Oxford University Press Releases Book on Historic Improvisation

Oxford University Press will release The Pianist’s Guide to Historic Improvisation on April 1.

Keyboard artists in the time of J.S. Bach were simultaneously performers, composers, and improvisers. By the twentieth century, however, the art of improvisation was all but lost. Today, vanishingly few classically-trained musicians can improvise with fluent, stylistic integrity. Many now question the system of training that leaves players dependent upon the printed page, and would welcome a new approach to musicianship that would enable modern performers to recapture the remarkable creative freedom of a bygone era.

The Pianist’s Guide to Historic Improvisation opens a pathway of musical discovery as the reader learns to improvise with confidence and joy. Useful as either a college-level textbook or a guide for independent study, the book is eminently practical.

Author John Mortensen explains even the most complex ideas in a lucid, conversational tone, accompanied by hundreds of musical examples. Mortensen pairs every concept with hands-on exercises for step-by-step practice of each skill. Professional-level virtuosity is not required; players of moderate skill can manage the material. Suitable for professionals, conservatory students, and avid amateurs, The Pianist’s Guide leads to mastery of improvisational techniques at the Baroque keyboard.

Devotees of early instruments need not be put off by the word Pianist in the title; because the author seeks to introduce a broad audience to the improvisational practices of history, the title was designed to attract keyboard players with minimal prior exposure to early music, most of who play the piano.  All the principles in the book are applicable to any keyboard instrument.

John Mortensen is a leader in the international revival of historic improvisation.  He improvises complete concerts, beginning to end, in complex contrapuntal genres such as fugues, Stylus Phantasticus toccatas, dance suites, overtures, and more.  He frequently tours internationally on behalf of the US State Department’s Fulbright Global Scholars program.  His current schedule includes appearances at the Juilliard School of Music (New York), the Mannes School of Music (New York), the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Indiana University (Bloomington), the Guildhall School of Music (London), the Royal Northern College of Music (Manchester UK), the Royal Danish Academy (Aarhus), Jazeps Vitols Latvian Academy of Music (Riga), the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre (Vilnius), the Estonian Academy of Music (Tallinn), and the University of British Columbia (Vancouver).

Link to book on Oxford website:



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