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Thread: Ferruccio Busoni

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    Newbies Doktor Faust's Avatar
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    Default Ferruccio Busoni


    Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924). Italian pianist, composer, conductor and aesthetician.

    Dante Michelangelo Benvenuto Ferruccio Busoni was born in Empoli in Italy, the only child of two professional musicians: his Italian/German mother a pianist, his Italian father a clarinetist. They were often touring during his childhood, and he was brought up in Trieste for the most part.

    Busoni was a child prodigy. He made his public debut on the piano with his parents, at the age of seven. Busoni had a brief period of study in Graz where he conducted a performance of his own composition 'Stabat Mater' when he was twelve years old. He subsequently held several teaching posts, the first in 1888 at Helsinki, where he met his wife, Gerda Sjostrand, the daughter of a Swedish sculptor. He taught in Moscow in 1890, and in the United States from 1891 to 1894 where he also toured as a virtuoso pianist.

    In 1894 he settled in Berlin, giving a series of concerts there both as pianist and conductor. He particularly promoted contemporary music. He also continued to teach in a number of masterclasses at Weimar, Vienna and Basel, among his pupils being Claudio Arrau and Egon Petri. His philosophy that "Music was born free; and to win freedom is its destiny," greatly influenced his students Luigi Russolo and Percy Grainger. Some idea of Busoni's mature attitude to composition can be gained from his 1907 manifesto, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, a publication somewhat controversial in its time. He had several composition pupils who went on to become famous, including Kurt Weill, Edgard Varese and Stefan Wolpe.

    Busoni was a virtuoso pianist, and his works for piano are difficult to perform. The Piano Concerto (1905) is probably the largest such work ever written. In fact the majority of Busoni's works are for the piano. Busoni's music is typically contrapuntally complex, with several melodic lines unwinding at once. Although his music is never entirely atonal in the Schoenbergian sense, his later works are often in indeterminate key. The first version of Busoni's largest and best known solo piano work, Fantasia Contrappuntistica, was published in 1910. About half an hour in length, it is essentially an extended fantasy on the final incomplete fugue from Bach's The Art of Fugue. Many of Busoni's works are based on music of the past, especially on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He arranged several of Bach's works for the piano, including the famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (originally for organ) and the chaconne from the D minor violin partita. Thus some consider him an originator of neoclassicism in music.

    He began serious work on his best known opera, Doktor Faust, in 1916, leaving it incomplete at his death. It was then finished by his student Philipp Jarnach, who worked with Busoni's sketches as he knew of them, but in the 1980s Anthony Beaumont, the author of an important Busoni biography, created an expanded and improved completion by drawing on material that Jarnach did not have access to.

    Busoni died in Berlin from kidney disease.

    Fans of Busoni's its time to speak up and say what you think of both him and his music.
    Last edited by Doktor Faust; May-08-2009 at 21:38.

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    Did you write this biography?

    Okay, this must be from Wikipedia. Good 'ol Wikipedia!

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    I'm afraid I only know his "Piano Concerto." It's a beautiful piece, almost symphonic instead of a concerto. I look at as a "piano symphony" so to speak. That work alone is impressive.

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    I used to think Busoni was just the guy who edited a lot of Bach's works for piano -- but I was way off!

    Thanks to another forum contributor, Andre, mentioning him in one of the favorite such-and-such lists, I listened to Busoni at work last week. The Fantasia Contrappuntistica is an amazing tour-de-force. There were some other solo piano pieces I really enjoyed sounding quite modern to me and were equally engaging. I can't remember the name of these pieces now (started with the letter "A" and had apostrophes in the name?) I'll have to look them up when I get home today.

    From the small amount I've heard, his pieces seem cerebral to me in a good way.

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    Newbies Doktor Faust's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mirror Image View Post
    Did you write this biography?

    Okay, this must be from Wikipedia. Good 'ol Wikipedia!
    No its not from Wiki, but I cant claim its all my work. More a cut and paste of what I regard as highlights.

    I think you're right about the Concerto, its more of a symphony with piano continuum. Its size is impressive and perhaps a little daunting because of that, for a soloist its the equivalent of running a marathon. For a long time the only available performance was with the venerable John Odgen on EMI. There have been a few recordings made since the early nineties and I've heard most of them. I'll stick by Garrick Ohlsson/ Ernst Dohnanyi performance even if the piano does sound more powerful than it really should, its rarely lacking.

    The biggest surprise in his output for me was (naturally) his final Opera Doktor Faust, a truly amazing work. It does fade a little in the final act but that could be that it was finished by Jarnach rather than Busoni. If you like opera give the first act a listen, I think you'll be both delighted and surprized. Its almost as dark as Bluebeards Castle.

    Yes Weston his work is cerebral, he's really a composers composer.
    Last edited by Doktor Faust; May-08-2009 at 23:38.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Doktor Faust View Post
    I think you're right about the Concerto, its more of a symphony with piano continuum. Its size is impressive and perhaps a little daunting because of that, for a soloist its the equivalent of running a marathon. For a long time the only available performance was with the venerable John Odgen on EMI. There have been a few recordings made since the early nineties and I've heard most of them. I'll stick by Garrick Ohlsson/ Ernst Dohnanyi performance even if the piano does sound more powerful than it really should, its rarely lacking.
    Yeah, I own the Ohlsson/Dohnanyl recording on Telarc and it's fantastic.

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    Senior Member Air's Avatar
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    The amazing thing about Busoni is that, in may ways, he was a man ahead of his times. Back in the late 1800s, there were the Liszt pianists, Leschetitsky pianists, Godowsky, de Pachmann, and then there was Busoni. In my opinion, he was the first anti-romantic, setting the stage for the new "modern" generation. Instead of romantizing each work, Busoni would stick to the notes, play the idea intended by the composer rather than the unfaithful bravura and oversentimentality displayed by the others.

    I don't think Busoni realized how long his Piano Concerto was. Even when he was old, he would play series of endless concerts with four or five Mozart concerti in each. It is a great work, almost 80 minutes long, and with the male chorus at the end, it could've been written by Mahler! (The Hamelin recording is also very good, better in my opinion, than the Ogdon.)

    Busoni's forte was the piano and the opera. He also wrote a few violin sonatas, Lieder, and orchestral works. Fantasia Contrappuntistica really reflects his love for Bach. In fact, his Chopin interpretations were so dry they are often Bach-sounding! In addition, he wrote four operas. Die Brautwahl and Doktor Faust are very beautiful and should be known in Italian opera among the Rossinis, Donizettis, Bellinis, Verdis, and Puccinis.

    It is a pity he died before the completion of his magnum opus, Doktor Faust. Probably because of its incompletion and the length of the Piano Concerto, Busoni's works have been neglected. When we hear "Busoni" today, many of us think of a stylish clothing store or an expensive car. Most musicians think of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne or Toccata&Fugue. As I said before, Busoni was a modernist, faithful to the score, so in my opinion a transcription doesn't do him very much justice!
    "Summit or death, either way, I win" ~R. Schumann

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Weston View Post
    I can't remember the name of these pieces now (started with the letter "A" and had apostrophes in the name?) I'll have to look them up when I get home today.
    Those pieces I was trying to remember were An die Jugend and Prelude and Fugue in Cm both for solo piano on a Naxos recording. Very nice indeed.

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    Senior Member Air's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Weston View Post
    I used to think Busoni was just the guy who edited a lot of Bach's works for piano -- but I was way off!

    Thanks to another forum contributor, Andre, mentioning him in one of the favorite such-and-such lists, I listened to Busoni at work last week.
    I think I mentioned him too sometime back as well, and you commented that Busoni was a modernizer of Bach's piano works!

    I'm glad you've wandered into new territory, looking into his (other) piano works.

    If I can give you a suggestion, listen to the Piano Concerto (or rather Piano Symphony) in C on youtube. There are two very good versions posted: Hamelin and Ogdon. Beware, it's 5 movements, nearly 80 minutes, and features a male chorus!
    "Summit or death, either way, I win" ~R. Schumann

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    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    As the article says, he was a great influence on, mentor & teacher to the younger generation of composers. In particular, Busoni's book Sketch of a New Æsthetic of Music, was very influential on people like Edgard Varese. During Varese's residence in Berlin from the late 1900's to the mid 1910's, Busoni was not only his teacher but his friend. In fact, Busoni dedicated to Varese the score of his Berceuse Elégiaque in 1910, “All’illustre Futuro, l’amico Varèse, affezionatamente.”

    I have great admiration for Busoni because of these things. He was forward looking, and appreciated the younger talents. Unlike Saint-Saens & Glazunov, for example, he was not conservative and judgemental, he was very open and welcoming towards younger composers, and the new music they produced.

    I would compare his music to that of Janacek, because it is idiosyncratic & different from what was being produced at that time. You couldn't put either of them in a box, they were far too individualistic for that.

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    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by airad2 View Post
    The amazing thing about Busoni is that, in may ways, he was a man ahead of his times...In my opinion, he was the first anti-romantic, setting the stage for the new "modern" generation...As I said before, Busoni was a modernist, faithful to the score, so in my opinion a transcription doesn't do him very much justice!
    I agree with the above assesment. Yesterday, I bought a Naxos CD which has the orchestral version of the abovementioned Berceuse Elégiaque. Well, it just blew me away! It's hard to believe that it was composed around 1910. The orchestration, which includes a celesta, is like something you'd hear in Bartok or Vaughan Williams composed decades later. It's quite lyrical, but full of tension & still sounds new in many ways. No wonder Richard Strauss was highly impressed by it & so was Mahler, who conducted its first performance in what was to be his last public appearance.

    Even though the other works on the CD, Turandot & two pieces from Docktor Faust, don't grab me as much, the price of the CD was worth it alone for the 11 minute Berceuse Elégiaque alone! This man was a genius, far ahead of his time, and is undeservedly neglected, in my opinion...

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    Senior Member danae's Avatar
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    Has anyone listened to his Sonatina Seconda for piano solo? It's really great. I had to listen to it for some program notes and I previously had an idea about Busoni, I didn't think much of him. But when I heard this I was "wow, this is something worth studying for 3 months in order to play it"!

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    Senior Member TresPicos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doktor Faust View Post
    Fans of Busoni's its time to speak up and say what you think of both him and his music.
    I listened to his impressive piano concerto for the first time this evening, and I was really blown away. Not just by the length or by the scope, but by the lovely harmonies too. And when what male chorus appeared towards the end, I had to laugh. Like it wasn't overwhelming enough already.

    Too early to say if I'm a Busoni fan, but I got off to a good start.

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    Senior Member GioCar's Avatar
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    It's time to resurrect this old thread:

    Few days ago I downloaded from the Hyperion label website:



    His late piano music, played by Marc-André Hamelin.
    Unfortunately no Fantasia Contrappuntistica but anyway an exhaustive collection of his works for piano.
    I am listening to them little by little. They are wonderful. Busoni really deserves to be better known.

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    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    I'm very partial to his Fantasia Contrappuntistica - I'd have been more than happy had he composed other works for solo piano that were similarly lengthy.
    '...a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without a single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity...' - Leigh Hunt on the Prince Regent (later George IV).

    ὃν οἱ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν ἀποθνῄσκει νέος [Those whom the gods love die young] - Menander

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