The prelude to The Improvisatore was Hans Christian Andersen’s educational trip to Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. The trip was sponsored by ad usus publicos. Hans Christian Andersen had in the years up to 1833 been a prolific poet and had experimented with several different genres to gain an audience and become an established writer.
The Improvisatore is a Bildungsroman in which the mature and serene Antonio recounts his quest to built his own life in the world from childhood into his adult life. This quest was both social and spiritual in nature since Antonio had been predicted to be a magnificent artist, but privately was inhibited. Antonio explains his problems in the novel’s opening: "True and naturally I will a the great tale, but vanity does come with the game, bad vanity: the desire to please! Everything in my childish world shot up as herbs and grew ever, as the biblical mustard seed, rising higher towards the sky to become a mighty tree, where my passions built a nest." This vanity is associated with an improvisational talent, Antonio gained in his childhood, and this manifests itself in his youth as an unacknowledged conflict between the artist’s ambition and a quest for love. Antonio is a roman lower class child, who at the age of six becomes an orphan. Antonia is for a short time with a loving elderly couple on the Campagna outside of Rome before he is admitted to the prestigious Borghesian family. The family ensures his spiritual and secular education by enrolling him in the Jesuit school in Rome. Antonio is a talented improviser who improvises both lyrics and melody to the songs the audience suggests. The young Antonio falls in love with the coveted singer Annunziata, but must flee after an accidental shot, where he hurt his friend and rival Bernardo. After his escape, the chaste Antonio ends in Naples, where he reluctantly makes his acquaintance with the human sensuality. Antonio retains his virtue and is sometimes so preoccupied with his success as an improviser that he barely discovers that Annunziata is in his presence. Antonio crashes a boat outside of Capri and wakes up in a rock cave where everything is bright blue. After the incident, Antonio returns to Rome, where he remains for 6 years in order to please the family with his education and formation. It is not until his journey north to Venice, he finds himself and his great love.
The Improvisatore was first published April 9. 1835. (Pictured above is a paper clip by Hans Christian Andersen – Copyright Odense City Museums – Reproduced with permission.)