Improvisation in Iranian and Indian Music by Nooshin, L. & Widdess, R.

By “improvisation”, a term now much debated within Western musicology and
ethnomusicology, we refer to those aspects of a musical performance that are generated
by the performer. Even the performance of a pre-composed musical work, fully notated
by the composer, will usually include elements that are not pre-determined, such as
nuances, ornamentation or variations added by the performer in the course of
performance, and today most musicologists recognize such elements as “improvisation”
(following Nettl (1974)). In both Iranian and Indian music, however, the performer’s
contribution appears to be much greater than this: the performer does not reproduce a
written score, and pre-composed, memorized material seems to account for a relatively
small proportion of a complete performance of a råga or dastgah. The questions
therefore arise, whether the terms “composition” and “improvisation” are adequate in
such circumstances, and whether the techniques or processes of performance in Iranian
and Indian traditions are similar or different…

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