The modern performer of early repertory is challenged to make it meaningful to audiences who are in many ways removed from the language and culture of the original. Who would notice the bravura of a dancer who substitutes, unannounced, the doppio portogallese for a regular double step? What face would raise itself out of its program should a singer spontaneously change the words of a song in a foreign language? Would an improvised rendition of a basse dance be more successful than an existing setting by a Renaissance master? Such sprezzatura on the part of a dancer or musician would have to be recognized by the onlookers to be appreciated.
But improvisation employed as a means to enhance the expressive qualities of the music, the dance, the art, will surely have a noticeable affect; what better way is there of making a piece one’s own? Improvising performers don’t extemporize because they are bored, but because they can. It is what they do. It is part of their personal expression as performers, just as it must have been in the Renaissance.
-From a review of the book Improvisation in the Arts of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (ed. Timothy McGee) by Grant Herreid; the quote is from the part where Herreid writes about David Klausner’s article “The Improvising Vice in Renaissance England”. The entire book review appeared in Early Music America, Summer 2006, p. 42-43.