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Busoni, Ferruccio (Dante Michelangiolo Benvenuto)

Busoni, Ferruccio (Dante Michelangiolo Benvenuto) (b Empoli, 1866; d Berlin, 1924). It. composer, conductor, and pianist. Son of a clarinettist and a pianist, with whom he studied. First public pf. recital, Trieste, at age 7. Studied comp. at Graz, 1880–1 and Leipzig 1886. Teaching posts at Helsinki 1889, Moscow 1890, Boston, Mass., 1891–4. After 1894 settled mainly in Berlin. Although his brilliance as a pianist earned him most fame, from 1898 concentrated on comp. and also est. master classes at Weimar in 1901 and 1902 which broke new ground as meeting-places for young composers and performers. From 1902 to 1909 cond. orch. concerts in Berlin at which contemporary works were perf. From 1913 to 1915 was dir. of Liceo Rossini, Bologna, but disagreements with the municipal authorities over reforms ensured failure. Lived in Zurich from 1915, refusing to enter the belligerent countries, but returned to Berlin 1920. Resumed pianist career despite failing health.

Busoni's pf.-playing, of virtuoso quality, was also notable for its grandeur and poetry. His mus. found mixed favour in his lifetime but has become increasingly admired for its visionary nature and for its anticipation of many of the devices and styles of ‘advanced’ composers. Deriving from the impressionistic late works of Liszt, it ventured into harmonic and rhythmic territory that became the preserve of Webern, Bartók, and Messiaen. His earlier works, in a classical-romantic style, are best represented by the vn. sonata in E minor, the vn. conc., and the pf. conc. (in 5 movts., with male ch. in finale). His change in style dates from the Elegies for pf. of 1907. His most elaborate work was his opera Doktor Faust, begun 1916 and left incomplete. His writings were both progressive and influential, particularly the Entwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst (Trieste, 1907). Prin. works:OPERAS: Die Brautwahl (The Bridal Choice) (1908–11); Arlecchino (1914–16); Turandot (1917, orig. incid. mus. 1911); Doktor Faust (1916–24, completed. by P. Jarnach).ORCH.: Symphonic Suite (1883); Konzertstück, pf., orch. (1890); Concert-Fantasy, pf., orch. (1888–9), rev. as Symphonisches Tongedicht, orch. (1893); Suite No.2 (1895, rev. 1903); vn. conc. (1896–7); Comedy Overture (1897, rev. 1904); pf. conc. (male ch. in finale) (1903–4); Turandot Suite (1904); Berceuse élégiaque (1909, orig. for pf.); Symphonic Nocturne (1912); Indianische Fantasie, pf., orch. (1913); Rondò Arlecchinesco (1915); Indianisches Tagebuch (Book II) (1915); cl. concertino (1918); Divertimento, fl., orch. (1920); Tanzwalzer (1920); Romanza e Scherzosa, pf., orch. (1921).VOICE & ORCH.: Ave Maria, bar., orch. (1882); Unter den Linden, sop., orch. (1885, 1893); Zigeunerlied, bar., orch. (1923); Schlechter Trost, low v., orch. (1924).CHAMBER WORKS: str. qt. No.1 in C minor (1880–1), No. 2 in D minor (1887); vn. sonata No.1 in E minor (1890), No.2 in E minor (1898); Little Suite, vc., pf. (1886); Bagatelles, vn., pf. (1888); Serenata, vc., pf. (c.1882); Elegy, cl., pf. (1920).PIANO: Prelude and Fugue in C minor (1878); 24 Preludes (1879–80); 3 Pieces (1884); Study in Form of Variations (1884); 5 Pieces (1887); Elegien (7 pieces) (1907–9; No.7, Berceuse, comp. 1909 and orch. as Berceuse élégiaque); Christmas Night (1909); sonatinas: No.1 (1910), No.2 (1912), No.3 (1916), No.4 (1917), No.5 (transcr. of Bach) (1919), No.6 (on Carmen) (1920); Indianisches Tagebuch (Book I) (1915); Fantasia contrappuntistica (based on Bach), 1st version (1910), 2nd version (1910), 3rd version (1912), 4th version, arr. 2 pfs. (1921); 3 Albumblätter (1917–21); Klavierübung (1st edn. in 5 parts, 1917–22; 2nd edn. in 10 parts, 1925).Also songs and many transcr. and arr. of Bach, Beethoven, Bizet, Chopin, Cornelius, Liszt, Mozart, Schoenberg, Schubert, and Wagner. His transcr. of J. S. Bach's Chromatic Fantasia dates from 1911.

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"Busoni, Ferruccio (Dante Michelangiolo Benvenuto)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Ferruccio Benvenuto Busoni

Ferruccio Benvenuto Busoni

The Italian musician Ferruccio Benvenuto Busoni (1866-1924) was one of the most distinguished and versatile musicians of his time, active as a pianist, conductor, teacher, and composer. His speculations about future developments of music were prophetic.

Ferruccio Busoni, "Italian by birth and instinct, German by education and choice," was born in Empoli, near Florence, where his father was a professional clarinetist and his Italian-German mother was a pianist who gave Ferruccio his first lessons. He was a prodigy, and his childhood was similar to Mozart's in that Busoni composed and went on concert tours throughout Austria and Italy, playing his own compositions for both violin and piano. Although he was largely self-taught, he became one of the greatest pianists of his day and spent many years concertizing.

Busoni was professor of piano at the Helsinki Conservatory in 1889, then in Moscow, and in Boston at the New England Conservatory. He lived in Berlin from 1894 to 1913, when he was appointed director of the Liceo Musicale, a conservatory in Bologna, Italy. This post lasted only a year because Busoni was unhappy when he was unable to change the ultraconservative policies there. He spent the war years in Switzerland, returning to Berlin in 1920 to become professor of composition at the Academy of Arts, a position he held until his death in 1924.

Busoni's contemporaries thought of him primarily as a pianist. Because he lived before the era of effective recording, there is little actual evidence of the quality of his playing. From all accounts he had a prodigious technique and a big, "orchestral" style of playing. He specialized in large works and had no interest in the smaller salon pieces. He was an intellectual pianist and not a charmer. Throughout his life he taught piano. Among his best-known students was Egon Petri, who in turn was the teacher of many prominent pianists of the next generation.

Busoni thought of himself more as a composer than a pianist, but his compositions never became popular. Among the most important are a huge, five-movement Piano Concerto (the last movement with male chorus), the Indian Fantasy for piano and orchestra, based on Native American melodies, and a Fantasia contrappuntistica for piano solo. He also wrote several operas; the unfinished last one, Dr. Faustus, is occasionally performed.

In his last years Busoni was an influential composition teacher who espoused neoclassic ideals counter to the expressionism that dominated German music of the time. He was always an original thinker. In The New Esthetic of Music (1907; trans. 1911) he urged the expansion of musical resources and the use of microtones such as third and sixth tones as well as synthetic scales. Such ideas were much ahead of their time, and in the 1960s, when many composers explored such resources, interest in Busoni revived.

Edgard Varèse, one of the pioneers of electronic music, knew Busoni in Berlin in 1907. In 1966 he wrote that his reading of Busoni's book was a "milestone in my musical development, and when I came upon 'Music is born free; and to win freedom is its destiny,' it was like hearing the echo of my thought."

Further Reading

One study of Busoni in English, Edward J. Dent, Ferruccio Busoni (1933), is very good. The chapter on Busoni in David Ewen, The World of Twentieth-Century Music (1968), deals mainly with the composer's piano music. Joseph Machlis, Introduction to Contemporary Music (1961), contains a chapter discussing Busoni's classical orientation.

Additional Sources

Dent, Edward Joseph, Ferruccio Busoni, a biography, London: Eulenburg Books, 1974.

Sablich, Sergio, Busoni, Torino: EDT/musica, 1982.

Stuckenschmidt, Hans Heinz, Ferruccio Busoni; chronicle of a European, New York, St. Martin's Press 1972, 1970. □

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Busoni, Ferruccio Benvenuto

Ferruccio Benvenuto Busoni (fār-rōōt´chō bānvānōō´tō bōōzō´nē), 1866–1924, Italian pianist and composer. A child prodigy, he gave a concert in Trieste at the age of eight, which was followed by many appearances conducting and performing his own compositions. His style of piano playing was similar to that of Liszt, whom he greatly admired. He later taught at the conservatories in Helsinki and Moscow and from 1891 to 1894 at the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston. He transcribed for piano many of the organ works of J. S. Bach and edited his Well-tempered Clavier. Busoni's own compositions include piano pieces, a piano concerto, a violin concerto, and operas. His writings on musical and aesthetic subjects include his Sketch of a New Esthetic (tr. 1911).

See his letters to his wife (tr. 1938); biography by H. H. Stuckenschmidt (tr. 1971).

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