IMPROVISATION (from Lat. improvisus, unforeseen, from in-, not + pravidere, to foresee, from pro, before + videre, to see). The art of producing without previous preparation a poem, or a musical composition. Oratory, although in its original form it is founded on spontaneous efforts, is not ordinarily considered under the head of improvisation; hut poetry and music, while subject to inspiration, are rather domi nated by their complexity, and improvisation in these branches represents a peculiar and unusual ability. Poetry and music, like the dance and music, were inseparable in their early history; the Egyptian priests chanted improvised hymns to their deities; while in Greece, the real home of improvisation in antiquity, it was customary for poets to recite impromptu verses to the ac companiment of the lyre. In later Roman times Archias. the friend of Cicero, Publilius Syrtis, Ovid, and Statius, were famous improvisatori. But as in the course of centuries languages grew more compact, and as less license was allowed, improvisation almost died out among civilized nations. Among savage peoples it has always been practiced. From the decline of Rome to the ninth century improvisation as an art was practically unknown. Then. however, came the renaissance, and the troubadours, the trouveres, the minnesingers, and the meistersingers (qq.v.) followed each other in rapid succession. Italy was quick to take advantage of the adapta bility of her language, and the courts of Na ples, Milan, and Ferrara became poetical cen tres from which the new art spread through out the Peninsula. In Germany and in France improvisation was soon superseded by careful composition, but in Spain, and especially in Italy, it lingered long. Petrarch. in the twelfth cen
tury, gave a great impetus to improvisation. and down to the present day in Italy it has played an important rOle in the imaginative life of the poorer classes. Improvisation is by no means limited to brief poems of it few verses, and of simple structure, Intl is often carried on in Coln pliented metres, and to great length. Some of the most. famous of the Italian improvisatori have been: the Venetian Leoniceno (died 1524)1 --eratfino of Aquila (died 150(I) ; Ace°iti of Arez zo (sixteenth eenturyi; Metastasio (q.v.), who, however. soon abandoned the art ; and Tommaso l'`Yrici (died )s:ffi). In Corsica and Sardinia there are many woman (improvisatrices) who im provise long memorial poems nt funerals. Among the best-known improvisat•iees may he mentioned AI:vet:della Fernandez (died 1s00). Signora Alaz zei (born ; and Giovannina Hillis In music, improvisation is the art of perform tag extemporaneously upon an instrument. A given theme or themes may be developed in strict form, or the performer may give himself up to momentary impulses and employ any number of acmes in a free fantasia. The former, however, is a great art, and nearly all the masters, notably Bach and Beethoven. excelled in it. To im pro•ise in a given form requires not only an un usual command over the technique, but also a marvelous potter of concentration. Undoubtedly the improvisation of a strict fugue is the most difficult task imaginable. Bach was a master of this.