Ferruccio (Dante Michelangelo Benvenuto) Busoni
(April 1, 1866 ? July 27, 1924) was an Italian
composer, pianist, editor, writer, piano and
composition teacher, and conductor.
Most 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 mature works, beginning
with the Elegies, are often in indeterminate key.
He was in contact with Schoenberg, and made a
'concert interpretation' of the latter's 'atonal'
Piano Piece, Op. 11, No. 2 (BV B 97), in 1909. In
the program notes for the premiere of his own
Sonatina seconda of 1912, Busoni calls the work
senza tonalità (without tonality). Johann
Sebastian Bach and Franz Liszt were key
influences, though late in his career much of his
music has a neo-classical bent, and includes
melodies resembling Mozart's.
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. As well as
discussing then little-explored areas such as
electronic music and microtonal music (both
techniques he never employed), he asserted that
music should distill the essence of music of the
past to make something new.
Many of Busoni's works are based on music of the
past, especially on the music of Johann Sebastian
Bach (see below). 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. It uses several
melodic figures found in Bach's work, most notably
the BACH motif (B flat, A, C, B natural). Busoni
revised the work a number of times and arranged it
for two pianos. Versions have also been made for
organ and for orchestra.
Busoni used elements of other composers' works.
The fourth movement of 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.
Busoni also drew inspiration from non-European
sources, including Indian Fantasy for piano and
orchestra. It was composed in 1913 and is based on
North American indigenous tribal melodies drawn
from the studies of this native music by
ethnomusicologist, Natalie Curtis Burlin.
Busoni was a virtuoso pianist, and his works for
piano are difficult to perform. His Piano
Concerto, Op. 39 (1904) is one of the largest such
works ever written. Performances generally last
over seventy minutes, requiring great stamina from
the soloist. The concerto is written for a large
orchestra with a male voice choir that is hidden
from the audience's view in the last movement.
British pianist John Ogdon, one of the champions
of the work, called it 'the longest and grandest
piano concerto of all.' (However, it was not
the first piano concerto to include a chorus, as
is often assumed; Daniel Steibelt wrote a similar
work in 1820.)
Busoni's Turandot Suite (1905), probably his most
popular orchestral work, was expanded into his
opera Turandot in 1917, and Busoni completed two
other operas, Die Brautwahl (1911) and Arlecchino
(1917). 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 Antony Beaumont, the author of an important
Busoni biography, created an expanded and improved
completion by drawing on material that Jarnach did
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