Thursday, October 20, 2011

Classical Herbie Hancock

Just ran across this interesting article in the Globe and Mail.

I didn't know about Herbie Hancock's origins as a classical musician. This is an interesting quote:

“Improvisation was one of the tools of classical music,” he points out. Keyboard virtuosos from Bach to Chopin to Liszt were famous improvisers, and up until the early 19th century, cadenzas – the extended solo section in classical concertos – were routinely improvised.

“But at a certain point they became repertoire,” Hancock says. Specific cadenzas were written out, and that’s what everyone played. “Pretty soon, because learning repertoire takes up so much time for a classical pianist, there’s no time to learn to improvise.
“So one of the things I’m interested in is sparking up a new interest in classical musicians for improvising. Not necessarily improvising in a swing way with jazz – yes, if that’s what they want – but also improvising in a classical way.”
Hancock himself has been practising “improvising in a classical way” himself, something he says takes a lot of work. “But if it’s not hard, then I’m not working hard enough,” he says. “I have to make it a challenge.”
My emphasis. Yes, I think one of the reasons classical musicians rarely improvise these days is that the repertoire became so complex and demanding that there really wasn't room for it any more. As composers demanded more and more control over every detail of the performance, something we can see in examining the greater complexity of scores from 1800 to the 20th century, the free space that could be filled by improvisation shrank. Interesting...

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