Piano Concerto (Busoni)

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Ferruccio Busoni in 1905,
soon after completing the concerto.

The Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 39 (BV 247), by Ferruccio Busoni, is one of the largest works ever written in this genre. The concerto lasts around 70 minutes and is in five movements; in the final movement a male chorus sings words from the final scene of the verse drama Aladdin by Adam Oehlenschläger, who also wrote the words of one of the Danish national anthems.[1]

It seems to have been Beethoven who first included a chorus in a concerted work with piano and orchestra, in his Choral Fantasy, Op. 80 of 1808;[n 1] since then only a handful of works have been scored for similar forces, including Daniel Steibelt's Piano Concerto No. 8 (1st performed March 16, 1820, in Saint Petersburg)[2] and the Piano Concerto No. 6, Op. 192 (1858) by Henri Herz[3] which also have a choral finale.

The first performance of the concerto took place in the Beethoven-Saal, Berlin, Germany on November 10, 1904, at one of Busoni's own concerts of modern music. Busoni was the soloist, with Karl Muck conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Choir of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche).[4] The reviews were decidedly mixed, some being filled with outright hostility or derision.[5] The century following its premiere has seen relatively few performances, owing to the large orchestration, complex musical texture, the use of a male chorus, and the staggering demands put on the soloist.

Movements[edit]

Although the five movements are laid out separately in the score, Busoni stated that the concerto should be played as a continuous whole, without breaks.[6]

I. Prologo e Introito: Allegro, dolce e solenne
II. Pezzo giocoso
III. Pezzo serioso:
Introductio: Andante sostenuto
Prima pars: Andante, quasi adagio
Altera pars: Sommessamente
Ultima pars: a tempo
IV. All'Italiana: Tarantella: Vivace; In un tempo
V. Cantico: Largamente (with chorus)

The first movement, marked "Prologo e introito" is a little over fifteen minutes long on average, and is a broad Allegro movement which features a clangorous piano part.

The second movement, a kind of Scherzo, is mostly a light-fingered affair for the piano that makes use of "Italianate" rhythms and melodic material, even if the melodies are more evocative of Italian popular music than actual quotations from indigenous Italian folk music.

The third and longest movement is the "Pezzo serioso", a massive meditation and exploration in four parts in the key of D flat major which has a central climax that is once again pianistically challenging and brilliantly scored for both the piano and the orchestra.

The fourth movement "All' Italiana", is perhaps the most variegated in its use of the orchestra, with a terrifically virtuosic piano part, arguably more difficult than anything that has come before it in the work. There are also two cadenzas to this movement - one, included in the printed score; the other, an insert in the two-piano score that is an amplification of the one printed in the two-piano edition.

The final movement, "Cantico" with male chorus, brings full circle many themes that have been heard earlier in the work. The words sung by the chorus are from the final scene of Oehlenschläger's verse drama Aladdin.

Instrumentation[edit]

The concerto is scored for a large orchestra.[7][8][9][4] (For the instrumentation in Italian see below.)

Problems of performance[edit]

Ferruccio Busoni at the piano.

Apart from the immense demands required of the soloist and the large forces needed, there is a further difficulty that can affect performances of this work: the role of the soloist.

As Busoni himself wrote, piano concertos tended to be modelled after either Mozart or Beethoven.[12] In Mozart's case, the concerto centres around the spotlit virtuoso composer-performer, who appears to spontaneously create the work before us, on-stage. The orchestra mostly provides a background accompaniment. But with Beethoven, the work is often conceived in symphonic terms; the piano takes the secondary role, reflecting on or responding to ideas that have already been introduced by the orchestra (excepting the fourth piano concerto).[13]

Busoni combined both these precedents in the Piano Concerto, Op. 39, creating a huge work of symphonic proportions which was originally accused of having only a piano obbligato.[12] The work presents exceptional challenges for the soloist, who is often nevertheless required to incorporate a glittering cascade of notes into the overall orchestral sound. This self-abasement of the familiar 19th-century heroic soloist's role thus requires careful consideration of balance in performance. But as Dent comments:

Despite the incredible difficulty of the solo part, Busoni's concerto at no point offers a display of virtuosity. Even its cadenzas are subsidiary episodes. At the same time the pianoforte hardly ever presents a single theme in its most immediate and commanding shape. It is nearly always the orchestra which seems to be possessed of the composer's most prophetic inspiration. Busoni sits at the pianoforte, listens, comments, decorates, and dreams.[14]

Busoni and Aladdin[edit]

Adam Oehlenschläger
as a young man

Adam Oehlenschläger's verse drama Aladdin, or the Magic Lamp was first published in Danish in 1805.[15] The play has a number of parallels with the works and ideas of Goethe, such as the Faust-figure of the wicked magician Noureddin who takes advantage of Aladdin's youth and inexperience to get hold of the wonderful lamp;[16] Goethe was also much preoccupied with Plato's philosophy, including his theory of Forms and the Parable of the cave.[17]

During his travels in Germany in 1805-6, Oehlenschläger spent several months in Weimar in the company of Goethe and his closest circle of friends. He used the opportunity of his daily visits to read out Aladdin to Goethe, freely translating from the Danish.[18] At the time, Goethe was in the process of completing the final version of Part I of Faust.

Subsequently Oehlenschläger prepared a German edition of Aladdin, translating and revising the work himself and adding an explanatory introduction for his intended German readers. This edition was published in 1808 in Amsterdam.[19] The new version included a special dedicatory poem To Goethe and was split into two parts, intended to be given on two successive evenings. More especially, this version had a new finale differing considerably from the original Danish edition by having various magical scenic transformations.[20]

As Oehlenschläger stated in his introduction to the 1808 version of Aladdin, he was not a native speaker of German; he admitted to incorporating various Danish modes of expression (Danismen) into his translation.[21] His "unidiomatic and erroneous" use of German had hindered the play's success.[20] In preparing a later German edition (1820 at the latest), he made a large number of changes and minor improvements, also correcting his imperfect German: but he dropped the magical 1808 ending, reverting to the original Danish 1805 finale.[22] The first complete English translation, by Theodore Martin, published in 1863,[23] is also based on a later edition, thus the first editions in German are the only ones to incorporate the words which Busoni uses.

Busoni was quite taken with this early German version of Aladdin and planned to adapt it as a one-evening work. In a letter to his wife, dated London, February 10, 1902, Busoni wrote:

I have thought it out and decided not to use Oehlenschläger's Aladdin for an opera, but to write a composition in which drama music, dancing and magic are combined – cut down for one evening's performance if possible. It is my old idea of a play with music where it is necessary, without hampering the dialogue. As a spectacle and as a deep symbolic work it might be something similar to the Magic Flute; at the same time it would have a better meaning and an indestructible subject [mit besserem Sinn und einem nicht tot zu machenden Sujet]. Besides this, I have planned 6 works for the summer, the principal one being the pianoforte Concerto. How beautiful![24]

However, Busoni never completed his adaptation of Aladdin,[25] although he did compose music for the final chorus in the magic cave; this soon made its way into the Piano Concerto. As Busoni's biographer Edward J. Dent remarks:

One may indeed wonder why an essentially Italian work should end with verses in praise of Allah. The plain fact was that Busoni at the moment happened to be interested in Aladdin and had set the final chorus to music. When he planned the Concerto he saw that this chorus, which has something of the mystical character of the concluding stanzas of Goethe's Faust, was exactly the music to give the general sense of serenity that he required for his own finale. It was from the original Aladdin chorus that he took the theme which occurs in the first movement; when he came to write out the last movement he felt that he missed the words, and therefore directed that a chorus of men's voices should sing them.[26]

In the finale of the play, the grown-up Aladdin replaces the lamp with its genie (or spirit) back in the magic cave where he first found it. The somewhat obscure (if exalted) words that Busoni sets are voiced by the rock pillars themselves: Oehlenschläger's stage direction "Deep and quiet, the pillars of rock begin to sound:" is printed above the score where the chorus enters. Busoni follows the text exactly, only omitting a few verses which were not appropriate.[27] According to Dent:

"The actual meaning of the words hardly matters. The chorus is directed to be invisible; it sings in plain chords, like a body of soft trombones added to the orchestra. The effect which Busoni desired was stated by him once in a letter to a friend who had mistakenly suggested to him that it might be better to re-write the chorus for mixed voices; he replied that he had no desire to convert his Concerto into an oratorio; he insisted that the chorus should be invisible, and said that its function was 'to add a new register to the sonorities which precede it'."[28]

Goethe's Urphänomen

Nevertheless, in these mysterious lines added for the 1808 German edition of Aladdin after several months of daily contact with Goethe, Oehlenschläger seems to be drawing on Goethe's holistic, non-Newtonian concept of the Urphänomen (German: primordial phenomenon) which Goethe used in his scientific works, especially the Theory of Colours; at the same time, Hegel was also developing this idea in his own philosophy, involving the concept of the Gestalt (Ger: Form), sometimes translated as “formation” or “configuration of consciousness”.[30]

One alternative to this holistic approach was the dualism espoused by another Danish poet Jens Baggesen (a slightly older and overshadowed contemporary of Oehlenschläger), whose works were based on a consistently maintained pantheistic outlook, resulting in a strongly emphasized antithesis between the earthly and the heavenly. Baggesen, who wrote in accordance with a strictly defined poetics, deeply desired to overcome this tension; but since he realized that his own dualist climb toward lofty heights (a recurring motif) would scarcely be successful, he praised Oehlenschlager and Goethe, whose poetry seemed to promise a synthesis, a new world void of such restriction.[31]

In his study of Danish poets and their encounters with German artistic movements, Viktor Schmitz (Schmitz 1974) considers the Urphänomen - or genesis of the creative mindset - as expressed by Goethe, Oehlenschläger and Schiller, who had been close friends with Goethe for many years and died in May 1805. In a poem[32] in which he pays homage to Goethe, Schiller praised happiness or luck (Glück) as a gift of the gods, a present without merit and benefit. This praise applied to what Schiller admired in Goethe, but did not possess himself.[33] But for Oehlenschläger - since Aladdin - happiness remained a sign of election (ein Zeichen der Erwählung) and of itself, of 'having been chosen'; almost a primordial phenomenon (Urphänomen) of poetry, as the struggle was for Schiller, or the demonic for Goethe.[34]

Hegel expressed the idea of the Urphänomen in a letter to Goethe in February 1821 as the concept of "a spiritual breath: [...] To ferret out the Urphänomen, to free it from those further environs which are accidental to it, to apprehend as we say abstractly – I take this to be a matter of spiritual intelligence for nature”.[35][n 2]

Text

Busoni did not set the subsequent closing speech of Oehlenschläger's fortunate hero as he looks around the magic cave for the last time: but Dent's assertion that "The actual meaning of the words hardly matters" can be balanced against Aladdin's final lines:

Manuscript and publication details[edit]

Manuscripts
Title: Concerto per un Pianoforte obligato principale e diversi strumenti, ad arco a fiato ed a percussione; aggiuntovi un Coro finale per voci d'uomini a 4 parti. Le parole alemanne del poeta Oehlenschlaeger, danese. la Musica di Ferruccio Busoni, da Empoli.
[Concerto for obbligato principal piano and diverse bowed, wind, and percussion instruments; additional final chorus for men's voices in 4 parts. The German words by the poet Oehlenschläger, Dane. Music by Ferruccio Busoni, from Empoli.]
Description: 48 loose sheets, partly written on one side, and partly on two; partly folio, partly not.
Note: Also contains material relating to the ending without chorus (BV 247a).[40]
  • Busoni Archive No. 232 (sketch)[39]
Title 1: Busoni Concerto
Title 2: Concerto per un Pianoforte principale e diversi Strumenti, ad arco, a fiato ed a percussione; aggiuntovi un Coro finale per voci d'uomini a quattro parti. Le parole alemanne del poeta Oehlenschlaeger, danese; la Musica di Ferruccio Busoni, da Empoli. (Secondo abbozzo, in esteso.)
[Concerto for principal piano and diverse bowed, wind, and percussion instruments; additional final Chorus for men's voices in four parts. The German words by the poet Oehlenschläger, Dane; Music by Ferruccio Busoni, from Empoli. (Second full sketch.)]
Date: 18. Agosto 1903. (at the end of the composition)
Description: 2 title sheets; 81 leaves, written on both sides, numbered by Busoni from 1 to 41, on every second leaf (recto), corresponding to the number of quires.
Note: The sketches comprise partly piano extracts, partly short score (particell).
  • Busoni Archive No. 233 (score)[41]
Title: Conzert für Klavier u. Orch. Op. 39
On the edge: Partyt. Ms. Autogr. Busoni-Nachlaß Nr 233
Note: Lost in 1945. Now at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow.
Publications[8]
  • Score (Partitur)
Title: Concerto per un Pianoforte principale e diversi strumenti ad arco a fiato ed a percussione. Aggiuntovi un Coro finale per voci d'uomini a sei parti. Le parole alemanne del poeta Oehlenschlaeger danese. La Musica di Ferruccio Busoni da Empoli Anno MCMIV. opera XXXIX
[Concerto for principal piano and diverse bowed, wind, and percussion instruments. Additional final Chorus for men's voices in six parts. The German words by the Danish poet Oehlenschläger. Music by Ferruccio Busoni from Empoli in the year 1904. opus XXXIX.]
Date: Finis. il 3.d'Agosto 1904. (at the end of the composition)
Instrumentation: Un pianoforte principale, 2 Flauti piccoli, 3 Flauti, 3 Oboi, 1 Corno inglese, 3 Clarinetti, 1 Clarinetto basso, 3 Fagotti, 4 Corni, 3 Trombe, 3 Tromboni, 1 Tuba, 3 Timpani, Tamburo militare, Gran Cassa, Tamburino, Triangolo, Piatti, un giuoco di Campanelli a tastiera (Glockenspiel), un Gong Chinese (Tamtam), 12 Violini primi, 10 Violini secondo, 8 Viole, 8 Violoncelli, 6 Contrabassi a 4 Corde, 2 Contrabassi che discendono al Do di 16 piedi, un Coro di voci d'uomini composto di 48 cantori.
Published: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1906, cat. no. Part B. 1949; (328 pages); cat. no. Ch. B. 1844; (men's chorus)
  • Arrangement for 2 pianos; revised extended cadenza
Published: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1909. EB 2861, ed. Egon Petri; score (178 pages); extended cadenza rev. by Busoni, 1909 (5 pages).

Performances[edit]

Recordings
Recording Date Pianist Conductor Orchestra Label & Cat. No.
1932-06-22 June 22, 1932 Petri Egon Petri RosbaudHans Rosbaud Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra Arbiter 134 (fourth movement only)
1948-01-00 January 1948 Mewton-Wood Noel Mewton-Wood Beecham Sir Thomas Beecham BBC Symphony Orchestra Somm-Beecham 15
1956-01-16 January 15–16, 1956 Johansen Gunnar Johansen Schmidt Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt NDR Symphony Orchestra Music & Arts CD-1163
1967-00-00 1967 Ogdon John Ogdon Revenaugh Daniell Revenaugh[42] Royal Philharmonic Orchestra EMI Classics 94637246726
1985-02-28 February 28, 1985 Bloch Boris Bloch Eschenbach Christoph Eschenbach Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra Aperto APO 86106
1986-10-00 October 1986 Banfield Volker Banfield Herbig Lutz Herbig Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra CPO 999 017-2
1988-08-05 August 5, 1988 Donohoe Peter Donohoe (recorded live) Elder Mark Elder BBC Symphony Orchestra EMI CDC 7 49996 2
1989-02-00 February 1989 Postnikova Viktoria Postnikova Rozhdestvensky Gennady Rozhdestvensky France Orchestre National de France Apex 2564 64390-2
1989-02-04 February 4, 1989 Ohlsson Garrick Ohlsson Dohnányi Christoph von Dohnányi Cleveland The Cleveland Orchestra Telarc 80207
1989-09-00 September 1989 Battel Giovanni Battel Frontalini Silvano Frontalini Warmia National Orchestra Bongiovanni GB5509/10-2
1990-02-13 February 8–13, 1990 Lively David Lively Gielen Michael Gielen Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra Koch International CD 311 160 H1
1990-05-00 May 1990 Thiollier François-Joël Thiollier Schønwandt Michael Schønwandt Nice Philharmonic Orchestra Kontrapunkt 32057
1999-06-21 June 20–21, 1999 Hamelin Marc-André Hamelin Elder Mark Elder Birmingham The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Hyperion CDA67143
2008-02-19 February 19, 2008 Massa Pietro Massa Malzew Stefan Malzew Neubrandenburg Neubrandenburg Philharmonic GENUIN 88122
2009-03-09 March 8–9, 2009 Cappello Roberto Cappello La Vecchia Francesco La Vecchia Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma Naxos 8.572523
Other concert performances

In addition to the above list of recordings, the concerto has also received concert performances in recent years by (among others, in alphabetical order): Christopher Falzone; Carlo Grante; Randall Hodgkinson; Martin Jones; Piers Lane; Janos Solyom

Videos

YouTube links (in alphabetical order): Volker Banfield; Christopher Falzone (with OSO and transcription for solo piano_complete); Marc-André Hamelin; (originally telecast on March 31, 2001 on the Finnish commercial television station MTV3; 4th movement only appears on It's All About the Music Hyperion DVDA68000); Noel Mewton-Wood; John Ogdon; Garrick Ohlsson; Kun Woo Paik; Egon Petri (4th Mvt.); Pietro Scarpini

Noncommercial recordings

A performance of the concerto by Pietro Scarpini with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus was broadcast on New York's WQXR on July 10, 1966.[43] They had previously performed the concerto in Carnegie Hall, New York, on February 7, 1966.[44]

The amateur pianist, industrialist, and philanthropist Sir Ernest Hall (a contemporary of John Ogdon at the Royal Manchester College of Music) performed the concerto in 2000 with the Sheffield Symphony Orchestra and the Halifax Choral Society conducted by John Longstaff. A recording is available through the SSO website [1] Accessed 11 September 2009.

Downloadable scores[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ Coincidentally, the same year in which Oehlenschläger published the German edition of Aladdin.
  2. ^ Goethe, in his wide-ranging Essay on Granite of 1784, went to a hill composed of this stone and soliloquized as follows:(Steiner 1928, chapter 4)

    “Here you are resting on a substructure that extends to the very depths of the Earth; no newer stratum, no deposited, heaped-up fragments are laid between you and the firm foundation of the primordial world; you are not passing over a continuous grave as in yonder fruitful valleys; these peaks have brought forth no living thing, have devoured no living thing; they are antecedent to all life, they transcend all life [...] Here on the most ancient, imperishable altar, built immediately above the depths of Creation, I bring a sacrifice to the Being of all Beings.

Citations
  1. ^ Der er et yndigt land.
  2. ^ Schonberg 1963, p. 75. Schonberg reserves his greatest ire for Steibelt as a purveyor of "obvious fakery [...] a charlatan with perhaps a touch of genius." (Schonberg 1963, pp. 74, 72)
  3. ^ Henri Herz: List of Herz's works at Gottschalk.fr. (In French). Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  4. ^ a b Beaumont 1985, p. 61.
  5. ^ Dent 1974, p. 135.
  6. ^ Dent 1974, p. 142.
  7. ^ Busoni 1906, pp. 1, 65, 106, 187, 286, 294.
  8. ^ a b Kindermann 1980, p. 225.
  9. ^ Roberge 1991, p. 32.
  10. ^ Capable of descending to "16-foot" C, three octaves below middle C. (Kindermann 1980, p. 225). See also double basses#Tuning.
  11. ^ The three additional percussion players are required simultaneously in the "All' Italiana" (4th) movement at the point in the score marked "Tumultuoso." (Busoni 1906, p. 222)
  12. ^ a b Dent 1974, p. 143.
  13. ^ Dent 1974, pp. 143-4.
  14. ^ Dent 1974, p. 145.
  15. ^ Oehlenschläger 1805.
  16. ^ Celestini 2008, p. 281. Oehlenschläger seems to have been drawing on an early draft of the Faust legend, Faust - Ein Fragment (Leipzig 1790); see Abels 2000, p. 343, cited in Celestini 2008, p. 281n
  17. ^ Steiner 1928, chapter 2.
  18. ^ "Oehlenschlager zahlte mehrere Monate lang zum engsten Kreis Goethes und nutzte die Gelegenheit, ihm bei den taglichen Besuchen seinen Aladdin aus dem Danischen frei ubersetzend vorzulesen." (Celestini 2008, p. 281)
  19. ^ Oehlenschläger 1808.
  20. ^ a b Beaumont 1985, p. 62.
  21. ^ Oehlenschläger 1808, pp. 21-23.
  22. ^ Oehlenschläger 1820.
  23. ^ Oehlenschläger 1863.
  24. ^ Ley 1938, p. 54.
  25. ^ In a letter to Egon Petri (dated Amsterdam, October 6, 1906) Busoni mentions having completed the text for the first act of his stage adaptation of Oehlenschläger's play Aladdin. (Beaumont 1987, p. 79-80). The complete text remains unpublished.
  26. ^ Dent 1974, p. 148.
  27. ^ Compare Oehlenschläger 1808, pp. 560-1, 564 to Busoni 1906, pp. 294-324
  28. ^ "Il Coro nel Concerto dovrebbe del resto rimanere invisible, ed aggiungere un nuovo registro alle sonorità che lo precedono." (Dent 1974, p. 148-9).
  29. ^ Blunden, Andy (n.d.). "How Hegel put Goethe’s Urphänomen to Philosophical Use". Academia.edu. Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  30. ^ The purpose of the Urphänomen is to provide an authentic conception of a whole complex process. According to Andy Blunden, this was fundamental to Goethe's scientific work. In his Italian Journey, Goethe described his studies of variations in plants, making botanical sketches of them and sensuously familiarising himself with all the variations of what he took to be the same basic archetype. All plants, he believed, were a realization according to conditions, of an underlying form which he called the Urpflanze or primordial plant.[29]
  31. ^ Ingwersen 1970, p. 674.
  32. ^ Das Glück
  33. ^ "Schiller hat in einem Gedicht mit dem er Goethe huldigt, das Glück gepriesen als eine Gabe der Götter, in Geschenk ohne Verdienst und Leistung. Dieser Lobpreis galt dem, was Schiller am anderen bewunderte, selbst aber nicht besaß." (Schmitz 1974, p. 67)
  34. ^ "Für Oehlenschläger blieb das Glück seit dem Aladdin ein Zeichen der Erwählung auch seiner selbst, fast ein Urphänomen der Dichtung, wie es für Schiller der Kampf war, oder für Goethe das Dämonische." (Schmitz 1974, p. 67)
  35. ^ Hegel 1984, p. 698.
  36. ^ Oehlenschläger 1808, pp. 560-64.
  37. ^ The English translation of the Oehlenschläger text was aided by reference to Betteridge, The New Cassell's German Dictionary.
  38. ^ Oehlenschläger 1808, pp. 562.
  39. ^ a b Kindermann 1980, pp. 224-5.
  40. ^ Sitsky 2008, p. 373.
  41. ^ Sitsky 2008, p. 383.
  42. ^ This was Revenaugh's sole recording as a conductor.
  43. ^ "This Week's Radio Broadcasts," New York Times, July 10, 1966. Accessed 10 September 2009. Registration and purchase required.
  44. ^ Harold C. Schonberg, "Music: Busoni Revisited. Giant Concerto Played by the Clevelanders," New York Times, February 8, 1966. Accessed 10 September 2009. Registration and purchase required.
Sources

External links[edit]