Music: Classical Hipsters

Composers used to like nothing better than to sit down at the harpsichord or pianoforte and improvise on their own works. Bach, Handel and Beethoven were as well known for their improvisations as for their written compositions. Now Composer-Pianist Lukas Foss, 38, is contriving, with the help of a $10,000 Rockefeller grant, to put the long dead custom back into classical music—and make it an en semble art.

The idea of "controlled improvisation" to free classical music from its "slavery to the printed note" first occurred to Composer Foss while listening to the...

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