An impromptu is a smaller piece of music that is improvised or at least played without a longer preparation and is usually performed on the piano. The term is also used for other Stegreif works, such as a (play) game or a speech. Musical impromptus were particularly characteristic of the music of the Romantic period, with the dissolution of classical forms as well as the expansion and transgression of the traditional harmony being superficial. Especially the Impromptus of the composer Franz Schubert are still very popular today. Known Impromptus can be found also with Robert Schumann, Alexander Scriabin or Frédéric Chopin.
The term is taken from French and exists here as a noun as well as an adjective. The noun also means the described piece of music, whereas the adjective can be improvised, surprising, and immediately translated. The origin of this word lies in the Latin phrase in promptuesse. This can be done with or available in readiness.
The fact that such impromptus is primarily associated with music has only been the case for a few centuries. Previously, the term was mainly related to a clever, surprising oral presentation, which characterized an eloquent speaker. For example, the Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon of 1838 defines the term as follows:
[Impromptu is an expression which is an expressive wit, or a pleasant, surprising, unprepared speech, a clever, clever, in verse or prose. Such impromptus are recounted as anecdotes of witty persons, and many small poems, which are easily thrown down and are particularly touching upon time, belong to the class of Impromptus.
Following this definition of the Brockhaus, such an utterance would be more akin to the Bonmot or Aperçu. Consequently, in the evaluation and interpretation of the term, the temporal context should always be taken into account in order to develop it correctly. Finally an example from the music: the first piece of the first group of Impromptus by Franz Schubert (D 899 No. 1, op. 90).