Busoni, Ferruccio (Dante Michelangiolo Benvenuto)

views updated May 23 2018

Busoni, Ferruccio (Dante Michelangiolo Benvenuto)

Busoni, Ferruccio (Dante Michelangiolo Benvenuto) greatly admired Italian-German pianist, pedagogue, and composer; b. Empoli, near Florence, April 1, 1866; d. Berlin, July 27, 1924. Busoni grew up in an artistic atmosphere: his father played the clarinet and his mother, Anna Weiss, was an amateur pianist. He learned to play the piano as a child; at the age of 8, he played in public in Trieste. He gave a piano recital in Vienna when he was 10, and included in his program some of his own compositions. In 1877 the family moved to Graz, where Busoni took piano lessons with W. Mayer. He conducted his Stabat Mater in Graz at the age of 12. At 15 he was accepted as a member of the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna; he performed there his oratorio II sabato del villaggio in 1883. In 1886 he went to Leipzig and undertook a profound study of Bach’s music. In 1889 he was appointed a prof. of piano at the Helsinki Cons., where among his students was Sibelius (who was a few months older than his teacher). At that time, Busoni married Gerda Sjostrand, whose father was a celebrated Swedish sculptor; their 2 sons became well-known artists. In 1890 Busoni participated in the Rubinstein Competition in St. Petersburg, winning first prize with his Konzertstück for Piano and Orch. On the strength of this achievement, he was engaged to teach piano at the Moscow Cons. (1890–91). He then accepted the post of prof, at the New England Cons, of Music in Boston (1891–94); however, he had enough leisure to make several tours, maintaining his principal residence in Berlin. During the season of 1912-13, he made a triumphant tour of Russia. In 1913 he was appointed director of the Liceo Musicale in Bologna. The outbreak of the World War I in 1914 forced him to flee to the U.S.; after a tour of the country, he moved to neutral Switzerland. In 1923 he went to Paris, and then returned to Berlin, remaining there until his death. In various cities, at various times, he taught piano in music schools; among his students were Brailowsky, Ganz, Petri, Mitropoulos, and Grainger. Busoni also taught composition, numbering Weill, Jarnach, and Vogel among his pupils. He exercised great influence on Várese, who was living in Berlin when Busoni was there; Várese greatly prized Busoni’s advanced theories of composition.

Busoni was a philosopher of music who tried to formulate a universe of related arts; he issued grandiloquent manifestos urging a return to classical ideals in modern forms; he sought to establish a unifying link between architecture and composition; in his eds. of Bach’s works, he included drawings illustrating the architectonic plan of Bach’s fugues. He incorporated his innovations in his grandiose piano work Fantasia contrappuntistica, which opens with a prelude based on a Bach chorale and closes with a set of variations on Bach’s acronym, B-A-C-H (i.e., B-flat, A, C, B-natural). In his theoretical writings, he proposed a system of 113 different heptatonic modes, and also suggested the possibility of writing music in exotic scales and sub-chromatic intervals; he expounded those ideas in his influential essay Entwurf einer neuen Aesthetik der Tonkunst (Trieste, 1907; Eng. tr. by T. Baker, N.Y., 1911). Busoni’s other publications of significance were Von der Einheit der Musik (1923; in Italian, Florence, 1941; in Eng., London, 1957) and Über die Moglichkeiten der Oper (Leipzig, 1926). Despite Busoni’s great innovations in his own compositions and his theoretical writing, however, the Busoni legend is kept alive not through his music but mainly through his sovereign virtuosity as a pianist. In his performances, he introduced a concept of piano sonority as an orch. medium; indeed, some listeners reported having heard simulations of trumpets and French horns sounded at Busoni’s hands. The few extant recordings of his playing transmit a measure of the grandeur of his style, but they also betray a tendency, common to Busoni’s era, toward a free treatment of the musical text, surprisingly so, since Busoni preached an absolute fidelity to the written notes. On concert programs Busoni’s name appears most often as the author of magisterial and eloquent transcriptions of Bach’s works. His gothic transfiguration for piano of Bach’s Chaconne for Unaccompanied Violin became a perennial favorite of pianists all over the world.

Busoni was honored by many nations. In 1913 he received the order of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur from the French government, a title bestowed on only 2 Italians before him: Rossini and Verdi. In 1949 a Concorso Busoni was established. Another international award honoring the name of Busoni was announced by the Accademia di Santa Cecilia of Rome, with prizes given for the best contemporary compositions; at its opening session in 1950, the recipient was Stravinsky.


opera:Sigune (1885–88); Die Brautwahl (1906-11; Hamburg, April 12, 1912); Arlecchino (1914-16; Zurich, May 11, 1917, composer conducting); Turandot (1916-17; Zurich, May 11, 1917, composer conducting); Doktor Faust (1916-23; unfinished; completed by Jarnach, 1924-25; Dresden, May 21, 1925). orch.:Symphonic Suite (Trieste, June 9, 1883); Introduction and Scherzo for Piano and Orch. (1882–84); Concert Fantasy for Piano and Orch. (1888-89; Leipzig, June 10, 1890, composer soloist, Reinecke conducting; rev. as Symphonic Tone Poem, Boston, April 14, 1893); Konzertstiick for Piano and Orch. (1889-90; St. Petersburg, Aug. 27, 1890, coposer soloist, Moritz Kòhler conducting); Suite No. 2, Geharnischte (1894-95; Berlin, Oct. 8, 1897, composer conducting; rev. 1903; Berlin, Dec. 1, 1904, composer conducting); Violin Concerto (1896-97; Berlin, Oct. 8, 1897, Henri Petri soloist, composer conducting); Lustspielouvertre (Berlin, Oct. 8, 1897, composer conducting; rev. 1904; Berlin, Jan. 11, 1907, composer conducting); Concerto for Piano, Men’s Chorus, and Orch. (1901-04; Berlin, Nov. 10, 1904, composer soloist, Muck conducting); Turandot, incidental music (1905; Berlin, Oct. 26, 1911; not extant); Turandot, suite from the opera (Berlin, Oct. 21, 1905, composer conducting); Berceuse élégiaque: Des Mannes Wiegenlied am Sarge seiner Mutter (1909; N.Y., Feb. 21, 1911, Mahler conducting); Die Brautwahl, suite from the opera (1912; Berlin, Jan. 3, 1913, Fried conducting); Nocturne symphonique (1912-13; Berlin, March 12, 1914, composer conducting); Indianische Fantasie for Piano and Orch. (1913-14; Berlin, March 12, 1914, composer soloist, Alexis Birnbaum conducting); Rondò arlecchinesco (1915; Rome, March 5, 1916, composer conducting); Gesang vom Reigen der Geister, study for Small Orch. from the Indianisches Tagebuch No. 2 (1915); Concertino for Clarinet and Small Orch. (Zrich, Dec. 9, 1918); Sarabande und Cortège, 2 studies for Dokto Faust (1918-19; Zurich, March 31, 1919); Divertimento for Flute and Orch. (1920; Berlin, Jan. 13, 1921, Henrik de Vries soloist, composer conducting); Tanzwalzer (1920; Berlin, Jan. 13, 1921, composer conducting); Romanza e scherzoso for Piano and Orch. (Basel, Dec. 10, 1921). chamber: 1 unnumbered Violin Sonata (1876); 2 numbered violin sonatas: No. 1 (c. 1889) and No. 2 (Helsinki, Sept. 30, 1898); 4 string quartets (1876; 1881; c. 1884; Leipzig, Jan. 28, 1888); Concerto for Piano and String Quartet (1878); Suite for Clarinet and Piano (1878); Suite for Clarinet and String Quartet (1878–81); Solo dramatique for Clarinet and Piano (1879); Serenade for Cello and Piano (1883); Short Suite for Cello and Piano (1885); 4 Bagatelles for Violin and Piano (1888); Kultaselle, 10 short variations on a Finnish folk song for Cello and Piano (1889); Albumleaf for Flute or Muted Violin and Piano (1916); Elegy for Clarinet and Piano (1919–20).piano : 8 sonatas (1875, 1877, 1877, 1877, 1880, 1880 [not extant], 1883, n.d.); 5 Pieces (1877); Suite campestre (1878); (4) Danze antiche (1878–79); 3 Pieces in the Old Style (1880); 24 Préludes (1881); Una festa di villaggio, 6 pieces (1881); Danza notturna (1882); Macchiette medioevali (1882–83); 5 Études (e. 1882-88); 6 Elegies (1907); Fantasia nach Johann Sebastian Bach (London, Oct. 16, 1909, composer pianist); An die Jugend, 4 pieces (1909); Fantasia contrappuntistica, after J.S. Bach (Basel, Sept. 30, 1910, composer pianist); 6 sonatinas (1910, 1912, 1915, 1917, 1918, 1920); Indianisches Tagebuch, book I (1915); Improvisation on the Bach chorale Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seek for 2 Pianos (1916); 3 Albumleaves (1917, 1921, 1921); Klavierübung in fünf Teñen (1, 1917; 2, 1917-18; 3, 1919-21; 4, 1897; 5, 1922); Nocturne (1918); Toccata (1920); Perpetuum mobile (1922); 5 kurze Stiicke zur Pflege des polyphonischen Spiels (1923); Prélude et étude en arpèges (1923); Klavierübung in zehn Büchern (1923–24). vocal: Mass for 4 Voices (1879); Requiem for Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (1881); 4

Pieces for Soloists, Men’s Chorus, and Orch. (1882); II sabato del villaggio, cantata for Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (1882; Bologna, March 22, 1883); 2 Songs for Voice and Piano, after Byron (1883); So lang man jung for Tenor, Men’s Chorus, and Orch. (1884); linter den Linden for Voice and Small Orch. (1893); Altoums Gebet for Baritone and Small Orch. (1917); Lied des Méphistophèlés for Baritone and Small Orch., after Goethe (1918); Lied des Unmuts for Baritone and Piano or Orch. (1918); Zigeunerlied for Baritone and Orch. (1923); Schlecter Trost for Baritone and Orch. (1924). other: Cadenzas to concertos by Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, and Brahms; transcriptions of numerous works by J.S. Bach, Mozart, Liszt et al.


H. Leichtentritt, F. B.(Leipzig, 1916); H. Pfitzner, Futuristengefahr (Munich, 1917); G. Selden-Goth, F B. (Vienna, 1922); S. Nadel, F B.(Leipzig, 1931); E. Dent, F. B., A Biography (London, 1933); A. Santelli, B. (Rome, 1939); G. Guerrini, F B., La vita, la figura, l’opera (Florence, 1944); H. Stuckenschmidt, F B., Zeittafel eines Europaers (Zurich, 1967; Eng. tr., F B.: Chronicle of a European, London, 1970); H. Meyer, Die Klaviermusik F B.s (Zurich, 1969); H. Kosnick, B., Gestaltung durch Gestalt (Regens-burg, 1971); J. Kindermann, Thematisch-chronologisches Verzeich-nis der musikalischen Werke von F. B. (Regensburg, 1980); S. Sablich, B. (Turin, 1982); A. Beaumont, B. the Composer (London, 1985); L. Sitsky, B. and the Piano: The Works, the Writings, and the Recordings (N.Y., 1986); A. Beaumont, ed. and tr., F B.: Selected Letters (London, 1987); A. Riethmüller, F B.s Poetik (Mainz and London, 1988); M.-A. Roberge, F B.: A Bio-Bibliography (N.Y., 1991).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Busoni, Ferruccio (Dante Michelangiolo Benvenuto)

views updated Jun 11 2018

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.

Ferruccio Benvenuto Busoni

views updated May 09 2018

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. □