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8.220153 - BACH, J.S. / BUSONI: Transcriptions

Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924)

Ferruccio Busoni was born at Empoli, near Florence, in 1866, the son of an Italian clarinettist and a mother of German extraction, a pianist. Italian by birth and early domicile, Busoni was to fall strongly under the intellectual influence of German culture, described by Hugo Leichtentritt as Italian by birth and instinct, German by education and choice. He regarded himself, however, as a cosmopolitan, winning an international reputation as a pianist and as a composer.

Busoni's early training was hardly adequate as a preparation for his future career. His father taught him to play the piano and he gave his first concert at the age of seven in Trieste, his mother's home town. In 1876 the family moved to Graz, where he studied with Wilhelm Mayer, later entering the Vienna Conservatory, where, as he claimed, he learnt nothing. Nevertheless by the age of twelve Busoni had already embarked on a career as a pianist and had already conducted a number of his own compositions in public concerts.

After a period in Leipzig, on the advice of Brahms, Busoni established himself, in 1894, in Berlin where he remained for the rest of his life, apart from the years from 1914 to 1918, which he spent in Switzerland. He continued his career as a virtuoso pianist, adopting what might have seemed a massively Romantic approach to Bach and a more angular, modern approach to Chopin, both of which proved highly controversial at the time. In composition he explored new ground which found relatively little support at a time when musical tastes were sharply divided between the experiments of Schoenberg and the more conservative ideas of others. As a pianist he always held Liszt in the highest esteem, while fundamentally opposed to nineteenth century notions of programme music.

Busoni gave his last concert in Berlin in 1922, finally expressing regret at what had become his almost exclusive concern with Bach, Mozart and Liszt, his last appearances being devoted to twelve of Mozart's Piano Concertos. He left incomplete his opera Doktor Faustus, which he had started in 1916, a successor to his version of Gozzi's Turandot.

Chaconne from Partita No. 2, BWV 1004

The Chaconne from Bach's Partita No.2 in D Minor represents the summit of musical achievement within the strictly limited technical possibilities offered by the unaccompanied violin. Using the traditional dance variation form of the chaconne, Bach contrived a composition that is massive, above all, in its implications, suggestions that in a piano transcription can be stated clearly, without doing violence to the original conception.

Busoni's transcription of the Chaconne in D Minor is not completely faithful to its source. Not only are the implied harmonies that form the basis of the chaconne pattern directly stated, but a clearer distinction is possible between the voices by changes of register, while there are slight additions, in the interests of the form in this new medium. Busoni provides, in fact, a massive reinterpretation of the Chaconne in terms of the piano.

Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (from Cantata, BWV 61)

Bach's Cantata, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (Now Comes the Gentiles' Saviour), taking its title from the German version of the Latin hymn Veni Redemptor gentium (Come, Thou Blessed Saviour, Come, in one of the better known translations), was written during the composer's period at Weimar, its first performance apparently in 1714. Busoni's moving transcription gives full prominence to the melodic line, with its gently persistent accompaniment, the vocal part clearly distinct from the instrumental ritornello of the original.

Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564

The Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564, belongs to the period Bach spent as court organist at Weimar , between 1708 and 1717, years in which he wrote the greater part of his organ music. The Toccata is based on an angular motif that seems even starker in Busoni's piano transcription, reminding us of his peculiar quality as a player, massive in his effects, yet capable of an intellectual control over tone colour. The Toccata is separated from the Fugue by an Adagio aria, that has its climax in a somewhat startling chord, soon to be resolved into a more gentle conclusion, leading to the fugal subject. The Fugue itself is built up in traditional fashion, allowing the piano to use its resonance and range in emulation of the organ and culminating in the final tonic pedal note that brings the work to a triumphant conclusion.

Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532

The Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532, is also thought to belong to Bach's period at Weimar, although the attribution is less certain than in the case of the C Major Toccata, Adagio and Fugue. The Prelude, an extended and splendid introduction, ending in a final Adagio, leads to a semiquaver fugal subject, with a curious break in its second bar, to be filled when the first voice offers its own countersubject. Again the structure is built gradually, up to the entry of the pedal fourth voice, Busoni's transcription reproducing the range and power of the organ, while in other respects remaining faithful to the original work.

Sequeira Costa

Pianist Sequeira Costa has received international acclaim for concert appearances throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, Russia, South America, the Far East and mainland China as well as the United States. He is the Cordelia Brown Murphy Distinguished Professor of Piano on the faculty of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Kansas. Costa studied in Lisbon with Vianna da Motta, and later, with Jacques Fevrier and Marguerite Long in Paris, and Edwin Fischer in Lucerne. His many major awards have included the Grand Prix at the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Piano Competition, and the Beethoven Medal in London from Harriet Cohen. A member of the jury of the first Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow, a juror's post he still holds, Costa also founded the Vianna da Motta Competition in Lisbon.

Costa has appeared in solo concerto concerts with the Moscow and Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestras, and has performed as a soloist at music festivals in Iran, France, Yugoslavia and at the Bath Festival. During the 1979-80 season, he performed his debut concert at New York's Alice Tully Hall. In the summer of 1980, he was invited to tour as piano soloist with the Gulbenkian Orchestra when the orchestra performed a series of concerts throughout the Far East and mainland China. In February 1981, Sequeira Costa performed a solo recital at Carnegie Hall in New York. He has, to his credit, recordings of the works of Ravel, Schumann, Chopin and Rachmaninov.

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