Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation

Dana Gooley

in Rethinking Schumann

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780195393859
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894406 | DOI:
Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation

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This chapter examines Schumann's improvisations in the years 1827–31. Diaries and contemporary accounts can help reconstruct his improvisational practices and set them in the context of the virtuoso‐composer tradition of Czerny, Moscheles, Hummel, and others. The chapter examines traces of improvisational practice in Schumann's early piano compositions, with a particular focus on the finale of the “Abegg” variations, which bears several marks of “postclassical” improvisation, such as the recurrent dominant pedal tone, multiple iterations of a simple chord progression, and a lack of melodic or motivic content in favor of figuration. The chapter further considers how Schumann's attitude toward improvisation, which became increasingly negative or restrictive over time, was shaped by the social values of the German educated bourgeoisie. Hans Christian Andersen's novel The Improviser, published in 1835, provides a contemporary lens for interpreting these cultural values.

Keywords: improvisation; Hans Christian Andersen; stile brillante; Bürgertum

Chapter.  9021 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Musicology and Music History

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