Piano Concerto (Busoni)
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.
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). The reviews were decidedly mixed, some being filled with outright hostility or derision. 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.
The inclusion of a chorus in a piano concerto was unusual, although Daniel Steibelt's Piano Concerto No. 8 (1st performed March 16, 1820, in Saint Petersburg) and the Piano Concerto No. 6, Op. 192 (1858) by Henri Herz both have a choral finale. The 1808 Choral Fantasy, Op. 80 by Beethoven includes a choral finale, but until that point it has the appearance of a work for piano and orchestra.
Male Chorus (5th movement only; invisible)
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.
- 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.
Busoni and Aladdin
Adam Oehlenschläger's verse drama Aladdin, or the Magic Lamp was first published in Danish in 1805. Afterward, in 1806, Oehlenschläger spent several months in Weimar with Goethe, who was in the process of completing the final version of Part I of Faust. Subsequently Oehlenschläger decided to prepare 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. 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.
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!
However, Busoni never completed his adaptation of Aladdin, 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.
The words appear at the very end of the final scene of Aladdin, sung by a distant Chorus; Busoni follows the text exactly, only omitting a few verses which were not appropriate. 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. This may go some way towards explaining the somewhat obscure - if exalted - nature of the words that Busoni uses.
Oehlenschläger's "unidiomatic and erroneous" use of German had hindered the play's success. 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. The first complete English translation, by Theodore Martin, published in 1863, is also based on a later edition, thus the first editions in German are the only ones to incorporate the words which Busoni uses.
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'."
Dent's assertion that "The actual meaning of the words hardly matters" should be balanced against Aladdin's subsequent speech (not set by Busoni in the concerto) as he looks around the magic cave for the last time:
Problems of performance
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. 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).
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. 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.
|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||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|
- 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. They had previously performed the concerto in Carnegie Hall, New York, on February 7, 1966.
- 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  Accessed 11 September 2009.
- Video recording
- It's All About the Music (Hyperion DVDA68000) is a video documentary about the pianist Marc André Hamelin. The bonus features include a performance of the fourth movement ("All' Italiana: Tarantella") with Osmo Vänskä conducting the Lahti Symphony Orchestra. The entire performance was originally telecast on March 31, 2001 on the Finnish commercial television station MTV3, and now can be found on YouTube.
- 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
- Kun-Woo Paik
- Janos Solyom
YouTube links: Egon Petri (4th Mvt.); Marc-André Hamelin; John Ogdon; Garrick Ohlsson; Kun Woo Paik; Pietro Scarpini; Volker Banfield; Noel Mewton-Wood; Christopher Falzone (with OSO and transcription for solo piano_complite)
Manuscript and publication details
- Title: Concerto per un Pianoforte
obligatoprincipale 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
obbligatoprincipal 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).
- Busoni Archive No. 232 (sketch)
- 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)
- 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.
- 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).
- The score of the two-piano reduction by Egon Petri is available as a downloadable PDF file: File:Busoni- Piano Concerto (2-po rdn) Mvt1.pdf
- The study score and the score for Busoni's revised, extended cadenza for the 4th movement are available at IMSLP
- Beaumont (1985), p. 61.
- Dent, p.135
- Schonberg, p. 68
- Henri Herz: List of works at Gottschalk.fr. In French. Accessed 8 September 2009.
- Busoni (ca. 1950), pp. 1, 65, 106, 187, 286, 294.
- Kindermann, p. 225.
- Roberge, p. 32
- The three additional percussion players are required simultaneously in the "All' Italiana" (4th) movement at the point in the score marked "Tumultuoso." Busoni (ca. 1950), p. 222.
- Capable of descending to "16-foot" C, the C three octaves below middle C (Kindermann, p. 225). See also Double basses#Tuning.
- Dent (1933), p.142
- Oehlenschläger (1805)
- Oehlenschläger (1808)
- Beaumont (1985), p. 62.
- Ley, p. 54.
- 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. The complete text remains unpublished. Beaumont (1987), pp. 79-80.
- Dent, p. 148.
- Oehlenschläger (1808), pp. 560-564
- The English translation of the Oehlenschläger text was aided by reference to Betteridge, The New Cassell's German Dictionary.
- Compare Oehlenschläger (1808), pp. 560-561 and 564 to Busoni (ca. 1950), pp. 294-324.
- Oehlenschläger (1808), pp. 21-23.
- Oehlenschläger (1820)
- Oehlenschläger (1863)
- "Il Coro nel Concerto dovrebbe del resto rimanere invisible, ed aggiungere un nuovo registro alle sonorità che lo precedono." Dent, pp. 148-149.
- Oehlenschläger (1808), p. 562
- Dent, p. 143
- Dent, pp. 143-4
- Dent, p. 145
- This was Revenaugh's sole recording as a conductor.
- "This Week's Radio Broadcasts," New York Times, July 10, 1966. Accessed 10 September 2009. Registration and purchase required.
- 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.
- Kindermann, pp. 224-225.
- Sitsky, 2008, p. 373.
- Sitsky, 2008, p. 383.
|Beaumont, Antony (1985). Busoni the Composer. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-13149-2|
|Beaumont, Antony, ed. (1987). Busoni: Selected Letters. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06460-8|
|Betteridge, Harold T. (1958). The New Cassell's German Dictionary. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co.|
|Busoni, Ferruccio (ca. 1950). Concerto für Klavier und Orchester mit Männerchor. Study Score, cat. no. PB 5104 (reissue of the original 1906 score). Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel. See this work page of the International Music Score Library Project. Accessed 3 September 2009.|
|Dent, Edward J. (1933). Ferruccio Busoni: A Biography, London: Oxford University Press. (Reprint: London: Ernst Eulenburg, 1974) ISBN 0-903873-02-8|
|Kindermann, Jürgen (1980). Thematisch-chronologisches Verzeichnis der Werke von Ferruccio B. Busoni. Studien zur Musikgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, vol. 19. Regensburg: Gustav Bosse Verlag. ISBN 3-7649-2033-5|
|Ley, Rosamond, translator (1938). Ferruccio Busoni: Letters to His Wife, London: Edward Arnold & Co.|
|Oehlenschläger, Adam Gottlob (1805). Aladdin, eller Den forunderlige Lampe. Et Lystspil (in Poetiske Skrifter, Vol. II). Copenhagen: J.H Schubothe. Facsimile pages Accessed 5 September 2009 ; Online text Accessed 5 September 2009|
|Oehlenschläger, Adam Gottlob (1808). Aladdin oder die Wunderlampe. Dramatisches Gedicht in zwei Spielen. Amsterdam: Kunst und Industrie-Comptoir. Google Books full preview Accessed 3 September 2009.|
|Oehlenschläger, Adam Gottlob (1820). Aladdin, oder: die Wunderlampe. Ein dramatisches Gedicht. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus. Google Books Part 1; Part 2. Accessed 3 September 2009.|
|Oehlenschläger, Adam Gottlob (1863), tr. Theodore Martin. Aladdin; or, The Wonderful Lamp. A dramatic poem – in two parts. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons. Google Books full preview Accessed 3 September 2009.|
|Roberge, Marc-André (1991). Ferruccio Busoni: a bio-bibliography. New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-25587-3|
|Schonberg, Harold. C. (1963). The Great Pianists. New York: Simon and Schuster. (1987 edition: ISBN 0-671-63837-8)|
|Sitsky, Larry (2008). Busoni and the Piano. The Works, the Writings, and the Recordings. (2nd ed.) Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press. ISBN 978-1-57647-158-6| [First edition, Westport: Greenwood Press,1986. ISBN 0-313-23671-2]|
- Piano Concerto, Op. 39: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Roberge, Marc-André (1981). "Le Concerto pour piano, orchestre et chœur d’hommes, op. 39 (1904), de Ferruccio Busoni: étude historique et analytique" (M.A. thesis, McGill University, 1981), ix, 254 pp.; Microcard copy available at the National Library of Canada (French). Accessed 3 November 2009.
- Article on Piano Concerto Accessed 17 May 2011.
- Busoni Piano Concerto discography