrive at a clearer picture of the practice of improvisation in the musical life of 19th-century pianist-composers. The piano music of Robert Schumann makes an excellent case study due to his documented interest in improvisation and to the quantity of readily available sketch material. My role as experimental archaeological musician will be to apply the insights gained from this study to my own piano improvisations in order to reconstruct and revive the practice of improvisation in 19th-century style.
field of studyMusic: Piano