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Italian composer, virtuoso pianist (especially of Bach, Mozart, and Liszt), and aesthetician.

Career Summary

Busoni studied at the Vienna Conservatory (1875-77), in Graz, then in Leipzig (1885-88), thereafter teaching in Finland, Russia, and the US, before settling in Berlin in 1894, where he wrote his forward-looking book Entwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst (Sketch for a New Aesthetic of Music, 1907). Although eschewing atonality in his own compositions, he took a keen interest in the music of Schoenberg, Bartók, Varèse, Hindemith, and others. His piano pupils included Egon Petri and Eduard Steuermann.

During World War I, he lived in the US then in Switzerland, before returning to Berlin[?] after 1918. In addition to compositions such as the Fantasia contrappuntistica (1910) and the operas Arlecchino (1916), Turandot (1917), and Doktor Faust (1924), Busoni is well known for his transcriptions of and cadenzas for works by J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Mozart, Schubert, and others. He edited the piano works of Liszt for Breitkopf & Härtel. His edition of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier (B&H, 1894, 1916) was influential in its day, and commanded some respect on Schenker's part; in 1908, Universal Edition approached Schenker about supplying the edition of Book II, but he declined.

Busoni and Schenker

Schenker mentioned Busoni the pianist briefly in reviews from 1895 and 1896. The two men first became acquainted in 1897, Schenker writing a lengthy description of him in his diary for February 12 beginning "serious, perhaps even drab, . . embittered, .. industrious, oftentimes imposing - totally focused on matters artistic, though admittedly by the standards of present-day understanding. Original in his Bach transcriptions." (OJ 1/1, p. 3).

Busoni was one of several supporters of Schenker as a composer around 1900, and recommended Breitkopf & Härtel to publish his Fantasie, Op. 2 (1898/99 - dedicated to Busoni), which Busoni had admired as three separate compositions and recommended Schenker to "forge" together into a single work. Busoni admired Schenker's two-piano work Syrische Tänze (1899) as "marvelous, full of atmosphere, secessionistic," and instigated Schoenberg's instrumentation of them (now lost), performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Busoni's Orchester-Abende series in Berlin on October 19 and November 5, 1903 alongside works by d'Indy, Debussy, Berlioz, Franck, and Nielsen.

In 1908, Schenker's diary speaks less favorably of him: "Busoni plays the Beethoven Choral Fantasy and Liszt's Totentanz in his snakily fascinating, cold manner. [...] Busoni's paradoxicalities [are becoming] increasingly precipitous, increasingly abrupt--pernicious teaching of the young, what's more also pernicious example of life." (OJ 1/7, p. 64, January 15, 1908). In Kontrapunkt 1 (1910), he criticized Busoni's Entwurf, along with other theorists, for calling for a return to the modes and to exotic scales as a means of "expanding our musical horizon" (p. 33; Eng. trans., p. 21). The two men drifted apart at about that time.

Correspondence with Schenker

Thirty-eight items of correspondence between Schenker and Busoni are known to survive: 22 from Schenker to Busoni (1897-1903: Staatsbibliothek Berlin, B II, 4413-31, 3550, 14 of them duplicated as OJ 5/5a, photocopies), 16 from Busoni to Schenker (1897-1903: OJ 9/27, plus several transcripts), and in addition two items from Busoni to Moriz Violin (1900: OJ 70/67, 71/6).

In 1926, Busoni's widow, Gerda Sjöstrand, inquired about letters in Schenker's possession (OJ 3/8, p. 2941, May 18 and 21, 1926), to which Schenker responded "the letters addressed to me have too little interest for the public; they are concerned only with my compositions and matters relating to publishing houses" (OJ 3/8, p. 2947, June 11, 1926).


  • Federhofer, Hellmut, ed., Heinrich Schenker als Essayist und Kritiker ... (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1990), pp.279-80, 330
  • Federhofer, Hellmut, Heinrich Schenker nach Tagebüchern und Briefen ... (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1985), passim, esp. pp. 77-85
  • Bent, Ian, "'That Bright New Light': Schenker, Universal Edition, and the Origins of the Erläuterung Series, 1901-1910," Journal of the American Musicological Society 58/1 (2005), 69-138, esp. 73, 81-87, 92, 107, 117, 128
  • Bent, Ian, "Schenker and the Well-tempered Clavier," in Allen Cadwallader, ed., Essays from the Fourth International Schenker Symposium, vol. I (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2008), 197-211

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