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Hommage a Ferruccio Busoni

Johann Sebastian Bach

Chaconne in D minor from Partita No. 2 for violin, BWV 1004/BV B24.

Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565/BV B 29.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 

Andantino from the Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, K. 271/BV B84.

Franz Liszt 

Fantasy on Two Motives from W. A. Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" S.697/BV B66.

Etude No. 3 "La Campanella" in G-sharp minor, after Paganini S.141, no. 3/BV B68.

Ferruccio Busoni is  the most influential and controversial  figure of the piano world, who shaped technical and psychological aspects of the piano performance in the XX century.  Possibly, the musical direction of his piano art took roots from romanticism, developing through realism and finally towards symbolism.  The Motto of “ Hommage a Ferruccio Busoni”  program project was taken from the Sketch of a new approach of music  by Busoni. 


“The function of the creative artist consists in making laws, not in following laws ready made. He who follows such laws, ceases to be a creator.”

He adopted all thetechnical achievements  of his keyboard predecessors such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt , as well as developed a new approach towards the  piano technique. Typical perfection of Busoni’s style combines clear and light sound without depth and roundness of tone, as well as magically fast octaves,  lightning fast scales, filigree clarity in staccato passages with brilliance , as well as perfection of the finger and wrist technique. If, for Theodor Leschetizky the ideal of the passage was like smooth glissando, for Busoni the ideal was perlato, granulato. This idea of the sound aesthetic  was borrowed  from Franz Liszt, who tried to convince Valérie Boissier  in superiority of “Pique” up on “Lie” style of playing.  We may assume , that not much of canonic Chopinesque singing  in  Busoni and Liszt legato was related to the natural soundboard aesthetic of Boisselot or Bechstein pianos used by Liszt and Busoni. The Pleyel or Steinway preferred by Chopin and Rachmaninoff , has got an absolutely different soundboard , with different sound possibilities and effects.


Busoni’s fast tempos were extremely fast, with clear and sharp but not wavy changes in their speed and dynamic .  Simple, polyphonic  and  symmetrical   phrase lines, without extra roundness, were not very common to his contemporaries. Vertical and horizontal forearm gestures, with fixed wrist, vertical or absolutely flat  finger positions, were so different from the piano school of Clara Schumann, or the school of Theodor Leschetizky. This piano performance  technique was very dependant on the relevant type of the piano  mechanic action . It may not be possible to apply the same performance technique for the good result, or the same finger and wrist technique to the different instruments from the ages of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven,  Liszt, Busoni or Rachmaninoff.

Busoni  masterly used  piano pedals  in an unusual way for us and his contemporaries; left pedal only, both pedals at the same time ,more  direct than delayed pedal, half and quoter pedal, pedal tremolo, and large parts of the music with no pedal at all.  Sometimes Busoni was accused of mixing different harmonies on the same sustain pedal as a colour, but not harmonically.


The application  of over holding, overlapping harmonic sounds was evidently used by Busoni at Duo Art piano roll recordings.


Busoni never played the composer, he always played himself and every time differently. If you listen carefully to Busoni’s recordings,  you would never hear Bach, Mozart,  Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt,  as this music sounds today . Busoni Art Rolls is a very well prepared improvisation in the style of Busoni-Bach, Busoni-Mozart,  Busoni-Beethoven, Busoni Chopin, Busoni Liszt. 

Flexibility of the form details, text cuts, numerous ossia variants, improvisations, prelude introductions was in the piano performance practice well before and after Busoni. 

Alexander Scriabin stated that it is impossible to record adequately music on paper, and furthermore fixed notation is not always the best and only variant of music expression.


According to Busoni:


    “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 the primitive emotion. But the lawgivers require the interpreter to reproduce the rigidity of the signs;     they consider his reproduction the nearer to perfection, the more closely it clings to the signs. What the composer's inspiration  necessarily  loses through notation, his     interpreter should restore by his own. If the lawgivers had their way, any given composition would always be reproduced in precisely the same tempo, whensoever, by     whomsoever, and under whatsoever conditions it might be performed.”

The deep understanding of the philosophical idea that Bach’s God, the protestant God who was merciful and forgiving was not the God of Busoni who was strict, punishing and triumphant can be recognised among the music and architecture.

How should Busoni’s piano transcriptions be played?


If you would really like to play pure Bach, Mozart, Liszt, then for the best possible result you would also have to play it on their period instruments, using the facsimile and  knowledge of their contemporaries. 

So, why are we commonly applying the knowledge of a primary composer, if there is any of course, to the adaptations made by Busoni?  As the result, we are getting our perception of Bach, Mozart, Liszt without Busoni in his transcriptions!


Wouldn’t it be more wise to apply the knowledge of the Busoni performance style to this compositions? 


I would like to conclude all above by the words of Busoni’s from Sketch of a new esthetic of Music:


Its ephemeral qualities give a work the stamp of "modernity;" its unchangeable essence hinders it from becoming "obsolete." Among both "modern" and "old" works we find good and bad, genuine and spurious. There is nothing properly modern-only things which have come into being earlier or later; longer in bloom, or sooner withered. The Modern and the Old have always been.

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