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Improvisation


parsfan
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Did anyone hear Matthew Martin's improvisation at the end of Solemn Vespers from Westminster Cathedral yesterday?

 

I was in the cathedral and thought that it was impressive without being outstanding. It made me reflect that, whether in Paris or London, one rarely hears improvisation that takes the breath away.

 

I agree with Lionel Rogg that the best improvisation happens within the liturgy and on that basis only Guillou, Cauchefer-Choplin and, on this side of the Channel, Martin Baker, impress me.

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Did anyone hear Matthew Martin's improvisation at the end of Solemn Vespers from Westminster Cathedral yesterday?

 

I was in the cathedral and thought that it was impressive without being outstanding. It made me reflect that, whether in Paris or London, one rarely hears improvisation that takes the breath away.

 

I agree with Lionel Rogg that the best improvisation happens within the liturgy and on that basis only Guillou, Cauchefer-Choplin and, on this side of the Channel, Martin Baker, impress me.

 

Have you heard Alexander Mason who was/is assistant at Lichfield? - he does rather a good improvisation too.

 

AJJ

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I was in the cathedral and thought that it was impressive without being outstanding.
I think that's an accurate summary. However, I'd hesitate to judge a person's improvisation skills just on one hearing.

 

Someone whose improvisation skill I admired enormously was Sidney Campbell, but I had the benefit of hearing him improvise almost daily for three years. I can't say whether he was in the David Briggs class since I never heard him do anthing flashy or, indeed, anything much other than play the choir in before a service. His approach was essentially English and so in a very different tradition to that of the French improvisors - but his command of form and his armoury of different harmonic and contrapuntal idioms was quite breathtaking. Not for him the creepy-crawly offerings one so often hears, whether soft or (in if you're French) loud: his were always miniature compositions. For some reason two are particularly fixed in my memory: a short Passacaglia in 5/4 time in a quite original contrapuntal style for which I can't think of any parallel and a rather cheeky one on the opening horn call from Till Eulenspiegel!

 

But his favourite idiom, judging from the fact that he used it slightly more than any other, was the rich chromaticism found in the second of his three Canterbury Improvisations. In the preface he claims that this was transcribed from an actual improvisation and I am sure it was. I had doubts about the other two, though, especially the final Fugue, and once challenged him that he couldn't really have improvised them all. He was quite offended. "I did", he insisted, "I cleaned them up a bit for publication, but they were certainly improvised".

 

His secret? Well, apart from the usual things like having a theme and a structure, two things: 1) practice having total harmonic control (in all the different idioms) in every single key; and 2) know how to modulate from any one key into any other at a moment's notice. Well, I've practised and, as far as I'm concerned, the secret died with him! I'll never be an improvisor.

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