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improvisation

improvisation (or extemporization). A perf. according to the inventive whim of the moment, i.e. without a written or printed score, and not from memory. It has been an important element in mus. through the centuries, viz. (1) from the 12th to the 17th cents., in vocal descant when a part was improvised by one singer to a notated part sung by another. (2) In 17th and 18th cents. in the ‘divisions’ of viol players, i.e. the improvised decoration of the notes of a tune by shorter notes. Also the kbd. player's improvisation of the figured bass. (3) In the 18th cent. the filling-in of the preludes to kbd. suites which Handel and others often indicated merely as a series of chords from which the perf. was to develop his material. (4) From 18th cent., the cadenza in concs. (sometimes written out, but often left to the virtuoso to invent). (5) In 18th and early 19th cents., the kbd. perfs. by which Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Hummel, Clementi, and others enthralled their audiences by brilliant displays of improvisation. (6) The same as (5) by organists such as Bruckner and Widor, this practice still being fairly common among organists. (7) In jazz, improvisation by solo instrumentalists is part of the idiom's attraction. (8) Aleatory or indeterminate features of 20th-cent. works are of an improvisatory nature. (9) The term is sometimes used as the title of a notated work which is intended to convey an impression of improvisation.

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