"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
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 clarinet
tist, 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
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
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
', 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
, but again on someone's recommendation,
he sets forth to the Helsinki Conservatory where he meets with Sibilius
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
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
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
, Friedrich Schnapp
) 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
performed in Dresden
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
- Berceuse élégiaque
- Nocturne symphonique
- Rondo Arlecchinesco
- Die Brautwahl
- Doktor Faust
J. Schebera's 'Kurt Weill - A biography'
Several classical music books/dictionaries