Ferruccio Busoni

Biography

Born: April 1, 1866; Italy   Died: July 27, 1924; Germany  
Ferruccio Busoni was the son of an Italian clarinet virtuoso who was a harsh and demanding pedagogue. Under the thumb of his father, Busoni developed a virtuoso keyboard technique that is in itself the stuff of legend. He began composing early, adding opus numbers to his works from the beginning. Reaching Opus 40 at age 17, Busoni decided go backward to number 31 and start over, causing no end of grief to scholars who attempted to edit his works Read more later.

From an early age, Busoni pursued a serious interest in the music of J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Liszt. Although Busoni's reputation as a piano virtuoso of the first rank was established in Europe by the end of the 1880s, he first made his mark as an editor of Bach's keyboard music. While today these editions are regarded as among the most intrusive and heavily marked Bach scores ever made, Busoni's marginal remarks about Bach's thought processes and the analytic value of these comments influenced Bach scholars and composers for generations.

In 1896, Busoni found his mature compositional voice in the Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 36b, which takes a theme of Bach and submits it to a complex series of variations. In 1904, Busoni followed that with his huge piano concerto. Cast in five movements, it runs 90 minutes and contains parts for a chorus. In 1907, Busoni published a series of writings as Sketch for a New Esthetic of Music. This book proposes a wide variety of new compositional techniques then relatively uninvestigated in Western music, such as microtonal scales and electronics. By 1912, Busoni had composed his first entirely non-key centered composition, the Sonatina seconda. The basis for his definitive style is to be found here; it is neither wholly tonal nor completely atonal, but is placed in a sort of harmonic netherworld in between. In the years left to him, Busoni composed four operas, Die Brautwahl (1912), Arlecchino (1915), Turandot (1917), and Doktor Faust (1924). His major keyboard work is the Fantasia Contrappuntistica (1911-1922), a piece that concludes with a massive fugue built out of the unfinished Contrapunctus XXIV of Bach's Die Kunst der Fuge.

Busoni conducted master classes in composition and taught piano. Among his composition students, Kurt Weill made perhaps the most masterly use of Busoni's Apollonian approach to opera and his quirky sense of harmony. Another Busoni pupil, Otto Luening, helped pioneer the use of electronics in music. As a piano teacher, Busoni also started off an international school of super-virtuosos. Claudio Arrau and Egon Petri are good examples of what Busoni wrought in terms of pianists. As to Busoni's own playing, there are some phonograph records of him made in 1919 and an enormous number of piano rolls. The records only hint at what his playing might've sounded like, but some of the better rolls offer a more generous sample of his artistry at the keyboard.

After his death, Busoni was regarded as a great piano virtuoso whose own music was seemingly incomprehensible. Busoni's thinking would have a more decisive impact on later composers, such as John Cage and Morton Feldman, and in the early '80s, his music experienced a small-scale revival of interest. There is little reason to be afraid of Busoni, as his best music is tremendously exciting, accessible, and endlessly thought-provoking. Read less

The Romantic Violin Concerto Vol 16 - Busoni, Strauss / Becker-Bender
Release Date: 08/12/2014   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 68044   Number of Discs: 1
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Busoni: Late Piano Music / Marc-Andre Hamelin
Release Date: 11/12/2013   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 67951   Number of Discs: 3
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Busoni: Doktor Faust / Fischer-Dieskau, Lewis, Boult, LPO
Release Date: 09/27/2011   Label: Lpo  
Catalog: 56   Number of Discs: 1
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Bach-Busoni: Complete Transcriptions / Sandro Ivo Bartoli
Release Date: 07/29/2014   Label: Brilliant Classics  
Catalog: 94867   Number of Discs: 2
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Busoni: Violin Sonatas No 1 & 2, Etc / Enoksson, Stott
Release Date: 03/18/1997   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 784   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano

About This Work
Ferruccio Busoni composed his Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 36a, at the suggestion of his friend Hjalmar von Dameck, a violinist of note who had been impressed by Busoni's Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 29, a decade earlier, and by the composer's more recently Read more completed violin concerto, Op. 35a. Ever combining historicism with a look to the future, Busoni based the second sonata on an earlier work, Beethoven's piano sonata, Op. 109, adopting its tripartite form: a first movement that starts slowly but eventually introduces faster, contrasting material; a lively second movement in 6/8 time; and a concluding set of variations. The sonata opens with a chordal invocation marked Langsam that is of the type found in many of Busoni's later works. This leads to a long-breathed, lyrical violin melody set over subtle ebbs and pauses in the piano. The texture eventually changes to one of constant motion propelled by rising and falling arpeggios in the piano. At its height, the movement shifts to B minor and takes on faster, more pointed articulations, but eventually settles into a recollection of the opening motto and other previous motives. Though not labeled by the composer as such, the Presto second movement is generally considered a Tarentella. Taking off on a theme borrowed from the middle of the first movement, the violin assumes a nervous rhythmic energy while the piano busily traverses the keyboard in playful chordal gestures. The opening of the final movement, marked Andante piuttosto grave, provides a sharp contrast to the vitality of the tarantella, even as it revisits its thematic material, as indicated by the composer in the score, "like a memory." The slow, pensive introduction leads to a statement of a chorale theme, "Wie wohl ist mir," from the second in the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook. Busoni's variations on the chorale theme assume a wide variety of characters, from the nimble to the mysterious, including a variation in minor invoking a bell-like "death motive." As in Busoni's Fantasia after J.S. Bach from 1909, in which a similar death knoll motive mourned the recent death of Busoni's father, the funereal motive here seems to have presaged the death of the work's dedicatee, violinist and composer Ottokar Novacek. The work concludes with yet another recollection, first of the opening gestures of the final movement, then with the chordal statement that opened the entire sonata, recast as a benediction. Read less

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