After I had discussed the lack of improvisation in classical music with a friend, he showed me this article from WQXR.org (the website of a classical music radio station), which claimed that Mozart often improvised his music:

Improvisation is a nearly obsolete art in classical music these days. But virtuosos used to improvise all the time. Mozart freely improvised on his own tunes, Liszt would strike up an aria from a Wagner opera and embellish it.

Is the claim that Mozart improvised music (presumably in concert) true?

  • 2
    There's an overview on Wikipedia, FWIW. The sources listed aren't directly linkable, but it may give you something to go on.
    – Is Begot
    Feb 6, 2015 at 2:52
  • I'll take a look. Thanks for that, @Geobits.
    – Shokhet
    Feb 6, 2015 at 3:17
  • Music.se may give you a more knowledgeable, though perhaps less skeptical, audience. Feb 6, 2015 at 5:01

1 Answer 1


Yes, he did, prolifically. See for instance this article about a 2011 presentation by a Harvard Professor of Music, called Improvising Mozart.

In Mozart's time, his reputation was based first on his skill in improvisation, second on his skill as a performing pianist, and only third on his compositions.

Improvisation is still an important skill for classical musicians, especially organists and those involved in early music. Its absence from conventional recitals is the result of (oft-deserved) adulation of the masterworks of previous eras, which the professional is hesitant to play with.

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    When I read "Harvard Professor", I immediately knew it had to be Robert Levin. I know him from twenty years ago when he was teaching at the University of Music in Freiburg, Germany. He would take a shoebox full of musical motifs the audience had been asked to prepare before the concert, pick a dozen at random, and then, on the spot, improvise a 15-minute piece in the style of Mozart, using all the motifs (which could be in any key, any meter) - making it sound like a Mozart piece. Absolutely mindblowing. Check out his recording of Beethoven's piano concertos (he improvises the cadenzas). Feb 7, 2015 at 8:48
  • youtube.com/watch?v=Zlp4RqHgoOU is a good example of Levin's playing and gives one some idea of what 18th century piano improvisation might have sounded like. Feb 7, 2015 at 15:52

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