Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

The Busoni Network and the Art of Creative Transcription*

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

The Busoni Network and the Art of Creative Transcription*

Article excerpt

Recent research in the field of early twentieth-century music and musical life in Germany and Austria has shown that Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg were not active in an vacuum but part of a wider cultural context which included composers such as (to mention only two names) AlexanderZemlinsky and Franz Schreker. and that this group of composers had links with numerous artists and writers.1 It is now passible to see them in a much wider perspective or. in other words, as part of a network. This idea can also be applied to a number of fascinating figures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries whose music, for a variety of reasons, has long been neglected: namely. Liszt, Alkan, Busoni, Godowsky, and Sorabji-all of them, except for Sorabji, keyboard giants.2 Their contribution has been progressively rediscovered (or even discovered) in the last twenty years or so. us is evident in the explosion in the field of literature and discography. An indication of the existence of links hci ween these composers is that, in most cases, anyone who plays, writes about, or simply listens to the music of one of these composers has also a strong interest in the music of the others. This would probably not be the case if they were not part of one and the same "family" of artists.

It is the purpose of this article to draw attention to the fact that a number of major figures in the history of piano music and transcription since the 1850s form a closely knit group, even though they may appear to many people to be isolated eccentrics who distinguish themselves by works which, in terms of length and virtuosity, often go far beyond anything in the standard repertoire and which, for these reasons, have remained the province of a few enterprising artists. The term "network", which describes "an interconnected or interrelated group" (Webster), provides a convenient label for a number of figures who have always been rather difficult to classify because they do not belong to the mainstream of musical activity and have consequently been often reduced to footnotes or passing mentions in musicological writing. Whether or not the neglect these composers suffered has been justified and whether or not the current interest in their music will last (topics which cannot be addressed within the scope of this article), it seems appropriate to attempt to group them in a meaningful way. A study of the links between composers, performers, and transcribers shows that they can be grouped logically around Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) and, to a slightly lesser extent. Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892-1988).

The word "school" is used to describe a group of artists under a common influence, and thus refers to people who immediately follow a key figure. A network, on the other hand, can include not only a key figure and people on whom that figure exerted an influence but also some predecessors who shared similar attitudes to various aspects of musical activity and who can thus be linked to that figure and to other people who are interconnected. This explains why the "Busoni network," as will he seen later on, includes people as far removed form Busoni. chronologically sneaking, as Johann Sebastian bach and contemporary performers still in their thirties. While it is true that the whole picture could be seen from a different angle by choosing another composer as the centre of the network, so many links point to Busoni that he clearly deserves this central position.

The Busoni network could include dozens of names if one were to take into account all the composers and pianists (whether or not they were pupils of Busoni ) as well as the numerous musicians who were close to him and on whom his towering personality made a deep impression, or who are linked with him in one way or another: for example. Emile Bosquet. Gottfried Galston. José Vianna da Motta, and Isidor Philipp, to name but a few of Busoni's contemporaries who had an interest in the music of the other composers of the network. …

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