Visionary Traditionalist

A Tribute to Ferruccio Busoni

(Steinway Owners’ Magazine) — The 150th anniversary of Steinway Immortal Ferruccio Busoni’s birth passed earlier this season without much fanfare. But the historical importance of the pianist and composer is only revealing itself more with the passage of time. While best known in his day as a virtuoso pianist and arranger of Bach and Liszt, Busoni stands alongside Schoenberg and Stravinsky as one of the twentieth century’s most formative figures.

Listeners are often to surprised to learn that Busoni taught Kurt Weill, who ended his career in musical theater, but also mentored Edgar Varèse, whose experimental compositions shaped the avant-garde on both sides of the Atlantic. Busoni’s principles transcended not just questions of style but politics and nationality. Everyone from Schoenberg and Hindemith to Louis Grünberg and Otto Lüning – seminal figures in the history of electronic music in the U.S. – owned marked-up copies of his Entwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst (Sketch for a New Aesthetic of Music).

“We did not lose a human being, but a value,” wrote Weill after Busoni’s death, calling him a “spiritual European of the future.” Busoni’s legacy is so far-reaching that it is hard to say where his greatest contribution lies: in his original works, scholarly editions, writings about music or teachings. His compositions may not have been taken seriously exactly because of his multiple talents.  […]