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Study finds similarities in art improvisation techniques of then and now

By Nairita Das

Washington, Oct 23 (ANI): A thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that many old manuscripts were used by the organists of the day in the same way that the jazz musicians of our time use CDs - as a way of learning how other musicians play.

Senior lecturer Karin Nelson from the Department of Cultural Sciences looked at musical notation during a period when organists were known for improvising.

"In my thesis, I look at how 17th century organists in northern Germany learned to improvise, and compare this method with the approach used today by improvisational musicians I've been in contact with," she said.

"What is the same is the way they relate to and imitate other musicians' playing, and how they use memorisation, transposition and different musical figures. One difference I've noted is that singing was an important part of the process of learning to improvise in the 17th century, which is not the case to the same extent today," Nelson said.

She found that a variety of composers, including Bach, Beethoven and Liszt often started from an existing written composition when improvising.

Starting from existing works, including Bach's Prelude in B minor, Chick Corea's Spain and one of Schoenberg's fragments, Nelson will gradually move away from the written music and make her own organ improvisations.

"This is very much an example of a historical way of playing," she said.

As part of her thesis, Nelson also analysed the 17th century organist Heinrich Scheidemann's Magnificat settings, which consist of 33 verses based on eight different Gregorian melodies.

One conclusion drawn is that these settings were originally intended as a teaching aid for use in the process of learning to improvise. (ANI)

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