The thesis, written by senior lecturer Karin Nelson from the Department of Cultural Sciences, looks at musical notation during a period when organists were known for improvising.
“In my thesis, I look at how 17th century organists in northern Germany learned to improvise, and compare this method with the approach used today by improvisational musicians I’ve been in contact with,” she says.

The study reveals a number of similarities, but also differences between then and now.
“What is the same is the way they relate to and imitate other musicians’ playing, and how they use memorisation, transposition and different musical figures. One difference I’ve noted is that singing was an important part of the process of learning to improvise in the 17th century, which is not the case to the same extent today.”

The thesis gives examples from a variety of composers, including Bach, Beethoven and Liszt, where it is clear that they often started from an existing written composition when improvising.

In connection with the defence of her thesis, Karin Nelson will be adopting the same approach at a concert in Vasakyrkan Church in central Gothenburg. Starting from existing works, including Bach’s Prelude in B minor, Chick Corea’s Spain and one of Schoenberg’s fragments, she will gradually move away from the written music and make her own organ improvisations.
“This is very much an example of a historical way of playing,” she says.

As part of her thesis, Nelson has also analysed the 17th century organist Heinrich Scheidemann’s Magnificat settings, which consist of 33 verses based on eight different Gregorian melodies. One conclusion drawn is that these settings were originally intended as a teaching aid for use in the process of learning to improvise.

Nelson has recorded two CDs of organ music building on the Magnificat theme as part of her work on the thesis. The first, released in 2009, was recorded on two newly built organs in Austria, while the second, which came out a few weeks ago, was recorded on the university’s own organ in Örgryte New Church in Gothenburg.

For more information, please contact: Karin Nelson, senior lecturer, tel. +46 70 29 70 426 e-mail:
Title of thesis: Improvisation and Pedagogy through Heinrich Scheidemann’s Magnificat Settings.
The thesis will be defended on Wednesday 20 October and will begin with a concert in Vasakyrkan Church in Gothenburg at 1 pm. The actual defence will take place at 2.30 pm in Lindgrensalen, Artisten, Gothenburg. The examiner is professor Annette Richards from Cornell University in the USA.

Further information:
In connection with the defence of her thesis, Nelson will be organising a symposium in Gothenburg on 22-24 October on the subject of the Magnificat. Panel discussions, lectures and concerts will take place in Artisten, Gothenburg Cathedral, Kristus Konungen Church and Ă–rgryte New Church. There will be participants from various universities in the USA, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden. The programme for the symposium can be found at

CD recordings related to the thesis:
1. Magnificat — Motette 2009, CD MOT 13681. Karin Nelson an den Orgeln von Schärding und Krichdorf am Inn. Musik von Buxtehude, Weckmann, Pachelbel, Bach, Praetorius, Scheidt und Schildt.
2. Seven Magnificat settings for Organ by Heinrich Scheidemann and two Anonymous Settings– Intim Musik 2010, IMCD 116 (two CDs). Karin Nelson at the North German Organ in Örgryte New Church, Gothenburg.
YouTube clip:
Karin Nelson plays the first verse of Magnificat I. Toni by Heinrich Scheidemann in Örgryte New Church – search on “Magnificat I. Toni by H. Scheidemann” at