Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Reconstructing Nineteenth Century Improvisational Practice at the Piano

How can working with musical materials of the past influence and help shape an extemporaneous practice at the piano?


Initially looking at the Romantic core repertoire, and especially at the music of Robert Schumann, this project is aimed at working towards developing strategies that not only help sharpen extemporization skills in this musical language but also highlight generalities and idiosyncrasies within particular composers' works.

However, I cannot allow my musical world to remain within these boundaries. How do more contemporary, and also more historical, musics affect my own authenticity while improvising, and do they affect my approach to reworkings of Romantic music? Are my extemporizations in the context of Schumann infused with other influences that I need to grasp and define?

Just like the Romantic pianists at the turn of the last century, I deal with a broad repertoire that encompasses music composed in the last four or five hundred years. My penchant for extemporization at the piano must be influenced by all of this music, regardless of whether or not I focus on a particular style or era of music at a particular moment or not. This is a reality I wish to accept, cherish, and study – just as Paderewski played Chopin and Haydn in a way that suited him and was certainly different from the way those composers themselves played their music. He also demonstrated an affinity for improvisation that exhibits all of his musical interests, just as my improvisation should as well.

How can all of these musical influences be reconciled and, more importantly, how can improvisational skill be nurtured and developed within this cornucopia of influences that exists in the 21st century?

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