1866-1924 Father of Electronic music

By some considered to be a piano virtuoso, composer, teacher, arranger, and philosopher.

Thought to have introduced the music of Debussy, Gabriel Faure, Sibelius, and Bartok to Berlin. favorite composer was Mozart. He wrote, "Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music" in 1907 and constructed new scales because he refused to accept the limitations of major and minor modes.

"Notation, the writing out of compositions, is primarily an ingenious expedient for catching an inspiration, with the purpose of exploiting it later. But notation is to improvisation as the portrait to the living model. It is for the interpreter to resolve the rigidity of the signs into primitive emotion."
Ferruccio Busoni in Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music

Busoni is probably the most important composer/musician of the 20th century: besides composing and performing, his ideas on music caused a heated discussion that divided the classical music schools in two camps: the conservatives (Strauss and Pfitzner) and the progressives (Schoenberg, Busoni and Schreker). The deeply personalized fights between those camps were fought in Germany, on the shaky foundations of the Weimar Republic and affected art, architecture, literature and even politics.

Busoni was born in Empoli, Italy, on April the first in the year of 1866. Both his parents were musicians: father Ferdinando was a clarinettist, his half-German mother Anna Weiss was a pianist.
His (musical) gifts, initially taught by his parents, were soon to be recognized by other famous musicians and composers. His first concert (age 8) was given in Trieste and after a concert in Vienna a music critic said that Busoni's playing and compositions revealed 'no precocious sentimentality or studied eccentricity, but a naive pleasure in music'.
Soon the family moved to Graz where Busoni studied with Wilhelm Mayer (who at that time was a prominent composer under the pseudonym of 'A. Remy'). Busoni dedicated some of his pieces to his teacher. At age twelve Busoni conducted his own 'Stabat Mater', which unfortunately got lost. At the age of fifteen he was elected to the Reale Accademio Filarmonica of Bologna, where the first performance of his Leopardi oratorio 'Il sabato del villaggio' took place in the year of 1883.
Busoni decides to move to the north again, to Vienna where he meets Brahms. On his recommendation he moves to Leipzig to study with Reinecke. His time in Leipzig becomes one of his most inspiring periods. He makes acquintance with composers like Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Sinding, Mahler and Delius, but again on someone's recommendation, he sets forth to the Helsinki Conservatory where he meets with Sibilius (1888/1889). In 1890 he marries a daughter of a Swedish sculptor, Gerda Sjostrand, declines an offer to be professor at a Moscow university and in 1894 (after pursuing a a carreer as a pianist in New York and Boston) he finally settles in Berlin. In his Berlin years he becomes a strong advocate for Liszt's music, but, a litle bit contradicting, also supports music from Bartok, Delius, Sibelius, Debussy, Faure and Franck, either by conducting or performing their music.
In 1907, Busoni writes his most famous work: a book called 'Entwurf einer neuen Asthetik der Tonkunst' (Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music). In this book he foresees electronical instruments that will make it possible to compose music using other tone systems (like the 'third note system'). His intellectual remarks are immediately attacked by conservative composers, who don't want to see a future for modern music in the German theatres.
In Berlin, Busoni (while starting Masterclasses at the Academy of Arts) guides composers like Weill, Wolpe and Vogel with his book and ideas.
Busoni, however, far advanced as he was in his ideas, actually never performed the music ideas as he proposed (although he admired the work of his students and the pupils of the Schoenberg school).
After being the darling of the international concert public for many years, Busoni experiences growing isolation at the period when he was describing and exploring his innovations. Only a group of pupils (Theophil Demetriescu, Friedrich Schnapp, Weill and Jarnach) stood by him. In 1922 he gives his last public performance, to die in 1924 (Berlin) at the age of 58. His Doktor Faust, which he started in 1914, was posthumously completed by his closest friend Philipp Jarnach and performed in Dresden, 1925.

List of key works

  • piano concerto
  • violin concerto
  • Divertimento for flute and orchestra
  • Indianische Fantasie,
  • Konzertstück and Romanza scherzosa for piano and orchestra
  • clarinet concertino
orchestral music
  • Berceuse élégiaque
  • Lustspielouvertüre
  • Nocturne symphonique
  • Rondo Arlecchinesco
  • Arlecchino
  • Die Brautwahl
  • Doktor Faust

J. Schebera's 'Kurt Weill - A biography'
Several classical music books/dictionaries

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