Italian pianist, composer, and music critic. Much of his music was for the piano, but he also composed several operas including Doktor Faust, completed by Philipp Jarnach after Busoni's death. His work shows the influence of Liszt and his ballet score for Doktor Faust shows his debt to Bizet. Specimens of his style at its best are to be found in his later sonatinas, Sarabande und Cortège from Faust, and the monumental Fantasia contrappuntistica for piano. An apostle of Futurism, he encouraged the French composer Edgard Varèse.
Busoni was born in Empoli, near Florence. He appeared as a pianist in public at the age of seven, and later studied at Graz and Leipzig, Germany. He taught at the Helsinki Conservatory, Finland, in 1889, in Moscow, Russia, in 1890 (where he married the Swede Gerda Sjöstrand), and in Boston, USA, 1891-94. He settled in Berlin in 1894, but travelled widely as a pianist and during World War I lived first in Bologna, Italy, as director of the Conservatory and then in Zürich, Switzerland. In Bologna he hoped to influence Italian music, and to prove that he was himself an Italian composer, but was disappointed.
He rejected Wagnerian music-drama, and sought to re-establish links with great composers of the past, notably Johann Sebastian Bach and Mozart, and the commedia dell'arte. His opera Doktor Faust was first performed in 1925; missing sketches were located in 1974 and were used for a new edition by Antony Beaumont, which was performed in Bologna in 1985 and at the London Coliseum in 1986. His ideas on aesthetics, especially his Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music (1907), were attacked by conservatives such as Hans Pfitzner.
As a pianist Busoni was considered to have the most powerful individuality and greatest technical mastery since Liszt and Rubinstein. As a composer he is sometimes regarded as a formidable intellect whose works rarely live up to his ambition; he was admired alike by Mahler and Schoenberg (one premiered his Berceuse élégiaque (1909), and the other arranged it) but it may be his Italianate pieces which are the most readily accessible.
Die Brautwahl (1908-11), Arlecchino and Turandot (1916-17), Doktor Faust (1916-24).
violin concerto (1897), piano concerto, with male chorus in finale (1903-04), Berceuse élégiaque (1909), Indianisches Tagebuch, book two, ‘Gesang vom Reigen der Geister’ (1915), Concertino for clarinet and orchestra (1918), Sarabande und Cortège, studies for Doktor Faust (1919).
two string quartets (1881, 1887), two violin sonatas (1890, 1898).
Elegien, seven pieces (1907), Indianisches Tagebuch, book one (1915), Fantasia contrappuntistica (1910, as Grosse Fuge; revised 1910 and 1912; version for two pianos 1921), six sonatinas (1910-20). Also editions and arrangements of Bach for piano, including D minor Chaconne.
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