This article details the motives, processes, and historical context behind an improvised performance of a commedia dell'arte-style pantomime originally devised by Mozart and his friends during the Viennese Carnival season of 1783. The performers' efforts to reconstruct and interpret the fragmentary musical and literary materials that survive are framed by a consideration of the marginal position that musical improvisation occupies in the history of eighteenth-century music, and alternative historiographical and ethnographical methods are explored for the insights they can offer into praxes of extemporized music making. Improvisatory traditions in the realms of jazz and the commedia dell'arte offer models for reconceiving Mozart's music as a dialogical and collaborative medium; they also suggest ways in which present-day performers can gain historical, phenomenological, and hermeneutical insights into eighteenth-century texts and performances by engaging with them as improvisers.

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