Modernizing European Higher Music Education Through Improvisation

Institutions: Wien

University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna

The mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna defines itself as an excellence-oriented place of training for artists, educators, and researchers. The diversity of the fields covered and methods employed here makes it possible to combine these to develop new perspectives and opportunities as an answer to social, economic, and political challenges in the European and global contexts.

As one of the world's largest and most highly renowned universities focussed on the performing arts of music, theatre, and film, the mdw views its mission as being to uphold this important area of culture while at the same time setting out in new directions. A central concern of the mdw is to support the diverse forms and styles of artistic, research-related, and teaching-related work as well as enabling students to develop their own personal definitions of an open concept of art along with the ability to engage in critical reflection. In doing so, the University seeks to offer the best possible environment for their training.

The study of existing traditions and engagement therewith combined with the development of innovations characterises the profile of our University and determines the strategic orientation of its artistic, educator training, and research activities. Due to the rapid transformation of the labour market as well as overall societal developments that confront mdw graduates with new challenges, the University strives to continually refine the content that it teaches and adapt its offerings accordingly.

The freedom of art, science and teaching is an inalienable guiding principle of the mdw. 

The university offers more than 80 courses related to improvisation as an integral part of the curricula, covering style-related forms (Department of Early Music and the Department of Organ, Organ Research and Church Music), free improvisation (Department of Chamber Music and Contemporary Music and the Departments of Instrumental Studies in Music Education) and improvisation in the field of jazz and pop (Department of Popular Music).


Department of Organ, Organ Research and Church Music

The organ department of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna boasts its own very unique tradition of improvisation. It is a heritage, which has been passed over generations by its most celebrated teachers such as Anton Heiller, Hans Haselböck and Peter Planyavsky. Presently our philosophy remains a strong emphasis on developing a student's personal improvisational style, while also developing tools to extemporize in historical styles. As a subject, improvisation can be found in all disciplines within our curriculum, whether it is organ performance or church music (The latter consists also of improvised liturgical organ playing). Our new master programme in improvisation will take on an even more adventurous path such as collaborations with dance, electronics and other facets of performing arts. 

Jeremy Joseph

Joseph Haydn Department of Chamber Music and Contemporary Music 

Artistic research/knowing in performing

Improvisation and New Music

This course is suitable to stimulate beginners of improvisation in direct discussion of the possibilities and impossibilities of the respective own instrument and to support in dealing with personal resistances etc. Lessons take place in small groups (maximum 4 students); the focus is on the improvisational expressiveness of the individual student in the central artistic subject. Groups that are restricted to one type of instrument as well as mixed groups are possible. Introduction to the expanded experimental sound possibilities of the respective instruments. Dealing with different forms of notation; Dealing with contemporary music. Develop your own concepts and improvisation concerts.

Manon Liu Winter

Music and Movement Pedagogy

Publikation: Improvisieren mit inklusiven Gruppen. Bericht mit Praxiseinblicken zur 9. Fachtagung für Inklusives MusizierenIn: Österreichischer Berufsverband für Rhythmik/Musik- und Bewegungs-pädagogik (Hg.)(2015): Rhythmikforum_Austria 2015. Baden. S. 35-38

Department for Popular Music

Ludwig v Beethoven Department for Piano and Harpsichord in Music Pedagogy

In any music culture, the relationship between inventing and understanding, creating and re-creating, composition, improvisation and interpretation is an essential parameter for its artistic quality and liveliness. Therefore, music education is also to be judged by whether different components of its artistic part are conveyed accordingly. So it was and is important to create appropriate interfaces for the students, so that in addition to imparting knowledge, the creative potential of each and every individual can emerge. Our studies want thus want to provide "free spaces" where students can explore their own ideas. 

A "free space" is ultimately defined by the "non-free" structure that surrounds it, so it seems obvious within a well-designed, structure-offering study plan to allow "free space". Within such a "thinking / art / music / laboratory" room, these structures are largely eliminated and the individual, artistic quality of all the people taking part is strengthened.

Improvisation - as we understand it - means a self-determined, responsible, often spontaneous musical action, independent of all external rules and constraints, emerging at the moment. The experience of new ways of playing and listening, as they are offered in the Instrumental Pedagogy  studies (IGP) „Improvisation and New Currents in Music", s not only important for the students' own music making, but also with regard to their future educational activities. Instant composing, real time music, free improvisation, the permanent redefining of musical material, all this shows how the present can be designed with all means and wisdom available to us, so that our future as a society can be influenced. 

Manon Liu Winter & Burkhard Stangl


Burkhard Stangl

Manon-Liu Winter