Author Bio

Nicholas McNair was head chorister at Canterbury Cathedral at the age of 13, later studying composition and piano at Cambridge University and then at the Royal College of Music. He gave his first recital of improvisation in 1979, and in 1987 joined the Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa in Portugal, from which he has recently retired. He worked in the 1990s as an editor for Sir John Eliot Gardiner, collaborating also in contemporary opera productions, music for silent films, and as organist and pianist with the Gulbenkian Choir and Orchestra. He is presently preparing to defend his doctoral thesis on improvisation.


Improvisation, spontaneity, notation, ideology, Heidegger, scientism


Western Classical Music has traditionally been described in terms of fixed structures, carefully built up by the composer and presented to the performer in the form of a score. This has crystallised over the centuries into an ideological position which, in the last analysis, gives absolute authority to the composer over the performer, severely limiting the freedom of expression of the latter. In this article I seek to reverse this position by pointing to the essential spontaneity, represented by improvisation, that lies at the heart of all music-making, albeit fiercely opposed by the fundamentalism of an endless number of structural theories.