Where to, Devil's Fiddler?
The impact of the artistic project findings on the curriculm development in performance studies in Vienna


From March 2010 – March 2012 the artistic reseach projekt Quo vadis, Devil's Fiddler? has been conducting intensive research with instrumental performance students at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. The modern, highly trained classical musician, is today confronted with new challenges as a result of drastic changes in the current musical landscape. The artistic methodology in this arts-based research-project was the practice of free improvisation. Basic research was needed at the meeting point of "classical musician" and "free improvisation". For two years we created and examined an experimental musical skill laboratory where musicians' individual power of expression was augmented through free improvisation and accompanied by a resource-oriented process of reflection through coaching sessions and interviews. The project explored the extent to which this sort of operational and reflective freedom can support classical musicians in their attempt to integrate their own professional development as creative artists in the present musical landscape.

The overall aim of the project was to integrate our research findings into the field of the professional musician and his education. Today, three years after finishing the project, this process is fully running: Improvisation is about to become an obligatory subject in the new curriculum for the studies of instrumental performance. New subjects on diverse career matters for professional musicians will be added to the curriculum as well. The project contributed to the increased awareness of the educational insitution for the challenges of being a musician today.

Proceedings text

For two years, from 2010 til 2012, the artistic research project Quo vadis, Devil's Fiddler? has been conducting research with instrumental performance students at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna (MDW). The modern, highly trained classical musician, is today confronted with new challenges as a result of drastic changes in the current musical landscape (i.g. influence of media, fast changes in the distribution of music, almost no long-term jobs, patchwork career, new audiences, global competition, increasing number of graduates in Music, disappearance of Music (and general Arts subjects) from regular school schedule etc.)

The artistic methodology in our arts-based research-project was the practice of free improvisation. We saw a need for basic research at the meeting point of „classical musician“ and „free improvisation“, and with Quo vadis, Devil's Fiddler? we went about exploring this unresearched terrain. For two years we created and researched an experimental musical skill laboratory – a space where musicians' individual power of expression was augmented through free improvisation.

Our research in this artistically free field of action was accompanied and deepened by a resource-oriented process of reflection in which we focused on the verbal uniqueness of our participants (mostly instrumental students of the Music University in Vienna MDW) with individual idiolectic coaching sessions and interviews.

The project explored the extent to which this sort of freedom in „action and reflection“ can support classical musicians to integrate their own professional development as creative artists in the present musical landscape.

In January 2012 we concluded the project with an international arts-based research symposium, which we staged as an “Arts and Sciences in Action”-happening: for two days, our methods were made real: in “PlaySpaces” and “ThinkSpaces”, in evening-long "Improvisation in Action" concerts, in the final, participatory performance of the project's results and in the international "future panel" on the curricular and cultural consequences of the project. In those two days we re-lived the project, the participant became part of the process: They could not only see or hear what it was about – they could feel it and share the experience.


We offered 250 improvisation sessions: 150 solo & small group individual improvisation sessions led by Maria Gstättner plus 100 ensemble improvisation sessions led by Maria Gstätnner and Reinhard Gagel. Besides the improvisation sessions and „classes“, we had public concerts and performances at different venues in Vienna. Magdalena Bork conducted 60 in-depths-interviews.

About 140 Participants took part in the project:

• 70 students (all levels) and 5 teachers / University of Music, Vienna:13 students of the university took part for almost the entire running of the project
• 7 musicians (freelance and orchestra) from outside the university
• 60 students (mostly international) in workshops outside of Vienna (Bregenz, Graz, Cologne, The Hague)


What we offered within the project was an alternative, open teaching and learning environment based on experiment and exploration – and that created a complementary model to the traditional learning structure: the Master-Student system, so called Meisterlehre.

We started with improvisation on the instruments but already after one semester it became obvious that the students in general need more encounters with Art. They were often lacking Inspiration – feeling “caught” in their repertoire world, where there always seem to be more then enough meterial to be perfected in a countless hours of practising.

So we decided to include Interdisciplinarity

In general, we can state that Improvisation made our participants more flexible in different areas of their musical, professional and personal development. One example was the effect on the phenomenon of pressure and stage fright – Improvisation allowed a recontextualization of the concept of "mistakes". The idea that a mistake can be an impulse for something new and original relativized a major source of pressure for many musicians: their striving for perfection. Our students realized that perfection could also be defined in terms of authenticity, uniqueness, and integration with oneself; this shift in attitude was a major factor in the removal of stress.

As concerning our Research Results two seem most important to us and to this Symposium here in Ghent:

• It is the observation what free, non-idiomatic Improvisation can achieve for classically trained musicians

• And it is the observation, that the development of musicians need more individual, sensitive support and attendance (additionally to the highly qualitative training in instrumental and artistic skills).

Voices & Retrospective View of project participants

As concerning the impact of our project – the motto of this seminar in Ghent – we asked three of our “project-alumni” how they feel about the Project QvT today? What would they name as influential on their lives? Here we quote those original voices of the musicians:

A 27year old Trumpet player said:  ‘For me it was breaking out of the routine (…). I just needed to be able to do what I wanted. To have the freedom to be creative. A space where I could just stop and think, just create something of my own.

When Anna (* Name changed) came to QvT, she was 24 years old and just about to become a school teacher in music in Germany. She came for an Erasmus stay to Vienna with the aim to do something for herself, before starting her professional work at school.
Today she focusses fully on her trumpet studies, she plays in many different ensembles and orchestras, and she established a few different innovative ensembles herself, with unusual mixture of instruments. With those ensembles she also experiments with New Audiences.

Another clarinet-player, Maja (*Name changed), said: `And I always think back to the things I did in your class. Even the fact that instruments don’t have to be played the way they were always played. Just what I said: It broadens your horizon. That you can just play the instrument from the other end. That you can just take off the mouthpiece and use it like a trumpet. Just the billions of ways you can play it. (...) I always thought to myself: If I had started doing this a bit earlier, maybe I’d have followed through and would have continued to be a professional clarinet player for the rest of my life. Would have done a lot of chamber music or modern music or something along those lines… just some cool projects.`

She joined our project at the end of her studies and what it helped her mostly for, was, to find her joy in playing again – just playing the clarinet “because I love it”. She has found out in that time, that the goal to become an orchestra position is not right for her. For her final diploma she chose the program herself (that was not usual in her class) and included bass-clarinet and improvisation in her recital. Today Hannah works full time as a translator – she has been studying clarinet and translation at the same time. For the moment, she states, she is happy about her choice.

The last voice about our project is the voice of the Head of the University of Music in Vienna, Rector Werner Hasitschka – we asked him for a statement concerning our first arts-based-project of our University:

As understood by any university of music of the 21st century and put into practice at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna – musicians should be given the possibility to work with innovative artistic methods and see the changes in audiences through creating new situations for performances and communication.

In this context, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and its Programme for Arts-based Research (PEEK) played an important role in funding the project ‘Quo vadis, Teufelsgeiger?’ at our university.

By focusing on improvisation, it not only showed the classical musicians’ artistic potential but also the importance of free improvisation to help musicians reflect on their own biography and develop their own artistic personality.

The project has left its mark: not only when it comes to sensitizing people to the difficulties young musicians encounter in their development, but also by having spurred additional classes for the curriculum: in the field of artistic improvisation, as well as in career and development advice and coaching.

With this project, our university has entered new territory, especially in the field of ‘Research-in-the-Arts’. Through this project, we learned a lot about the specific nature of artistic findings, but at the same time it brought up new questions concerning the methodology and the degree to which such results can be generalized and communicated.


• Improvisation classes in the curriculum
• Individual reflections – classes in the curriculum
• Arts-based research discourse at the Music University
• Career center planned

New Curriculum



Our Rector mentioned the most visible impact in the form of new subjects in the new curriculum reform (it is just being decided upon and shall be implemented as soon as possible). The University of Music in Vienna is planning to offer improvisation classes for all instrumental students – different sorts of improvisation: ensemble and individual concepts, with non-idiomatic free improvisation as well as classes to get in touch with the art of inventing your own classical cadenzas, with the baroque style of improvisation, and some basic knowledge about jazz improvisation. The subject Asthetic of Improvisation might as well be part of the new curriculum.

The new curriculum shall also give students the possibility to reflect on one own`s artistic and individual development as a musician (so called: Persönlichkeits- und Karrieregespräche) and reflect on the „Questions to ask“:

• What kind of musician do I want to be?
• What music(s) do I wish to play?
• For whom and with whom do I want to play?
• What do I want to give & say to my audience?
• What is my artistic vision, what are my artistic goals?
• How can I live from that which I most love to do?
• How do I get to perform? How do I find my audience?

To put it short it is:

• Who am I as a musician?
• And how do I relate to the society?

Arts-based research discurse at the Music University

In the last few years the number of artistic project led by different departments of the University increased a lot. Interdisciplinary projects on the edge between arts and sciences such as the inner-universitary project initiated and funded by the rectorate Performing Translation show the whole range of possibilities to „cross the line“, or to „brake the pattern“ within our own institution. As mentioned in the statement of the rector: the discussion about the artistic methodology and the validation, generalisation and effects of artistic research findings are in progress – a topic, which QvT always has touched on.

Career Center

The plans for establishing a career center also were underpinned by our research findings. The career center shall be a competence center for all the matters concerning the transition from the study to the profession as a musician. It shall help our students to prepare for the adventure, challenge and joy of being a musician in the 21 century.

And all the I-Words – all the I-Phenomena –

which we followed with our presentation, are factors which help to build and realise the Self of the students:

her/his Self-concept
her Self-image
her Self-identity
her Self-responsibility
and her Self-worth.

To experience this was, what Quo vadis, Devil's Fiddler? was for.

in our offerings and involve the students in settings with other forms of art then music.



What we offered additionally were workshops and projects with Dance, Drama and Painting. We established a continuous class of Moving and Improvising (together with the Department of Music and Movement Education of our University) and few extra workshops with different international artists.


Maria Gstättner, composer, musician, artistic researcher, Dr. artium candidate at the University of the Arts in Graz (KUG), is a classically trained bassoonist who has amassed an impressive body of experience on the border between free improvisation, classical music and composition. Through her “Contemporary Musicians‘ Awareness” workshops with students at the University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna she has developed a model to help young working – often overworked – musicians find their way back to effortlessness and joy in music making. Gstättner has taken the results of the QvT project to date as motivation in her own research, composition and instrumental activities, championing a hybrid artistic appreciation. She brings an academic interest, reflected in her artistic doctorate at the University of the Arts in Graz Fagott Performanz – denn die Kunst ist eine Tochter der Freiheit (Bassoon-Performance – for art is a daughter of freedom). The work represents a cornerstone for gender and diversity research in the field of artistic research.


dr. Magdalena Bork, artistic/academic researcher at the University of Music and performing Arts Vienna (MDW), is a classical trained flautist who, since finishing her studies, has concentrated on academic discourse in current research in the field of professional musicians. Her dissertation on this subject, Traumberuf Musiker? (“Dream Job: Musician?”, published by Schott Music 2010) pointed to a high level of distress and pressure among active classical musicians due to a discrepancy between expectations and skills taught in traditional classical music education on the one hand and the real demands made by a changing cultural landscape on a working musician on the other. Magdalena Bork conceived and initiated the project “Quo vadis, Teufelsgeiger (Devil’s Fiddler)?” to which she served as academic associate. She teaches qualitative methodology and interview techniques at the University of Music in Vienna. Bork’s newest research project „Young Masters Research“ focuses on the development of exceptionally talented children and youngsters in music.


dr. Bork Magdalena (University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna) & Gstättner Maria (University of Music and Performing Arts Graz)