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date: 01 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Contrary to many popular and even official definitions, improvisation is possible only by way of musicians being situated within an improvisational tradition and working with pre-existing musical elements. It is never purely spontaneous. This chapter argues that improvisation is grounded in everyday, practical human activity which is itself—more broadly—improvisational in nature. We improvise on the basis of what Aristotle terms phronesis, practical wisdom or the ability to act appropriately in a given situation. As something we do together, improvisation is fundamentally an ethical phenomenon. In this chapter, improvisation is seen as a musical dialogue that requires “taste” both for its aesthetic beauty and its ethical engagement. At its core is respect for the tradition in which it arises, for other people with whom one improvises, and for those who improvise by listening.

Keywords: autonomy, dialogue, ethics, genius, indeterminacy, phronesis, responsibility, tradition

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