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Concepts of improvisation and their impact on early 20th century art music

Applicant Schmidt Matthias
Number 152927
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Musikwissenschaftliches Seminar Universität Basel
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline Musicology
Start/End 01.04.2014 - 31.03.2017
Approved amount 220'813.00
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All Disciplines (3)

Discipline
Musicology
Music, Theatre
Educational science and Pedagogy

Keywords (7)

improvisation; modernism; art music; musicology; interdisciplinary; avant-garde; music performance

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
In Disziplinen wie den Kunst- oder Literaturwissenschaften sind Überlegungen zur Rolle und Bedeutung der Improvisation in der Moderne (des frühen 20. Jahrhunderts) bereits weit fortgeschritten. Innerhalb der Musikwissenschaft hingegen ist dieser Zeitabschnitt noch das fehlende Stück eines Puzzles, das nötig ist, um den Einfluss von Improvisationstechniken auf die Kunstmusik vom 19. Jahrhundert bis zur heutigen Zeit verstehbar zu machen.
Lay summary

Inhalt und Ziel des Forschungsprojekts

Wie und warum Improvisationskonzepte die Kunstmusik des frühen 20. Jhds beeinflussten, soll durch eine Untersuchung spezifischer Beispiele: von Manuel de Fallas Siete Canciones Espanolas (1914-15) über Erwin Schulhoffs Fünf Pittoresken (1919) und Jazzimprovisationen (1933), Henry Cowells Sonate Progressive (1913) und Mosaic Quartet (1935) bis zu Darius Milhauds La Création du Monde (1922-23), gezeigt werden.

Mit dem Projekt soll auch die aktuelle Forschungsansicht in Frage gestellt werden, dass Improvisation in der Kunstmusik entweder gar nicht vorhanden oder bestenfalls eine rein akademische Übung war. Stattdessen soll bewiesen werden, dass der Dialog zwischen Improvisation und Kunstmusik ein wichtiger Inspirationsfaktor für die Musikpraxis blieb. Außerdem soll gezeigt werden, dass die Beschäftigung mit Improvisation – ein Sammelbegriff, der die nicht-westlichen Kulturen, populäre Musik und den frühen Jazz kennzeichnete - auch durch die sozialen und geschichtlichen Veränderungen der Epoche ausgelöst wurde. Diese Veränderungen spielten darüberhinaus eine nicht unwesentliche Rolle bei der Formulierung von Schlüsselideen der Moderne und der Avantgarde-Kunst der ersten Hälfe des 20. Jhds.

Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext

Durch eine Zusammenstellung und Ausweitung bereits bestehender Forschungsarbeiten sowie durch eine kritische Analyse geschichtlicher Quellen soll einem besseren Verständnis der gegenseitigen Beeinflussung zwischen Improvisationskonzepten und Kunstmusik der Epoche zu gelangen. Außerdem versucht das Projekt zu zeigen, wie Aspekte einer möglichen Improvisationstheorie für die Kunstmusik der ersten Hälfe des 20. Jhds in der heutigen Zeit Aufführungen des damaligen Repertoires beeinflussen könnten.

 

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 09.04.2014

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Authenticity versus Improvisation in the Philosophy of Music? Talk given at a conference Concepts of Improvisation and Authenticity in Western Art Music Contexts of the First Half of the 20th Century 19.05.2017 The Institute of Philosophy of University of Bern, Switzerland Wilson Andrew;
Science Congress We Scientists Shape Science Talk given at a conference Generating Difference by Observing Blind Spots 26.01.2017 Akademie der Naturwissenschaften SCNAT Bern, Switzerland Wilson Andrew;
Concepts of Improvisation Between the Two World Wars: Performativity, Staged Presence and Participation in Music Talk given at a conference Spot the Difference! Darius Milhaud’s Cocktail aux Clarinettes (1920) and Otto Luening’s Trio for Flute, Violin, and Soprano (1923/24) 30.09.2016 University of Basel, Switzerland Wilson Andrew;
HapMac Talk given at a conference Second-order observation and Luening's aleatory music of 1923 13.07.2016 University of Nottingham, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Wilson Andrew;
International Society for Improvised Music, Summer 2015 Event Talk given at a conference Milhaud, Wolpe, and Cowell: Avant-Garde Improvisations in the First Half of the Twentieth Century 09.07.2016 Chateau d’Oex, Switzerland Wilson Andrew;
Political Music, or Vernacular Avant-garde? Hanns Eisler and his Contemporaries Talk given at a conference Neue Sachlichkeit and Schulhoff's Improvisations 19.09.2015 University of Copenhagen and The Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark Wilson Andrew;
City of Light: Paris 1900-1950 International Conference Talk given at a conference Staged Improvisations in Milhaud’s Music of the Early 1920s 27.05.2015 Institut français du Royaume-Uni, London, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Wilson Andrew;
vs. Interpretation Festival Talk given at a conference Musical Prose, Dada, and Jazz: A Case Study of Erwin Schulhoff's Improvisationspraxis 15.07.2014 Prague, Czech Republic Wilson Andrew;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Open, closed, and other forms in music of the 1920s 01.12.2015 Hochschule für Musik Basel, FHNW, Switzerland
Performing Schulhoff’s musical prose” 01.04.2014 Hochschule für Musik Basel, FHNW, Switzerland

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Interpretationsforum der Hochschule für Musik Talk 27.10.2015 Musik-Akademie Basel, Switzerland
Mitgliederversammlung der Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft (FAG Poster 22.11.2014 Musikwissenschaftlichen Seminar der Universität Basel, Switzerland


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions Concepts of Improvisation between the two World Wars, Ein Konzert in Kooperation mit dem Musikwisse German-speaking Switzerland International Western Switzerland 2016

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
143686 Fokus Darmstadt: Fallbeispiele zur Aufführungspraxis der Neuen Musik 1946-1990 01.01.2013 Project funding (Div. I-III)
147024 Konzeptualisierung musikalischer Form: Untersuchungen zur Musiktheorie und Musikästhetik im deutschsprachigen Kulturraum 1850-1950 01.08.2013 Project funding (Div. I-III)
122582 Öffentlichkeit und Diskurs: Die Donaueschinger Musiktage 1921-1926 01.10.2008 Project funding (Div. I-III)
168887 Concepts of Improvisation Between the Two World Wars. Performativity, Staged Presence and Participation in Music 01.09.2016 Scientific Conferences
137812 Igor Strawinskys Ballettwerk: Entstehung und Konzeption als interdisziplinäres Projekt 01.02.2013 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

Although the first decades of the 20th century have often been described in musicological research as a period in which improvisation (i.e. extemporization; Phantasieren; free cadenzas; etc.) in art music had all but disappeared, numerous accounts of improvised performances by famous artists still abound, a skill which continued to be taught in many music schools and Conservatoires. Furthermore, early 20th century modernism (e.g. Primitivism, Futurism, Dada art, Surrealism) contributed to the development of concepts such as spontaneous (or automatic) creation, chance elements, or “noise” and experimental music, concepts which in turn heralded the “modern” idea of music as an aural, visual, and physical performance. The period also witnessed a growing interest for the authentic in art and composers were particularly attracted to popular as well as to Afro-American or other non-Western music and cultures. These notions (i.e. spontaneous creation, experimental music, etc.) and non-Western musical genres, which inherently include concepts of improvisation, interacted with “serious music” and were integrated, either as improvised effects or more explicit concepts of improvisation, into various written compositions of early 20th century art music. Finally, the above mentioned elements equally relate to our modern understanding of the term improvisation, an umbrella term for a variety of ideas, which arguably has contributed to the development of some of the most important innovations of post WWII art music, such as indeterminacy, aleatoricism, open forms, or experimental music.While some contemporary musicologists have commented upon the improvisatory quality or characteristics of various avant-garde compositions of the first half of the 20th century, an important discrepancy remains between this minority opinion and the mainstream discourse. The project’s aim is to investigate the above mentioned discrepancy using specific examples, representative of some of the most important concepts of improvisation of the period, from the works of Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), Henry Cowell (1897-1965), Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), and Darius Milhaud (1892-1974). By regrouping and extending the existing research on the subject, critically analysing the historical sources (documents, partitions, transcriptions, and recordings), this study should contribute to a better understanding of the interaction between concepts of improvisation and their relationship to art music from the end of the 19th century to the 1930s. It also aims to determine how aspects of a possible theory of improvisation for art music of the first half of the 20th might influence present day music performance of the period’s repertoire. The project is a collaboration between the University of Basel and the Hochschule für Musik Basel, which emphasizes research in 20th-21st century avant-garde music. Moreover, it will benefit directly from the numerous key research programmes focusing on early 20th century music of the Musikwissenschaftliches Seminar der Universität Basel. The final documents should serve as an initial step towards filling the existing gap in musicology and provide an in-depth study of the interplay between concepts of improvisation and art music of the first half of the 20th century.
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