Six volumes of six Impromptus each, for piano two hands


work in progress


An »impromptu« originally referred to a witty bon mot made up on the spot during a conversation. By the time of Schubert and Chopin, an »impromptu« also came to designate a particular type of Romantic piano music, that is, a piece usually in ternary form. However, the usage of this term within a musical context predates Schubert: it was first used either by the Bohemian piano virtuoso Jan Václav Voříšek (known in Vienna as Worzischek), who had already written impromptus five years before Schubert did, or by Schubert's publisher Tobias Haslinger. Later composers such as Smetana, Liszt and Scriabin, also called some of their shorter piano works impromptus, and sometimes added to that title a second descriptive word (Liszt: Valse-Impromptu; Skrjabin: Impromptu à la Mazur). Robert Schumann's Impromptus op. 5 on a theme by Clara Wieck, however, are actually variations.

I was searching for a title for a new collection of piano pieces in which I wanted to try out very specific intervallic and chordal relationships in a rather spontaneous and less formal manner. While looking through the piano literature of the 19th century, I came across the impromptu. In preparation for my work Time Recycling op. 22n, I had written the 5x5 Short Intermezzos op. 22j; likewise, the Impromptus should now show me the way to my next larger-scale work for chorus and orchestra.

In contrast to the short Intermezzos, this time I conceived a more extensive cycle of piano music. So while the Intermezzos were between 30 seconds and two-and-a-half minutes long (the entire cycle lasted approximately 35 minutes), the Impromptus would be 2 to 8 minutes long, and this time there would also be 6 times 6, in other words a total of 36 pieces. A diary (journal) of Impromptus in 6 volumes matured from an abstract idea to the beginning of the compositional process during the first quarter of 2020.

Each of the pieces is based on the development of a complex harmonic process, which consists of six variants of two series of five-voice chords. These are obtained by means of permutation from combining four times six (i.e. a total of 24) chords and their 24 possible combinations. The material is thus predetermined, but the form develops freely from improvisation or from playing freely with the material. The individual parts emerge almost intuitively from the harmonies, and impart to each of the impromptus an individual shape. The repeatability of individual structures is limited to the individual parts, while formal elements are not repeated. At best, analogies result in vague similarities between formal elements.


PREMIÉR CAHIER [First volume]

I  24.05.2020–10.08.2020 Pensées errantes dans le matin (duration: 8'03'')

first two pieces of the first volume display an ambivalence between strong relationships within a part and a loose and constantly exploratory overall structure. The tripartite form of the first impromptu is articulated by the three basic tempo indications (I Modéré, II Mysterieux und III Vivant), which also underline the episodic nature of the piece.

With a duration of over eight minutes, the first Impromptu clearly exceeds the original temporal conception; this can be traced back to the complex development, which requires considerably more space for compositional elaboration. The piece ends on a ninth chord in close position, which is reached via a very idiosyncratic voice leading: the melody line descends chromatically from G to F (i.e. G, F sharp, F), while the bass line states a permutation of an augmented triad consisting of the notes E flat – B – G.


II  03.06.2020 Adieu éternel (duration: 7'08'')

The second Impromptu consists of two main elements: on the one hand, floating spectral harmonic movements; and on the other hand, music reminiscent of a music box, interspersed with dotted rhythms. Although these two elements recur in a rudimentary form, they introduce thematic and harmonic material that cannot be identified either as a repetition or as a variation of previous material. The intention is rather that of continuous development, which results in the unfolding of new situations.

The voice leading that culminates in the dense final chord – it consists of a diminished triad with an added dissonant tritone – is noteworthy. The final chord in the melody is reached by a whole-tone ascent of E – F sharp – G sharp, while the bass note A is chromatically reached via an A flat. The parallels E – F sharp – G sharp and F – G – A, partly hidden and partly revealed, also contribute to the impact of this final effect.


III 16.06.2020–06.09.2020 La façon dont il parlait et marchait, pensait et riait (in memoriam Michael Ingham) (duration: 2'40'')

A quiet entrance marks the beginning of this piece. Echoes of light swing rhythms develop from the opening secco chords. The memory of Michael Ingham's casual way of moving, laughing and speaking, as well as his intellectual and critical thoughts, have inspired the development of this piece as much as shared experiences.