I gave a talk entitled “Learning to Improvise in the Nineteenth Century” at the music major colloquium series at St. Mary’s College in Indiana on October 19, 2020. I showed some basic practice methods that I’d found, and gave some suggestions for how students could use these methods themselves in their everyday practice. I also covered the sources, methods, and challenges of documenting and analyzing nineteenth-century improvisation techniques. Each “way in” to this topic has its own strengths and weaknesses. Because my work largely takes instrumental pedagogy as a starting point, I emphasized how practice methods could be a way in. By looking at how pianists practiced, we would gain the ability to reconstruct not a particular performance, but rather a style or a sort of decision tree of possibilities. I started with an overview of how Czerny and Wieck recommended their students practice: this includes a lot of transposition. We looked at accounts of Liszt’s practice methods, and I briefly played through some of Philip Antony Corri’s recommendations for preluding.
This was originally scheduled as an in-person talk at the beginning of April, but world crises intervened and it was rescheduled for the beginning of the next school year and held via Zoom. I got to discuss dorm life with the music majors, play a little, and chat before and after.