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  • Improvisation

    Another thread had a side discussion about improvisation, which seemed to generate a bit of interest. For that reason, I though it might be a useful topic in its own right. To kick things off, I thought I would share some comments from an article in the November 2008 issue of the Diapason about Henri Mulet. There is a link below to the entire article for those who may want to read all of it.

    Mulet studied improvisation with Guilmant and was reputed to be a master at it. He is said to have improvised in the manner of César Franck. He never wrote down his improvisations. His wife Isabelle once said of her husband, “ if he had written down all of the improvisations that he played on different occasions, he would have been renowned.”

    When his assistant Henri Heurtel once asked Mulet how one learned to improvise. Mulet replied, “one has to be born with the gift of improvisation which cannot be learned under any circumstances.”

    Mulet disagreed with what Dupré and others termed “improvising.” He felt that improvising was spontaneous, not planned in advance. In his view the performer developed ideas immediately, rarely remembering what he had played.

    For purposes of clarity in this discussion, I suggest we distinguish between spontaneous and planned improvisation. When a performer is given a theme at the console, that is an example of spontaneous improvisation. When someone works on an improvisation for a half hour, or more in advance, that is an example of planned improvisation.

    So are you in the Mulet or Dupré camp? Or do you value both?


    My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk

  • #2
    Thanks for starting this thread, Bill. I look forward to a lively discussion on this topic which does seem to interest a lot of us. Perhaps one reason for the popularity is that the very idea of improvisation holds out hope to players like me, who can't actually play much in the way of recital music. Yet, it is obvious to me when I see and hear some really proficient improvisor (like Latry, in the video recently posted on another thread), that you actually need extensive experience and skill in order to "make up" stuff worth hearing!

    I might have to say that I'd want a foot in both camps -- "some" small amount of thought and planning can be helpful prior to any improvised presentation, but there is also a lot of energy that comes from the spontaneous setting. A person needs to be able to do it either way. And either style can surely be quite fulfilling and exciting to player and audience alike.

    RE: that Latry video -- who could ever have planned out that very first little thing he jumped into after playing the theme by itself? That's thinking on one's feet (or bum...) for sure!

    *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!



    • #3
      Thanks for starting this thread!
      I've been pretty busy the last few days but hope to find the time soon to share some thoughts on the topic.


      • #4
        Improvisation is not necessarily an either or situation. Jazz and rock frequently alternate between arranged and freely improvised sections.

        Allen 965
        Zuma Group Midi Keyboard Encoder
        Zuma Group DM Midi Stop Controller
        Hauptwerk 4.2


        • #5

          So if improvisation isn't an either/or situation, how would it best be described–a continuum? If so, what would that continuum look like–a straight line or a circle? Does someone have the ability to represent it graphically?

          Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
          • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
          • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
          • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos