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Ferruccio Busoni: Ferruccio Busoni (b. Empoli, 1 April 1866; d. Berlin, 27 July 1924).
Ferruccio Busoni's father was a North Italian clarinettist, and his mother an Austrian pianist. For part of the boy's childhood, he was under the care of his grandfather, while his parents were absent on concert tours. Later, both parents gave him piano lessons, and at the age of nine he made his first public appearance playing Mozart's C minor concerto, conducted by his father. In an attempt to exploit Ferruccio's musical talent, his father then took him to Vienna where he studied for a time at the Conservatorium. Later, he found a congenial teacher, Wilhelm Mayer, in Graz, and it was under Mayer that the young Ferruccio Busoni's musical tastes began to expand and develop. By his mid-teens he had become a pianist of concert standard, and had also begun to compose. In 1883 a cantata of his was favourably commented upon by the distinguished composer and librettist Arrigo Boito.
Armed with an introduction from Brahms, Ferruccio Busoni made his way to Leipzig which was then musically a very active city. He remained there for some years, until he went to Helsinki to teach. Here he met the girl he was to marry a year or two later in Moscow, where he had gone to teach. His next teaching post was in the United States, after which Ferruccio Busoni gave up teaching and devoted himself to the life of a travelling virtuoso. He had become an exceptionally fine pianist, excelling in a wide range of music, and for the next twenty years, until the outbreak of World War I, he based himself in Berlin, and toured all over the world giving concerts of Bach. During this period his own compositions were neglected. Gradually, however, his thoughts began to turn to opera, and his first completed opera, Die Brautwahl, based on one of E. T. A. Hoffmann's stories, was staged in Hamburg in 1912. Too eclectic a piece to establish Ferruccio Busoni as a composer, Die Brautwahl is nevertheless a work of subtle inventiveness.
Ferruccio Busoni's next opera, Turandot (1917), shares with Puccini its subject, drawn from Carlo Gozzi's fairy-tale, but it is much closer in spirit to Gozzi's original than Puccini's opera is. With Doktor Faust, the opera which is Ferruccio Busoni's masterpiece, and on which he worked for nearly fifteen years, Ferruccio Busoni introduced his own literary and philosophical ideas into the old German tale. He wrote his own libretto, an austerely intellectual version of the legend which owes little to Goethe, and much to the older German puppet-plays. Doktor Faust is the one work of Ferruccio Busoni which is certain to survive, though it will never be a popular opera. At his death, it was not finished, and the final scene was completed by one of his pupils, Philipp Jarnach.
In 1913, Ferruccio Busoni made a brief return to teaching, when he was invited to become Director of the Liceo Musicale in Bologna. But the administrative work proved irksome, and he soon returned to Berlin. During the war, he refused to perform in any of the warring countries, and retired to Switzerland to compose. When peace was declared he returned to Berlin and to concert-giving, but he was by now in ill health, and died of a kidney disease at the age of fifty-seven. As a pianist, he influenced a younger school of players, while as a composer he trod a solitary path. In the last analysis a minor figure, he is nevertheless an important one.
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