Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation
This chapter examines Schumann's improvisations in the years 1827–31. Diaries and contemporary accounts can help reconstruct his improvisational practices and set them in the context of the virtuoso‐composer tradition of Czerny, Moscheles, Hummel, and others. The chapter examines traces of improvisational practice in Schumann's early piano compositions, with a particular focus on the finale of the “Abegg” variations, which bears several marks of “postclassical” improvisation, such as the recurrent dominant pedal tone, multiple iterations of a simple chord progression, and a lack of melodic or motivic content in favor of figuration. The chapter further considers how Schumann's attitude toward improvisation, which became increasingly negative or restrictive over time, was shaped by the social values of the German educated bourgeoisie. Hans Christian Andersen's novel The Improviser, published in 1835, provides a contemporary lens for interpreting these cultural values.
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