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Twelve Nocturnes and a Waltz

Critically-acclaimed American pianist Robert Henry presents his highly anticipated debut recording “Twelwe Nocturnes and a Waltz“. Released in 2010, this recording is a compilation of some of the world’s best loved melodies, featuring Nocturnes of Chopin, Fauré, Grieg, Liszt and many others, including the world premiere of Alexei Stanchinsky’s forgotten Nocturne from 1907. Read more >>

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Author Topic: Chopin Nocturne Op 9 No 2, Improvisation and Variations on Theme  (Read 1319 times)
creationrage
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« on: January 17, 2015, 07:52:29 PM »

Here is my version of the famous nocturne utilizing some of the improvisational skills I learned from my jazz background: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3POqlDefZs

Most of my older students come specifically to me from classical backgrounds wanting to learn improvisation. I know that the old masters were great improvisers and taught it as well. Does anyone have any insight into why it's not taught anymore in the classical genre, or how it was taught? Thanks!
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piano sheet music of Nocturne
bonesquirrel
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« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2015, 10:58:17 AM »

I don't think it's really appropriate to teach "improvisation" in the Classical genre. This is mostly because you are either composing or playing a piece written by another composer. If you are playing another composers piece, then it's not like Jazz, where recordings of the piece are your main source and the sheet music is just a skeleton. In Classical, the sheet music should be your only source for the majority of the time, everything is written down (all the notes, the dynamics etc.)

If you are composing, then what you are pretty much doing is improvising until you find what's right, then write it down. So when you are taught about composition, you kind of are being taught about improvisation. I don't think it's necessary to teach improvisation as something separate from composition, they kind of go together.
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outin
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« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2015, 11:17:13 AM »

I don't think it's really appropriate to teach "improvisation" in the Classical genre.

I disagree, it would be most appropriate and useful. I just think it's simply something most are not able to do.

And much of Baroque era sheet music is just a "skeleton" as well, if you look at the original manuscripts.
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My summer projects: Scarlatti K87, K466, K109, Scriabin op74 preludes, Chopin Waltz 69-2 and Berceuse. And just exploring more music...
alkan2010
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« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2015, 05:16:19 PM »

And much of Baroque era sheet music is just a "skeleton" as well, if you look at the original manuscripts.

Agree. The same goes for a lot of Mozart's works: Eingang and Cadenzas were improvised on the spot, and the solo part of some Concertos were written only as figured bass!
Classical improvisation has always been taught, and in the XXth Century we had a good number of outstanding piano and organ improvisation teachers!
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cabbynum
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« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2015, 05:40:11 PM »

Agree. The same goes for a lot of Mozart's works: Eingang and Cadenzas were improvised on the spot, and the solo part of some Concertos were written only as figured bass!
Classical improvisation has always been taught, and in the XXth Century we had a good number of outstanding piano and organ improvisation teachers!

Yay another alkan lover!


and I think being able to improvise is a huge advantage. There have been instances in My performance history where I have improvised my way through a few passages. In the tempest sonata I got completely lost in the 1st movement and just improvised my way to a cadence and picked up where i remembered. when you improvise you seem to use the techniques that are most suitable to your skill set. So you can learn a lot about yourself technique wise just from improvising. I improvise every day as a warm up. I think improvisation is incredibly important. Though I am not sure how well it can be taught, i think its something you sort of catch on with the more you study music. Though I am probably wrong.
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Bach Prelude and fugue no.4 Book 1
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bonesquirrel
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« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2015, 02:41:01 AM »

Like I said, when you are taught how to improvise, that pretty much is composition.

I'm sorry but I have to say that a lot of what Im hearing is pretty silly...... For example, when Bach wrote his Preludes from the Well-Tempered Claviar or his Inventions. He pretty much just improvised the melody or composed a piece based off a scale (e.g his very first Invention in C Major). You say "Mozart improvised it on the spot", that is just incredible composition skills. It's just something he wrote on the spot.

Like I keep repeating, when you are taught how to write music, you ARE being taught how to improvise. Saying that Composition and Improvisation until you find what sounds good in classical music, is like saying that creating characters for a novel is different to describing the characters (education, religion, life experiences etc.). No....... The characters are created, then you create a background that fits with the character and the storyline.

Same with classical composition. You improvise until you find what fits with the theme of your composition, then you work off that.
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bonesquirrel
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« Reply #6 on: January 21, 2015, 02:42:34 AM »

Like I said, when you are taught how to improvise, that pretty much is composition.

I'm sorry but I have to say that a lot of what Im hearing is pretty silly...... For example, when Bach wrote his Preludes from the Well-Tempered Claviar or his Inventions. He pretty much just improvised the melody or composed a piece based off a scale (e.g his very first Invention in C Major). You say "Mozart improvised it on the spot", that is just incredible composition skills. It's just something he wrote on the spot.

Like I keep repeating, when you are taught how to write music, you ARE being taught how to improvise. Saying that Composition and Improvisation until you find what sounds good in classical music are different, is like saying that creating characters for a novel is different to describing the characters (education, religion, life experiences etc.). No....... The characters are created, then you create a background that fits with the character and the storyline.

Same with classical composition. You improvise until you find what fits with the theme of your composition, then you work off that.
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bonesquirrel
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« Reply #7 on: January 21, 2015, 02:43:28 AM »

Sorry for accidental quotation ^
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chopinlover01
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« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2015, 04:11:51 AM »

As a composer/pianist, I can verify, that this is NOT true. First off, Bach did NOT write purely off scales. Sure he used mainly the tones in a c major scale, but directly off a scale would imply he directly just threw in scales and made melodies off of them. Even Mozart had melodies before he put all his scales and runs and things into his music. As did Haydn, Beethoven, and the like.
The more theory you study, the more you realize how much sense most classical pieces make. Baroque too, with counterpoint. If you take a grade 7 Bach piece and a grade 7 Mozart, the Mozart is typically easier to read (not easier to play, mind. Two completely separate things!!).

And no, improvising and composing are not "basically the same thing". Improvising is creating an original melody based on some sort of cycle of triads based off of your root note, whether it be in a major key or the *** Phyrigian/Locrian/Lydian (or whatever other ones there are) mode or something.
Composing music is an entirely different thing altogether. Firstly, you are usually following a form of some kind, consciously or not. It could be Sonata form (Beginning, Exposition, Development, Exposition etc) or Ternary form (ABA), doesn't matter. Most tonal music follows a form of some kind. Atonal often deviates from this but that's another topic entirely (as people, save for a certain few, rarely intentionally create things that make their ears cringe). Most importantly, you are communicating ideas and themes through your music, whether it be despair or happiness. I will give an example of each below (both by Chopin, go figure. One could hardly guess who my favorite composer is from my username).
Despair: Chopin Sonata 2 Movement 1 (B flat minor)- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kc9sc542mdk
Chopin Grande Polonaise Brilliante op 22 in E flat major- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PY0NFC4aEw
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j_menz
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« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2015, 04:26:09 AM »

Bach ... used mainly the tones in a c major scale,

Not even in his C major Prelude from WTC 1.

And no, improvising and composing are not "basically the same thing". Improvising is creating an original melody based on some sort of cycle of triads based off of your root note, whether it be in a major key or the *** Phyrigian/Locrian/Lydian (or whatever other ones there are) mode or something.
Composing music is an entirely different thing altogether. Firstly, you are usually following a form of some kind, consciously or not.

So when Bach improvised a Fugue for Frederick, or Liszt did the same for Beethoven, which exactly were they doing?
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outin
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« Reply #10 on: January 21, 2015, 05:31:39 AM »


Like I keep repeating, when you are taught how to write music, you ARE being taught how to improvise. Saying that Composition and Improvisation until you find what sounds good in classical music, is like saying that creating characters for a novel is different to describing the characters (education, religion, life experiences etc.). No....... The characters are created, then you create a background that fits with the character and the storyline.

Same with classical composition. You improvise until you find what fits with the theme of your composition, then you work off that.

But there are different levels of improvisation. Creating variations on a theme requires composing skills. But does one need to be taught composition to be able to improvise with ornaments and add some details to a piece? Or play oneself out from a memory failure? No, one only needs to learn certain rules of melody and harmony and have knowlegde of the performance practices of the era. It is true that one needs to learn music theory to be able to improvise, but composing whole pieces requires a rather different skill level IMO.

So it is obviously true that teaching composition teachers improvisation as well, but that does not necessarily mean that improvisation cannot be taught without teaching full scale composition skills.
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My summer projects: Scarlatti K87, K466, K109, Scriabin op74 preludes, Chopin Waltz 69-2 and Berceuse. And just exploring more music...
mjames
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« Reply #11 on: January 21, 2015, 07:15:34 AM »

As a composer/pianist, I can verify, that this is NOT true. First off, Bach did NOT write purely off scales. Sure he used mainly the tones in a c major scale, but directly off a scale would imply he directly just threw in scales and made melodies off of them. Even Mozart had melodies before he put all his scales and runs and things into his music. As did Haydn, Beethoven, and the like.
The more theory you study, the more you realize how much sense most classical pieces make. Baroque too, with counterpoint. If you take a grade 7 Bach piece and a grade 7 Mozart, the Mozart is typically easier to read (not easier to play, mind. Two completely separate things!!).

And no, improvising and composing are not "basically the same thing". Improvising is creating an original melody based on some sort of cycle of triads based off of your root note, whether it be in a major key or the *** Phyrigian/Locrian/Lydian (or whatever other ones there are) mode or something.
Composing music is an entirely different thing altogether. Firstly, you are usually following a form of some kind, consciously or not. It could be Sonata form (Beginning, Exposition, Development, Exposition etc) or Ternary form (ABA), doesn't matter. Most tonal music follows a form of some kind. Atonal often deviates from this but that's another topic entirely (as people, save for a certain few, rarely intentionally create things that make their ears cringe). Most importantly, you are communicating ideas and themes through your music, whether it be despair or happiness. I will give an example of each below (both by Chopin, go figure. One could hardly guess who my favorite composer is from my username).
Despair: Chopin Sonata 2 Movement 1 (B flat minor)- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kc9sc542mdk
Chopin Grande Polonaise Brilliante op 22 in E flat major- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PY0NFC4aEw

Improvisations have form too...?

Why are you making things so complicated? To me improvising is just creating music on the spot. Sitting down to write and "correct" your improvs is composing imo. Sometimes smart people can be so dumb because they over-think too much lol
OP's video is a composition, not an improv..dude probably spent his time to write it down to fix it etc, making it a composition.
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creationrage
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« Reply #12 on: January 21, 2015, 03:36:35 PM »

Improvisations have form too...?

Why are you making things so complicated? To me improvising is just creating music on the spot. Sitting down to write and "correct" your improvs is composing imo. Sometimes smart people can be so dumb because they over-think too much lol
OP's video is a composition, not an improv..dude probably spent his time to write it down to fix it etc, making it a composition.

I agree, improvisation is "spontaneous composition", creating music on the spot that you cannot correct (it can utilize a structure of an existing song or can be an entirely original piece), and if you are taught composition it doesn't mean you can improvise well. That takes a different kind of training. In jazz, we learn about composition techniques, but in order to be good at improv we play tunes together on the spot, creating interesting variations each time we go through the tune. If we haven't practicing improvising in time, our improvisations will end up being non-creative regurgitations of what we did the last time through. Learning to compose does not mean you can sit in a setting with other improvisational musicians and improvise well with them when you have no time to correct yourself. Same goes in solo improv, unless you are giving yourself the liberty of correcting yourself, but then you would not be improvising. Also, improvisers must have very good ears in order to play exactly what they hear in their head on the spot, without the luxury of going back and fixing it. Composition does not necessarily require this skill, but it definitely helps.

My video is partially composition and partially improvised (especially the end sequence is the main improv part). E Major section is a variation that I worked out beforehand using my melodic/harmonic knowledge, Eb Major section has more improvisational lines mixed in with the original melody, and the last sequence is mostly improvised with one recurring theme I worked out beforehand. I wrote none of it down, as I now rely on my ears (and muscle memory) to play. Most music from the jazz world has parts improvised and parts pre-conceived, it's not black and white. 
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creationrage
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« Reply #13 on: January 21, 2015, 04:10:41 PM »

Here's an interesting read I found: https://ericbarnhill.wordpress.com/facts-about-improvisation/

"Chopin generated all the compositional material for his pieces in improvisation. Though he performed publicly, he let only a small circle of select friends hear him improvise, including his close friend, the writer George Sand, who felt that Chopin’s compositions were “but a pale shadow of his improvisations,” a remark echoed by others who heard him."
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chopinlover01
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« Reply #14 on: January 21, 2015, 09:28:23 PM »

So when Bach improvised a Fugue for Frederick, or Liszt did the same for Beethoven
Which Frederick are you reffering to? If it's Chopin, I'll laugh, as they lived 60 years apart, Bach dying in 1750 and Chopin being born in 1810.
Liszt and Beethoven is also improbable, though Liszt may have done one in the style of Beethoven in honour of his genius.
And what were they doing? You answered your own question- improvising.
@mjames I said that most (western) compositions have form, though they certainly arent required to. Improvisation of course can have a form (I tend to do ABA when improvising for simplicity's sake), but as it is spur of the moment music, it doesn't "require" anything.
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j_menz
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« Reply #15 on: January 21, 2015, 11:25:13 PM »

Which Frederick are you reffering to? If it's Chopin, I'll laugh, as they lived 60 years apart, Bach dying in 1750 and Chopin being born in 1810.

Frederick II of Prussia.  Roll Eyes

Liszt and Beethoven is also improbable, though Liszt may have done one in the style of Beethoven in honour of his genius.

Liszt himself is the source of the anecdote. He was taken by his then teacher, Czerny - a former pupil and then friend of Beethoven, to meet Beethoven. The fugal improvisations was one of the things he did.
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bonesquirrel
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« Reply #16 on: January 25, 2015, 05:49:38 AM »

As a composer/pianist, I can verify, that this is NOT true. First off, Bach did NOT write purely off scales. Sure he used mainly the tones in a c major scale, but directly off a scale would imply he directly just threw in scales and made melodies off of them.

I quickly read threw the rest of your reply, but just from this I became very irritated. The Bach piece I refereed to (the one wrote in C Major) was actually wrote for the purpose of making his students familiar with what a scale sounds like. His very purpose of writing it was to make a piece based off the god damn scale!!

Being a pianist (we all are) and a composer (that I have never heard of) does not suddenly make you expert of all things piano. You should have known that Bach wrote that piece the way I described it above.
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