Concepts of Improvisation: Between the Two World Wars. Performativity, Staged Presence and Participation in Music

International Conference, 30 September and 1 October 2016

While research on means of composition and musical performance that rely on improvisation, chance, or nature has attracted a certain amount of scholarly attention since the end of the twentieth century, their impact on the art music community of the first decades of the twentieth century has generally been neglected in historical musicology. The conference, which is held as part of the SNSF-funded research project “Concepts of improvisation and their impact on early twentieth century art music”, is organized by the Musicology Department of the University of Basel in partnership with the Hochschule für Musik Basel. It aims to advance current musicological research on the interplay between Western art music of the first half of the twentieth century and notions of improvisation, randomness, participatory music, and open form. It will also investigate some of the period’s improvisatory approach to classical performance and the use of extempore techniques in popular and functional music. Moreover, it seeks to integrate in its deliberations current theories of ‘staged improvisation’ and ‘performativity’. Echoing the internationalism of the conference’s thematic fields as well as that of its delegates, the chosen languages of the conference are English and German.

Project website:

Keynote speakers:

- Prof. Dr. Sabine Feisst (Arizona State University)

- Prof. Dr. Michael Fjeldsøe (University of Copenhagen)

Folder of the conference [PDF (135 KB)]

Poster of the conference [PDF (40 KB)]

Programme of the conference [PDF (470 KB)]

Programm with abstracts [PDF (1.2 MB)]



Friday, 30 September, 2016

13:30 Welcome (Andrew Wilson, Matthias Schmidt, Tobias Schabenberger)

14:00 Keynote speaker

Sabine Feisst (Arizona State University, Tempe USA): “Composition as Slowed Down Improvisation”: Concepts of Improvisation, Inspiration, and Spontaneity in Arnold Schoenberg’s Works

15:00 Coffee or Tea break

15:15 Paper session 1

Philip Felhordt (Folkwang Universität der Künste, Essen Germany): Was ist “improvisatorisch” an notierten Improvisationsbeispielen? Analysen zu Carl Czernys Systematischer Anleitung zum Fantasieren auf dem Pianoforte

Robert Hill (Hochschule für Musik Freiburg, Germany): Paul Bekker's 'Improvisation und Reproduktion' (1921) Revisited

16:15 Coffee or Tea break

16:30 Paper session 2

Christopher Anderson (Southern Methodist University, Dallas USA): Max Reger Improvises: Thoughts on Musical Presence as Cultural Critique

Alexandre Robert (Université Paris-Sorbonne, France): Analysing the Development of “Improvisatory Writing” of Déodat de Séverac

Andrew Wilson (University of Basel, Switzerland): Spot the Difference! 
Darius Milhaud’s Cocktail aux Clarinettes (1920) and Otto Luening’s Trio for Flute, Violin, and Soprano (1923/24)

18:00 End paper session 2

Friday evening

20:00 Musical performances at the Hochschule für Musik Basel (Neuer Saal)

Schulhoff, Luening, Cowell, Lourié, Milhaud, and more presented by Tobias Schabenberger (Hochschule für Musik Basel FHNW)

Saturday, 1 October, 2016

9:30 Keynote speaker

Michael Fjeldsøe (University of Copenhagen, Denmark): From “Syncopation” to “Swing” and “Improvisation” – Ideological Concepts of Jazz within the Context of European Neue Sachlichkeit

10:30 Coffee or Tea break

10:45 Paper session 3

Ursel Schlicht (Kassel Germany): Between Composition and Improvisation: Extemporizing in Entertainment Settings from Vaudeville to Art Music

Margarethe Maierhofer-Lischka (University of Music and Performing Arts, Graz Austria): Phenomena of “Openness” in Beat Furrer’s Music Theatre and its Roots in Context of the European Avant-Garde (paper read by Andrew Wilson)

Alexander Kopp (Singen Germany): Zum Hintergrund einer etwas revolutionären Kompositionsweise

12:15 Lunch break

13:30 Paper session 4

Yusuke Nakahara (Budapest Bartók Archives, Hungary): Some Improvisatory Aspects in Béla Bartók’s Musical Thinking

Laura Moeckli (Basel, Switzerland): “Freiheitlichere Anwendung des Alltäglichen” – Composing Declamatory Freedom from Wagner to Wolpe

14:30 Coffee or Tea break

15:00 Round table discussion

17:00 End