Ferruccio Busoni (1 April 1866 – 27 July 1924) (given names:
Ferruccio Dante Michelangiolo Benvenuto)[i] was an Italian composer,
pianist, conductor, editor, writer, and teacher. His international
career and reputation meant that he met and had close relations with
many of the leading musicians, artists and literary figures of his
time, and he was sought-after both as a keyboard instructor and a
teacher of composition.
Busoni was born in Empoli, just south of Florence; he was the son of
professional musicians. Initially trained by his father, he later
studied at the Vienna Conservatory and then with Wilhelm Mayer and
Carl Reinecke. In the ensuing years, after brief periods teaching in
Helsinki, Boston, and Moscow, he devoted himself to composing,
teaching, and touring as a virtuoso pianist in Europe and the United
States. His writings on music were influential; they covered not only
aesthetics but considerations of microtones and other innovative
topics. He was based in Berlin from 1894 but spent much of World War I
Busoni was an outstanding (if sometimes controversial) pianist from an
early age. He began composing in his early years in a late romantic
style, but after 1907, when he published his Sketch of a New Esthetic
of Music, he developed a more individual style, often with elements of
atonality. His visits to America led to interest in North American
indigenous tribal melodies which were reflected in some of his works.
His compositions include works for piano, including a monumental Piano
Concerto, and transcriptions of the works of others, notably Johann
Sebastian Bach which appeared in the Bach-Busoni Edition. His other
compositions include chamber music, vocal and orchestral works, and
also operas, one of which, Doktor Faust, was left unfinished at the
time of his death. Busoni died in Berlin at the age of 58.
1.1 Early career
1.2 Helsingfors, Moscow, America 1888–1893
1.3 Berlin 1893–1913: "A new epoch"
1.4 Before and after
World War I
World War I (1913–1920)
1.5 Last years (1920–1924)
2.2.1 Opus numbers
2.2.2 Early compositions
2.2.3 Busoni and Bach
2.2.5 Mature compositions
2.2.6 Editions, transcriptions and arrangements
2.2.7 Audio recordings
2.2.8 Piano rolls
4 Notes and references
6 Further reading
7 External links
Ferruccio Busoni, 1877
Busoni was born in the Tuscan town of Empoli, the only child of two
professional musicians, Ferdinando, a clarinettist, and Anna (née
Weiss), a pianist. The family shortly afterwards moved to Trieste. A
child prodigy, largely taught by his father, he began performing and
composing at the age of seven. In an autobiographical note he comments
"My father knew little about the pianoforte and was erratic in rhythm,
so he made up for these shortcomings with an indescribable combination
of energy, severity and pedantry." Busoni made his public debut as
a pianist in a concert with his parents at the Schiller-Verein in
Trieste on 24 November 1873 playing the first movement of Mozart's
Sonata in C Major, and pieces by Schumann and Clementi.
Commercially promoted by his parents in a series of further concerts,
he was later to say "I never had a childhood." In 1875, he made his
concerto début playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24.
From the ages of nine to eleven, with the help of a patron, Busoni
studied at the Vienna Conservatory. His first performances in Vienna
were glowingly received by the critic Eduard Hanslick. In 1877 he
heard the playing of Franz Liszt, and was introduced to the composer
who admired his performance. In the following year he composed a
four-movement concerto for piano and string quartet. Leaving Vienna he
had a brief period of study in
Graz with Wilhelm Mayer, and conducted
a performance of his own composition Stabat Mater, Op. 55 in the
composer's initial numbering sequence, (BV 119, now lost) in 1879.
Other early pieces were published at this time, including settings of
Ave Maria (Opp. 1 and 2, BV 67) and some piano pieces.
Busoni, c. 1886
Busoni was elected in 1881 to the Accademia Filharmonica of Bologna,
the youngest person to receive this honour since Mozart. In the mid
1880s he was based in Vienna where he met with
Karl Goldmark and
helped to prepare the vocal score for the latter's 1886 opera, Merlin.
He also met Johannes Brahms, to whom he dedicated two sets of piano
Etudes, and who recommended him to undertake study in
Carl Reinecke. During this period he supported himself by giving
recitals, and also by the financial support of a patron, the Baronin
von Tedesco. He also continued to compose, and made his first attempt
at an opera, Sigune, which he worked on from 1886 to 1889 before
abandoning the project. In a letter he describes how, finding
himself penniless in Leipzig, he appealed to the publisher Schwalm to
take his compositions. Schwalm demurred but said he would commission a
fantasy on Peter Cornelius's opera
The Barber of Baghdad for fifty
marks down, and a hundred on completion. The next morning Busoni
turned up at Schwalm's office, and asked for 150 marks, handing over
the completed work: "I worked from nine at night to three thirty,
without a piano, and not knowing the opera beforehand."
Helsingfors, Moscow, America 1888–1893
Ferruccio Busoni, c. 1900
In 1888 the musicologist
Hugo Riemann recommended Busoni to Martin
Wegelius, director of the Institute of Music at Helsingfors (now
Helsinki, Finland, then part of the Russian Empire), for the vacant
position of advanced piano instructor. This was Busoni's first
permanent post. Amongst his close colleagues and associates there
were the conductor and composer Armas Järnefelt, the writer Adolf
Paul, and the composer Jean Sibelius, with whom he struck up a
continuing friendship. Paul described Busoni at this time as "a
small, slender Italian with chestnut beard, grey eyes, young and gay,
with ... a small round cap perched proudly on his thick artist's
curls". Between 1888 and 1890 Busoni gave about thirty piano
recitals and chamber concerts in Helsingfors; amongst his
compositions at this period were a set of Finnish folksongs for piano
duet Op. 27. In 1889, visiting Leipzig, he heard a performance on
the organ of JS Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565), and was
persuaded by his pupil Kathi Petri (the mother of his future pupil
Egon Petri, then only 5 years old), to transcribe it for piano.
Busoni's biographer Edward Dent writes that "This was not only the
beginning of [his] transcriptions, but ... the beginning of that
style of pianoforte touch and technique which was entirely [Busoni's]
creation." Returning to Helsingfors, in March of the same year
Busoni met his future wife, Gerda Sjöstrand, the daughter of the
Swedish sculptor Carl Eneas Sjöstrand, and proposed to her within a
week. For her he composed Kultaselle (Finnish: To the beloved) for
cello and piano (published 1891 without opus number, BV 237).
In 1890 Busoni published his first edition of works of J.S. Bach (the
two- and three-part Inventions). In the same year he won the prize
for composition, with his Konzertstück ("Concert Piece") for piano
and orchestra Op. 31a (BV 236), at the first Anton Rubinstein
Competition, initiated by
Anton Rubinstein himself at the St.
Petersburg Conservatory. As a consequence he was invited to visit
and teach at the Moscow Conservatoire. Gerda joined him in Moscow
where they promptly married. His first concert in Moscow, when he
performed Beethoven's Emperor Concerto, was warmly received. But
living in Moscow did not suit the Busonis for both financial and
professional reasons; he felt excluded by his
nationalistically-inclined Russian colleagues. So when he received an
William Steinway to teach at New England Conservatory of
Music in Boston, he was happy to take the opportunity, particularly as
the conductor at that time of the
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Boston Symphony Orchestra was Arthur
Nikisch, whom he had known since 1876, when they performed together at
a concert in Vienna.
Busoni's first son, Benvenuto (known as Benni), was born in Boston in
1892, but Busoni's experience at New England Conservatory proved
unsatisfactory. After a year he resigned from the Conservatory and
launched himself into a series of recitals across the Eastern USA.
Berlin 1893–1913: "A new epoch"
Cartoon drawn for his wife by Busoni of his 1904 US tour: "Map of the
West of the United States showing the long and dolorous Tour, the
anti-sentimental journey of F.B., 1904, Chicago"
In April 1893 Busoni was present at the Berlin premiere of Giuseppe
Verdi's opera Falstaff. The result was to force on him a re-evaluation
of the potential of Italian musical traditions which he had so far
ignored in favour of the German traditions, and in particular the
Johannes Brahms and the orchestral techniques of Liszt and
Richard Wagner. He immediately began to draft an adulatory letter
to Verdi (which he never summoned the courage to send), in which he
addressed him as "Italy's leading composer" and "one of the noblest
persons of our time", and in which he explained that "Falstaff
provoked in me such a revolution of spirit that I can ... date
the beginning of a new epoch in my artistic life from that time."
In 1894 Busoni settled in Berlin, which he henceforth regarded as his
home base, except during the years around World War I. His earlier
feelings about the city had been unsympathetic: in an 1889 letter to
Gerda he had described it as "this Jewish city that I hate,
irritating, idle, arrogant, parvenu".[ii] The city was swiftly
growing in population and influence at this period and determined to
stake itself as the musical capital of the united Germany; but as
Busoni's friend the English composer
Bernard van Dieren
Bernard van Dieren points out
"international virtuosi who for practical reasons chose Berlin as
their abode were not so much concerned with questions of prestige",
and for Busoni the city's development as "the centre of the musical
industry [was to] develop an atmosphere which [Busoni] detested more
than the deepest pool of stagnant convention".
Berlin proved an excellent base for European tours. As in the previous
two years in the USA Busoni had to depend for his living on exhausting
but remunerative tours as a piano virtuoso; in addition at this period
he was remitting substantial amounts to his parents, who continued to
depend on his income. As a recitalist Busoni's programming and style
initially raised concerns in some of Europe's musical centres. His
first concerts in London, in 1897, met with mixed comments. The
Musical Times reported that he "commenced in a manner to irritate the
genuine amateurs [i.e. music lovers] by playing a ridiculous travesty
of one of Bach's masterly Organ Preludes and Fugues, but he made
amends by an interpretation of Chopin's Studies (Op. 25) which was of
course unequal but, on the whole, interesting". In Paris the
critic Arthur Dandelot commented "this artist has certainly great
qualities of technique and charm", but strongly objected to his
addition of chromatic passages to parts of Liszt's St. François de
Paule marchant sur les flots.
Busoni's international reputation swiftly rose and he frequently
concertized in Berlin, the other European capitals and in European
regional centres (including Manchester, Birmingham, Marseilles,
Florence, and many German and Austrian cities) throughout this period,
as well as returning to America for four visits between 1904 and
1915: his wandering life led van Dieren to call him "a musical
Ishmael" (after the Biblical wanderer). The musicologist Anthony
Beaumont considers Busoni's six Liszt recitals in Berlin of 1911 as
"the climax of Busoni's pre-war career as a pianist".
Busoni's performing commitments somewhat stifled his creative capacity
during this period; in 1896 he wrote "I have great success as a
pianist, the composer I conceal for the present." His monumental
Piano Concerto (which, in five movements, lasts over an hour and
includes in its last movement an offstage male chorus) was written
between 1901 and 1904. In 1904 and 1905 Busoni wrote his Turandot
Suite as incidental music for Carlo Gozzi's play Turandot. A major
project undertaken at this time was the opera Die Brautwahl, based on
a tale by E. T. A. Hoffmann, first performed (to a lukewarm reception)
in Berlin in 1912. Busoni also began to produce the solo piano
works in which his maturer style was clearly revealed, including the
Elegies (BV 249, 1907), the suite
An die Jugend
An die Jugend (BV 252, 1909) and the
first two piano sonatinas (BV 257, 1910 and BV 259, 1912).
In a series of orchestral concerts in Berlin between 1902 and 1909,
both as pianist and conductor, Busoni particularly promoted
contemporary music from outside Germany (though he avoided
contemporary music, except for his own, in his solo recitals). The
series, which was held at the Beethovensaal (Beethoven Hall), included
German premieres of music by Edward Elgar, Sibelius, César Franck,
Claude Debussy, Vincent D'Indy,
Carl Nielsen and Béla Bartók. The
concerts also included premieres of some of Busoni's own works of the
period, amongst them, in 1904, the Piano Concerto, in which he was the
soloist and the conductor was Karl Muck, in 1905 his Turandot Suite,
and in 1907 his Comedy Overture. Music of older masters was
included, but sometimes with an unexpected twist – for example
Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto with the eccentric first movement
Charles-Valentin Alkan (which includes references to
Beethoven's Fifth Symphony). The concerts aroused much
publicity but generated aggressive comments from critics. Couling
suggests the programming of the concerts was "generally regarded as a
During the period Busoni undertook teaching at masterclasses at
Weimar, Vienna and Basel. In 1900 he was invited by Duke
Weimar to lead a masterclass for fifteen young
virtuosi. This concept was more amenable to Busoni than teaching
formally in a Conservatory: the twice-weekly seminars were successful
and were repeated in the following year. Pupils included Maud Allan,
who later became famous as a dancer and remained a friend. His
experience in Vienna in 1907 was less satisfactory, although amongst
his more rewarding pupils were Ignaz Friedman, Leo Sirota, Louis
Józef Turczyński and Louis Closson; the latter four were
dedicatees of pieces in Busoni's 1909 piano album An die Jugend. But
arguments with the Directorate of the Vienna Conservatoire, under
whose auspices the classes were held, soured the atmosphere. In
the autumn of 1910 Busoni gave masterclasses and also carried out a
series of recitals in Basel.
In the years before World War I, Busoni steadily extended his contacts
in the art world in general as well as amongst musicians. Arnold
Schoenberg, with whom Busoni had been in correspondence since 1903,
settled in Berlin in 1911 partially as a consequence of Busoni
lobbying on his behalf. In 1913 Busoni arranged at his own apartment a
private performance of Schoenberg's
Pierrot Lunaire which was attended
by, amongst others, Willem Mengelberg, Edgard Varèse, and Artur
Schnabel. In Paris in 1912 Busoni had meetings with Gabriele
D'Annunzio who proposed collaboration in a ballet or opera. He
also met with the Futurist artists Filippo Marinetti and Umberto
Before and after
World War I
World War I (1913–1920)
Portrait of Busoni by Umberto Boccioni, 1916, Galleria Nazionale
d'Arte Moderna, Rome
Following a series of concerts in Northern Italy in spring 1913,
Busoni was offered the directorship of the Liceo Rossini in Bologna.
He had recently moved to an apartment in
Schöneberg, Berlin, but took up the offer, intending to spend his
summers in Berlin. The posting proved not to be a success.
a cultural backwater, despite occasional visits from celebrities such
as Isadora Duncan. Busoni's piano pupils were untalented, and he had
constant arguments with the local authorities. After the outbreak of
World War I
World War I in August 1914, he asked for a year of absence to play an
American tour; in fact he was never to return. Virtually his sole
permanent achievement at the school was to have modernized its
sanitary facilities. He had however during this time composed
another concertante work for piano and orchestra, the Indian Fantasy.
The piece is based on melodies and rhythms from various American
Indian tribes; Busoni derived them from a book he had received from
his former pupil, the ethnomusicologist
Natalie Curtis Burlin during
his 1910 tour of the USA. The work was premiered with Busoni as
soloist in March 1914 in Berlin.
From June 1914 to January 1915 Busoni was in Berlin: as the native of
a neutral country (Italy) living in Germany, the outbreak of war did
not at first greatly concern him. During this period he began to work
seriously on the libretto for his proposed opera Doktor Faust. In
January 1915 he left for a concert tour of the USA, which was to be
his last visit there. During this time he continued work on his Bach
edition, including his version of the Goldberg Variations. On his
return to Europe Italy had entered the War, and he therefore chose to
base himself from 1915 in Switzerland. Here in
Zürich he found local
supporters in Volkmar Andreae, conductor of the Tonhalle Orchestra,
and Philipp Jarnach. His friend
José Vianna da Motta
José Vianna da Motta also taught
Geneva at this time. Andreae arranged for Busoni to give
concerts with his orchestra. Jarnach, who was 23 when he met
Busoni in 1915, became Busoni's indispensable assistant, among other
things preparing piano scores of his operas – Busoni referred
to him as his "famulus". While in America Busoni had already
carried out further work on
Doktor Faust and had written the libretto
of his one-act opera Arlecchino –  He completed Arlecchino
Zürich and, to provide a full evening at the theatre, reworked his
earlier Turandot into a one-act piece. The two were premiered together
Zürich in May 1917.
In 1916 whilst visiting Italy, Busoni met again with the artist
Boccioni, who painted his portrait; Busoni was deeply affected when a
few months later Boccioni was killed (in a riding accident) whilst on
military training, and published a strongly anti-war article. An
expanded re-issue of Busoni's 1907 work A New Esthetic of Music let to
a virulent counter-attack from the German composer
Hans Pfitzner and
an extended war of words. Busoni continued to experiment with
microtones; in America he had obtained some harmonium reeds tuned in
third-tones, and he claimed that he "had worked out the theory of a
system of thirds of tones in two rows, each separated from each other
by a semitone".
Although Busoni met with many other artistic personalities who were
also basing themselves in Switzerland during the war (including
Stephan Zweig and James Joyce – the former noting Busoni's
extensive drinking) he soon found his circumstances limiting.
After the end of the war, he again undertook concert tours in England,
Paris and Italy. In London he met with the composer Kaikhosru
Sorabji who played to him his Second Piano Sonata (which he dedicated
to Busoni); Busoni was sufficiently impressed to write for Sorabji a
letter of recommendation. When Busoni's former pupil Leo
Kestenberg, now an official at the Ministry of Culture in the German
Weimar Republic, invited him to return to Germany, with the promise of
a teaching post and productions of his operas, he was very glad to
take the opportunity.
Last years (1920–1924)
Commemorative plaque at site of Busoni's apartment in Schöneberg,
In 1920 Busoni returned to the Berlin apartment at
Viktoria-Luise-Platz 11, Berlin-Schöneberg, which he had left in
1915. He was now in a state of declining health. Although he continued
to give concerts his main concern was to complete Doktor Faust, the
libretto of which had been published in Germany in 1918. In 1921 he
wrote "Like a subterranean river, heard but not seen, the music for
Faust roars and flows continually in the depths of my
In Berlin Busoni was at the heart of the musical world of the Weimar
Republic. His works, including his operas, were regularly programmed.
He continued to perform whilst his health allowed it; problems of
hyperinflation in Germany meant that he needed to undertake tours to
England. His last appearance as a pianist was in Berlin in May 1922,
playing Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. Amongst his composition
pupils in Berlin were Kurt Weill,
Wladimir Vogel and Robert Blum, and
he also during these last years had contact with Edgard Varèse, Igor
Hermann Scherchen and others.
Busoni died in Berlin on 7 July 1924, officially from heart failure,
although inflamed kidneys and overwork also contributed to his
Doktor Faust remained unfinished at his death and was
premiered posthumously in Berlin in 1925 in a completion made by
Jarnach. Busoni's Berlin apartment was destroyed in an air-raid in
1943, and many of his possessions and papers were lost or looted. A
plaque at the site commemorates his residence. Busoni's wife Gerda
died in Sweden in 1956. Their son Benni, who despite his American
nationality had lived in Berlin throughout World War II, died there in
1976. Their second son Lello, an illustrator, died in New York in
Busoni at the piano, c.1895
Alfred Brendel opines that "Busoni's piano-playing
signifies the victory of reflection over bravura" after the more
flamboyant era of Liszt. He cites Busoni himself: "Music is so
constituted that every context is a new context and should be treated
as an 'exception'. The solution of a problem, once found, cannot be
reapplied to a different context. Our art is a theatre of surprise and
invention, and of the seemingly unprepared. The spirit of music arises
from the depths of our humanity and is returned to the high regions
whence it has descended on mankind."
Henry Wood was surprised to hear Busoni playing passages in a
Mozart concerto, written as single notes, with two hands in double
octaves; at which
Donald Tovey proclaimed Busoni "to be an absolute
purist in not confining himself strictly to Mozart's written text",
that is, that Mozart himself could have taken similar liberties. The
Percy Scholes wrote that "Busoni, from his perfect
command over every means of expression and his complete consideration
of every phrase in a composition to every other phrase and to the
whole, was the truest artist of all the pianists [I] had ever
List of compositions by Ferruccio Busoni
List of compositions by Ferruccio Busoni and List of
adaptations by Ferruccio Busoni
Busoni's works include compositions, adaptations, writings and
Busoni gave many (but not all) of his works opus numbers; some numbers
apply to more than one work (after the composer dropped some of his
earlier works from his acknowledged corpus). Nor are the composer's
numbers all in temporal order. The musicologist Jürgen Kindermann
has prepared a thematic catalogue of his works and transcriptions
which is also used, in the form of the letters BV (for Busoni
Verzeichnis, German:Busoni Index: sometimes the letters KiV for
Kindermann Verzeichnis are used) followed by an identifier, to
identify his compositions and transcriptions. The identifier B (for
Bearbeitung, German: arrangement) is used for Busoni's transcriptions
and cadenzas – e.g. BV B 1 refers to Busoni's cadenzas for
Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4.
Hugo Leichtentritt suggested that the Second Violin Sonata Op.
36a (BV 244), completed in 1900, "stands on the border-line between
the first and second epochs of Busoni", although Van Dieren
asserts that in conversation Busoni "made no such claims for any work
written before 1910. This means that he dated his work as an
independent composer from the piano pieces An die Jugend ... and
the Berceuse in its original version for piano." (These works were
actually written in 1909). The Kindermann Busoni Verzeichnis lists
over 200 compositions in the period to 1900, which are met with very
rarely in the contemporary repertoire or in recording, mostly
featuring piano, either as solo instrument or accompanying others, but
also including some works for chamber ensemble and some for orchestra,
amongst them two large-scale suites and a violin concerto.
Antony Beaumont comments that Busoni wrote virtually no chamber music
after 1898 and no songs between 1886 and 1918, commenting that this
was "part of the process of freeing himself from his Leipzig
background ... [evoking] worlds of middle-class respectability in
which he was not at home, and [in which] the shadows of Schumann,
Brahms and Wolf loomed too large." The first decade of the 20th
century is described by Brendel as being for Busoni "a creative pause"
after which he "finally gained an artistic profile of his own" as
opposed to the "easy routine which had kept his entire earlier
production on the tracks of eclecticism". During this period
appeared his Piano Concerto, Op. 39, one of the largest such works
ever written both in terms of duration and of resources. Dent comments
"In construction [the Concerto] is difficult to analyse ... on
account of the way in which themes are transferred from movement to
another. The work has to be considered as a whole, and Busoni always
desired it to be played straight through without interruption."
The press reaction to the premiere of the Concerto was largely
outraged: the Tägliche Rundschau (de) complained of "Noise, more
noise, eccentricity and licentiousness"; another journal opined that
"the composer would have done better to stay within more modest
boundaries". The other major work during this "creative pause" was
the Turandot Suite. Busoni employed motifs from Chinese and other
oriental music in the suite, though, as Leichtentritt points out, the
Suite is "in fact the product of an Occidental mind, for whom the
exact imitation of the real Chinese model would always be unnatural
and unattainable ... the appearance is more artistic than the
real thing would be." The Suite was first performed as a purely
musical item in 1905; it was used in a production of the play in 1911,
and was eventually transformed into a two-act opera in 1917.
Busoni and Bach
See also: Bach-Busoni Editions
Cover of first edition of Busoni's edition of Bach's The Well-Tempered
Clavier, Book I, 1894
1894 saw the publication in Berlin of the first part of Busoni's
edition of the music of
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach for the piano; the first
book of The Well-Tempered Clavier. This was equipped with
substantial appendices, including one "On the Transcription of Bach's
Organ Works for the Pianoforte". This was eventually to form a volume
of the Bach-Busoni Edition, an undertaking which was to extend over
thirty years. Seven volumes were edited by Busoni himself; these
included the 1890 edition of the Two- and Three-Part Inventions.
[iii] Busoni also began to publish his concert piano transcriptions of
Bach's music, which he often included in his own recitals. These
included some of Bach's chorale preludes for organ, the organ Toccata
and Fugue in D minor, and the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue. These
transcriptions go beyond literal reproduction of the music for piano
and often involve substantial recreation, although never straying from
the original rhythmic outlines, melody notes and harmony. This is
in line with Busoni's own concept that the performing artist should be
free to intuit and communicate his divination of the composer's
intentions. Busoni adds tempo markings, articulation and phrase
markings, dynamics and metronome markings to the originals, as well as
extensive performance suggestions. In his edition of Bach's Goldberg
Variations (BV B 35), for example, he suggests cutting eight of the
variations for a "concert performance", as well as substantially
rewriting many sections.
Kenneth Hamilton comments that "the last four
variations are rewritten as a free fantasy in a pianistic style which
owes far more to Busoni than to Bach."
On the death of his father in 1909, Busoni wrote in his memory a
Fantasia after J. S. Bach (BV 253); and in the following year came his
extended fantasy based on Bach, the Fantasia Contrappuntistica.
Busoni wrote a number of essays on music. The Entwurf einer neue
Ästhetike der Tonkunst (Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music), first
published in 1907, set out the principles underlying his performances
and his mature compositions. A collection of reflections which are
"the outcome of convictions long held and slowly matured", the Sketch
asserts that "The spirit of an artwork ... remains[s] unchanged
in value through changing years" but its form, manner of expression,
and the conventions of the era when it was created, "are transient and
age rapidly". The Sketch includes the maxim that "Music was born free;
and to win freedom is its destiny". It therefore takes issue with
conventional wisdom on music, caricatured by Busoni as the
constricting rules of the "lawgivers". It praises the music of
Beethoven and JS Bach as the essence of the spirit of music
("Ur-Musik") and says that their art should "be conceived as a
beginning, and not as an unsurpassable finality." Busoni asserts
the right of the interpreter vis-à-vis the purism of the "lawgivers".
"The performance of music, its emotional interpretation, derives from
those free heights whence descended Art itself ... What the
composer's inspiration necessarily loses through notation, his
interpreter should restore by his own." He envisages a future
music that will include the division of the octave into more than the
traditional 12 semitones. However, he asserted the importance of
musical form and structure: His idea of a 'Young Classicism'[iv]
"aimed to incorporate experimental features in "firm, rounded
forms" ... motivated each time by musical necessity."
Another collection of Busoni's essays was published in 1922 as Von der
Einheit der Musik, later republished as Wesen und Einheit der Musik,
and in 1957 translated as The Essence of Music. Busoni also
wrote the librettos of his four operas.
Sketch by Busoni of the structure of his Fantasia Contrappuntistica,
Writing in 1917,
Hugo Leichtentritt described Busoni's mature style as
having elements in common with those of Sibelius, Claude Debussy,
Alexander Scriabin, and Arnold Schoenberg, noting in particular his
movement away from traditional major and minor scales towards
The first landmarks of this mature style are the group of piano works
published in 1907–1912 (the Elegies, the suite
An die Jugend
An die Jugend and the
first two piano sonatinas) and Busoni's first completed opera, Die
Brautwahl; together with the rather different Bach homage, the 1910
Fantasia contrappuntistica, Busoni's largest work for solo piano.
About half an hour in length, it is essentially an extended fantasy on
the final incomplete fugue from Bach's The Art of Fugue. It uses
several melodic figures found in Bach's work, most notably the BACH
motif. Busoni revised the work a number of times and arranged it for
Busoni also drew inspiration from North American indigenous tribal
melodies drawn from the studies of Natalie Curtis, which informed his
Indian Fantasy for piano and orchestra of 1913 and two books of solo
piano sketches, Indian Diary.
In 1917 Busoni wrote the one-act opera
Arlecchino (1917) as a
companion piece for his revision of Turandot as an opera. He began
serious work on his 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. In the 1980s
Antony Beaumont created an expanded and improved completion by drawing
on material to which Jarnach did not have access;
Joseph Horowitz has
described the Beaumont completion as "longer, more adventurous and
perhaps less good."
In the last seven years of his life Busoni worked sporadically on his
Klavierübung, a compilation of exercises, transcriptions, and
original compositions of his own, with which he hoped to pass on his
accumulated knowledge of keyboard technique. It was issued in five
parts between 1918 and 1922 An extended version in ten books was
published posthumously in 1925.
Editions, transcriptions and arrangements
Apart from his work on the music of Bach, Busoni edited and
transcribed works by other composers. He edited three volumes of the
Franz Liszt Foundation's edition of Liszt's works, including
most of the etudes, and the Grandes études de Paganini. Other Liszt
transcriptions include his piano arrangement of Liszt's organ Fantasy
and Fugue on the chorale "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam" (BV B 59) (based
on a theme from Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera Le Prophète) and concert
versions of two of the Hungarian Rhapsodies.
Busoni also made keyboard transcriptions of works by Mozart, Franz
Niels Gade and others in the period 1886–1891 for the
publisher Breitkopf und Härtel. Later, during his earliest
Arnold Schoenberg in 1909, he made a 'concert
interpretation' of the latter's atonal Piano Piece, Op. 11, No. 2 (BV
B 97) (which greatly annoyed Schoenberg himself).
Busoni's own works sometimes feature incorporated elements of other
composers' music. The fourth movement of
An die Jugend
An die Jugend (1909), for
instance, uses two of Niccolò Paganini's Caprices for solo violin
(numbers 11 and 15), while the 1920 piece Piano
Sonatina No. 6
(Fantasia da camera super Carmen) is based on themes from Georges
Bizet's opera Carmen.
Ferruccio Busoni discography
Ferruccio Busoni discography (as pianist)
Busoni's recorded output on gramophone record was very limited, and
many of the original recordings were destroyed when the Columbia
factory burnt down. Busoni mentions recording the Gounod-Liszt Faust
Waltz in a letter to his wife in 1919. This recording was never
released. He never recorded any of his own works.
Busoni made a considerable number of piano rolls, and a small number
of these have been re-recorded onto vinyl record or CD. These include
a 1950 recording by
Columbia Records sourced from piano rolls made by
Welte-Mignon including music of Chopin and transcriptions by Liszt.
The value of these recordings in ascertaining Busoni's performance
style is a matter of some dispute. Many of his colleagues and students
expressed disappointment with the recordings and felt they did not
truly represent Busoni's pianism.
Egon Petri was horrified by the
piano roll recordings when they first appeared on vinyl and said that
they were a travesty of Busoni's playing. Similarly, Petri's
Gunnar Johansen who had heard Busoni play on several
occasions, remarked, "Of Busoni's piano rolls and recordings, only
Feux follets (no. 5 of Liszt's Transcendental Études) is really
something unique. The rest is curiously unconvincing. The recordings,
especially of Chopin, are a plain misalliance".
List of repertoire pieces by Ferruccio Busoni
List of repertoire pieces by Ferruccio Busoni and Ferruccio
Busoni's impact on music was perhaps more through those who studied
piano and composition with him, and through his writings on music,
than through his compositions themselves, of whose style there are no
Alfred Brendel has opined: "Compositions like the
monstrously overwritten Piano Concerto ... obstruct our view of
his superlative late piano music. How topical still – and
undiscovered – are the first two sonatinas... and the Toccata
of 1921 ... Doktor Faust, now as ever, towers over the musical
theatre of its time." Helmut Wirth has written that Busoni's
"ambivalent nature, striving to reconcile tradition with innovation,
his gifts as a composer and the profundity of his theoretical writings
make [him] one of the most interesting figures in the history of
Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition
Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition was initiated in
Busoni's honour in 1949, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his
Notes and references
^ The names were chosen by his father to reflect Dante Alighieri,
Michelangelo Buonarrotti and Benvenuto Cellini; but "in later life,
Ferruccio, feeling that all these names involved too formidable a
responsibility", quietly dropped them. The spelling version
'Michelangelo' is sometimes found for his third given name; the
spelling 'Michelangiolo' is given by (amongst others) Dent, who
consulted with Busoni's wife and family in writing his life of the
^ Busoni's attitude to Jews and antisemitism is somewhat ambiguous.
Busoni's great-great-grandfather on his mother's side was in fact
half-Jewish (although he may not have been aware of this); Busoni
used Jewish melodies to characterize a Jewish character in his opera
Die Brautwahl; when during
World War I
World War I Busoni took a stand against
Hans Pfitzner took the occasion to call his views
"a manifestation of the international Jewish movement" against
Germany; in 1920 Busoni referred to his pupil
Kurt Weill as "a
very fine Jew, who will certainly make his way". But in protest at
German hyper-inflation in 1923, he rewrote for concert performance an
aria from Das Brautwahl, "The Gruesome Tale of the Jew Coiner
Lippold", and naïvely expressed surprise when performance was turned
down on the grounds of its anti-Semitic implications.
^ Busoni's work was also included in a 25-volume comprehensive "Busoni
Edition" of Bach's keyboard works, the other volumes of which were
undertaken by Petri and Bruno Muggelini.
^ Busoni's concept of 'Young Classicism' (in his original German
'Junge Klassizität') should be distinguished from the later inter-war
movement of Neoclassicism, although his interest in musical form may
have influenced the latter.
^ Dent (1933), pp. 7—8.
^ Dent (1933), p.16.
^ Dent (1933), p.17.
^ Couling (2005) pp. 14–16
^ Beaumont (2001) §1
^ a b c Wirth (1980), p. 508
^ Walker (1996), p. 367.
^ See section Opus numbers in this article.
^ Dent (1933), pp. 41–42.
^ Couling (2005), pp. 70–1.
^ Kogan (2010), p. 10.
^ Wis (1977), p. 251.
^ Wis (1977), p. 256.
^ Wis (1977), p. 255.
^ Wis (1977), pp. 267–269.
^ Wis (1977), p. 258.
^ Dent (1933), p. 86.
^ Wis (1977), pp. 259–261.
^ Dent (1933), p. 103
^ Taylor (2007), p. 218.
^ Wis (1977), p. 264.
^ Couling (2005), p. 128.
^ Dent (1933), pp. 97–100
^ Dent (1933), pp. 115–117.
^ Beaumont (1987), pp. 53–54.
^ Couling (2005), p. 143.
^ Couling (2005), p. 352.
^ Knyt (2010a) p. 233
^ Kogan (2010), p. 101.
^ Couling (2005), p. 330.
^ Beaumont (1987), pp. 371, 374.
^ Couling (2005), pp. 148–149.
^ van Dieren (1935), p. 35.
^ Scholes (1947), p. 318.
^ Roberge (1996), p. 274.
^ Couling (2005), pp. 166–73, 183–188, 215–216.
^ van Dieren (1935), p. 44.
^ Beaumont (n.d.), §1.
^ Dent (1933), p. 105, p. 113.
^ Beaumont (1985), p. 61.
^ Beaumont (1985), p. 76.
^ Beaumont (1985), p. 116.
^ Beaumont (1985), pp. 101, 148, 178.
^ Wirth (1980), p. 509.
^ Dent (1933), pp. 332–336.
^ Dent (1933), p. 156
^ Smith (2000), vol. 2, pp. 178—179.
^ Couling (2005), p. 192.
^ Dent (1933), pp. 125—128.
^ Dent (1933), pp. 160–161; Beaumont (1997), p. 91.
^ Couling (2005), p. 239.
^ Beaumont (1985), pp. 26–7, 208.
^ Dent (1933), pp. 197–198, 201–202.
^ Dent (1933), p. 203.
^ Dent (1933), pp. 205–225.
^ .Beaumont (1985), pp. 190–191.
^ Dent (1933), pp. 220—223
^ Dent (1933), p. 229.
^ Couling (2005), p. 311
^ Dent (1933), pp. 223
^ Beaumont (1985), p. 219, p. 240.
^ Dent (1933), p. 231–2.
^ Couling (2005), pp. 306–310.
^ Couling (2005), p. 292.
^ Couling (2005), p. 290, p. 311
^ Dent (1933), pp. 240–247.
^ Beaumont (1987), pp. 300, 303.
^ Couling (2005), pp. 318–322.
^ Dent (1933), p. 264.
^ Dent (1933), pp. 265–271; Coulson (2005), p. 337.
^ Coulson (2005), pp. 335–336.
^ Coulson (2005), pp. 351–352.
^ Beaumont (1995), p. 311.
^ Coulson (2005), pp. 353–354.
^ Brendel (1976), p. 211.
^ Citations and comment from Scholes (1947), p. 318.
^ Dent (1933), p. 37.
^ Kindermann (1980)
^ Leichtentritt (1917), p. 76.
^ van Dieren (1935), p. 52.
^ Roberge (1991), pp. 8–63
^ Beaumont (1985), p. 42.
^ Brendel (1976), p. 208.
^ Dent (1933), p. 142.
^ Couling (2005), pp. 195–196.
^ Leichtentritt (1917). p. 79.
^ Dent (1933), pp. 152–153, p. 233.
^ Dent (1933), p. 348.
^ Beaumont (1985), pp. 375–376.
^ see Beaumont (1987), p. 111.
^ Dent (1933), pp. 318–319.
^ Leichentritt (1914), p. 88.
^ Busoni (1907), p. 11.
^ Hamilton (1998), pp. 66–67.
^ Beaumont (1985), p.137, p. 160.
^ Busoni (1911), p. 3.
^ Busoni (1911), p. 1.
^ Busoni (1911), p. 4.
^ Busoni (1911), p. 7.
^ Busoni (1911), p. 10—12.
^ See Brendel (1976), pp. 114—115.
^ Brendel (1976), p. 108.
^ (in German) Busoni, Ferruccio. Von der Einheit der Musik: von
Dritteltönen und junger Klassizität, von Bühnen und Bauten und
anschliessenden Bezirken. Berlin: M. Hesse, 1922
^ Busoni, Ferruccio, translated by Rosamond Ley. The Essence of Music:
And Other Papers. London: Rockliff, 1957. OCLC 6741344
(digitized: OCLC 592760169)
^ Wirth (1980), p. 510
^ Leichtentritt (1917), p. 95.
^ Beaumont (1985), pp. 160–176.
^ Beaumont (1985), pp. 190–203.
^ Beaumont (1985), pp. 349–352.
^ Horowitz (2000).
^ Beaumont (1985), p. 295, pp. 302–307.
^ Busoni (1925).
^ Beaumont (1985), p. 377.
^ Leichtentritt (1917), p. 72.
^ See Beaumont (1997), pp. 314–318.
^ Beaumont (1985), pp. 152–153.
^ Beaumont (1985), pp. 275–277.
^ Summers (2004)
^ See Knyt (2010b) pp. 250–260
^ Sitsky (1986) p. 329.
^ Johansen, Gunnar (1979). "Busoni the pianist – in Perspective".
The Piano Quarterly. 28: 46–47.
^ Brendel (1976), p. 118.
^ Wirth (1980).
^ "History of the competition",
Ferruccio Busoni International Piano
Competition website, accessed 28 April 2015
Beaumont, Antony (1985). Busoni the Composer. London: Faber and Faber.
Beaumont, Antony, ed. (1987). Busoni: Selected Letters. New
York:Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06460-8
Beaumont, Antony (2001). "Busoni, Ferruccio (Dante Michelangelo
Benvenuto)". Grove Music Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Retrieved 9 February 2016. (subscription required)
Brendel, Alfred (1976). Musical Thoughts and After-Thoughts. London:
Robson Books. ISBN 0-903895-43-9.
Busoni, Ferruccio (1911). Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music.
Translated by Th. Baker. New York: G. Schirmer.
Busoni, Ferruccio (1925). Klavierübung in zehn Büchern. Leipzig:
Breitkopf und Härtel.
Couling, Della (2005). Ferruccio Busoni: "A Musical Ishmael". Lanham,
MD: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-5142-3.
Dent, Edward J. (1933). Ferruccio Busoni: A Biography, London: Oxford
University Press. (Reprint: London: Ernst Eulenberg, 1974)
Hamilton, Kenneth (1998). "The virtuoso tradition". In Rowland, David.
The Cambridge Companion to the Piano. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press. pp. 57–74. ISBN 978-0-521-47986-8.
Hamilton, Kenneth (2008). After the Golden Age. Oxford: Oxford
University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-517826-5.
Horowitz, Joseph (23 April 2000). "'Doktor Faust' Captures a
Composer's Paradoxes". New York Times. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
Kindermann, Jürgen (1980). Thematisch-chronologisches Verzeichnis der
Werke von Ferruccio B. Busoni. Studien zur Musikgeschichte des 19.
Jahrhunderts, vol. 19. Regensburg: Gustav Bosse Verlag.
Knyt, Erinn E. (2010a). ""How I Compose": Ferruccio Busoni's Views
about Invention, Quotation, and the Compositional Process". The
Journal of Musicology. 27 (2): 224–264.
JSTOR 10.1525/jm.2010.27.2.224. (subscription required)
Knyt, Errin E. (2010b).
Ferruccio Busoni and the Ontology of the
Musical Work: Permutations and Possibilities.
D. Phil. dissertation,
Stanford University, accessed 5 June 2016
Kogan, Grigory (2010). Busoni as Pianist. Translated by Svetlana
Belsky. Rochester: University of Rochester Press.
Leichtentritt, Hugo (1917). "
Ferruccio Busoni as a Composer". The
Musical Quarterly. 3 (1): 69–87. doi:10.1093/mq/iii.1.69.
Roberge, Marc-André (1996). "
Ferruccio Busoni et la France". Revue de
Musicologie. 82 (2): 269–305. doi:10.2307/947129.
JSTOR 947129. (subscription required)
Roberge, Marc-André (2015). Opus Sorabjianum. v. 1.13. Québec:
Marc-André Roberge. Online book only. Accessed February 18,
Scholes, Percy A. (1947). The Mirror of Music 1844–1944. London:
Novello and Company. OCLC 634410668.
Sitsky, Larry (1986). Busoni and the Piano: The Works, the Writings,
and the Recordings. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-23671-2
Smith, Ronald (2000). Alkan: The Man, The Music (2 vols in 1). London:
Kahn and Averill. ISBN 978-1-871082-73-9
Stevenson, Ronald (1987). "Book review: Ferruccio Busoni—Selected
Letters translated and edited by Antony Beaumont". Tempo. New Series
(163): 27–29. doi:10.1017/S0040298200023585.
JSTOR 945689. (subscription required)
Summers, Jonathan (2004). "Busoni's Complete Recordings", notes to
Busoni and his pupils (1922–1952), CD recording, Naxos Records
Taylor, Philip S. (2007). Anton Rubinstein: A Life in Music.
Bloomingdale and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
van Dieren, Bernard (1935). Down among the Dead Men. London: Humphrey
Milford (Oxford University Press). OCLC 906126003.
Vogel, Wladimir (1968). "Impressions of Ferruccio Busoni".
Perspectives of New Music. 6 (2): 167–173. doi:10.2307/832359.
JSTOR 832359. (subscription required)
Walker, Alan (1996). Franz Liszt. Volume 3: The Final Years
1861–1880. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Wirth, Helmut (1980). "Busoni, Ferruccio (Dante Michelangelo
Benvenuto)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 3.
London: Macmillan. pp. 508–512. ISBN 0-333-23111-2.
Wis, Roberto (1968). "
Ferruccio Busoni and Finland". Acta
Musicologica. 49 (2): 250–269. JSTOR 932592.
Roberge, Marc-André. Ferruccio Busoni: A Bio-Bibliography.
Bio-Bibliographies in Music, no. 34. New York, Westport, Conn., and
London: Greenwood Press, 1991.
The Piano Quarterly, no. 108 (Winter 1979–80) is a special Busoni
issue containing, among other articles, interviews with Gunnar
Johansen and Guido Agosti.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Ferruccio Busoni
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ferruccio Busoni.
Ferruccio Busoni at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Ferruccio Busoni at Internet Archive
Free scores by
Ferruccio Busoni at the International Music Score
Library Project (IMSLP)
4 Poesie liriche Op.40 for chorus Score from Sibley Music Library
Digital Scores Collection
Die Brautwahl (1912)
Doktor Faust (1925)
Concerto for Piano and String Quartet (1878)
Piano Concerto (1904)
Indian Fantasy (1916)
Comedy Overture (1897)
Turandot Suite (1905)
Berceuse élégiaque (1909)
An die Jugend
An die Jugend (1909)
Fantasia contrappuntistica (1910)
Piano editions and transcriptions
Toccata and Fugue in D minor (JS Bach)
Fantasy on Themes from Mozart's Figaro and Don Giovanni
George Frederick Boyle
Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition
Ferruccio Busoni discography
Ferruccio Busoni discography (as pianist)
Lists: Compositions · Adaptations · Repertoire pieces · Discography
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