Unfolding variations on an extempore theme

Project leader:
Tor Espen Aspaas

Project period:
2012 –

Research centre:


Interpretation, Performance practice, Piano

Fellowship project
Ph.D in Performance Practice

A study of L. van Beethoven’s piano sonatas in light of Beethovenian Fantasieren and Opus 77

Extemporization, das Fantasieren, more than being a mere vehicle for display of virtuosic practice, was integral to Beethoven’s creative processes. It is therefore unfortunate that only a fraction of Beethoven literature explores the implications of improvisation in his oeuvre. Research pursuing this logic and line of questioning through to interpretation and performance are uncommon.

This project proposes that vestiges of extemporization are not only omnipresent in Beethoven’s corpus, they also play a constitutive role in his musical texts. The primary objective of the study is to identify and establish a reflexive continuum between extempore mode, text and interpretation in Beethoven. I refer to this nexus as textemporaneity – a verbal synthesis to intermediate between ‘text’ and ‘extempore’.

The Fantasy Opus 77 (1809) is generally regarded as the extant musical text providing posterity with a clear example of Beethoven’s art of extemporization at the keyboard.  Opus 77 therefore constitutes the paradigmatic axis of this study; this work serves as an analytical, historical and philosophical key that unlocks a whole range of extempore aspects and perspectives on the rest of his oeuvre. In light of Opus 77, comparative analysis and fragmentation of some of Beethoven’s ‘open’|’semi-open’ texts (i.e. those texts in closest approximation to extempore practice and structures) could facilitate identification, decoding and interpretation of Fantasie-elements and improvisational signs in his ‘semi-closed’|’closed’ texts.

The project’s objective is to establish a set of pertinent research questions concerning the potential of textemporaneity in Beethoven interpretation. These questions, supported by textemporaneous explorations and examples in print and sound, promise to enhance the range and scope of interpretive choices in Beethoven performance of today.

Project leader


Tor Espen Aspaas


Performance Practice

Last updated: 20. December 2016