Ferruccio Busoni – Divertimento for Flute and Small Orchestra op. 52 (1920)
(b. Empoli, 1 April 1866 – d. Berlin, 27 July 1924)
Toward the end of his life, while working on his austere and ultimately unfinished magnum opus Doktor Faustus, Ferruc-cio Busoni took the time to write two instrumental works that belong to the most endearing creations from his pen: the Clarinet Concertino, op. 48 (1918), and the Divertimento for flute and small orchestra, op. 52 (1920). In fact, he conceived these two works as a sort of musical diptych; writing to his friend Albert Biolley in 1920, he confided that the Divertimento was “a ‘pendant’ to the concertino for clarinet, more fantastic perhaps, but perhaps more virile as well.” As the word “virile” suggests, the Divertimento represented the male half of this musical pairing, a combination equally evident in his other paired works from this period, such as the Sarabande and Cortège of 1918‑19, which later found their way into Doktor Faustus.
The Divertimento was written quickly in May 1920 (Busoni claimed that it came to him “as easily as writing a letter”), with the date of completion given as 24 May in the manuscript. It is dedicated to the great French flutist and conductor Philippe Gaudet (1879-1941) and was first heard at a trial run-through given by the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra under Volkmar Andreae on 21 August 1920 – the orchestra’s farewell gesture to the great composer, who had lived there for years but was about to return to Berlin and his final appointment at the Academy of Arts. The first public performance took place on 13 January 1921 during an all-Busoni concert in the Berlin Philharmonie, with the Dutch flutist Henrik de Vries playing the solo part and Busoni conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. Although the reception of Busoni’s recent music was altogether somewhat muted (something far more radical was expected of the author of the Outline of a New Aesthetic of Music), the Divertimento was pronounced successful, and in 1922 it was published in full score by Breitkopf & Härtel as Vol. 2607 in its Partitur Biblio-thek series. A year later the same publishers issued an arrangement for piano and flute prepared in 1922 by Busoni’s most illustrious pupil (after Edgard Varèse), Kurt Weill.
The Divertimento is scored very lightly for double oboes, clarinets and bassoons, double trumpets and horns, percussion, and strings. The lightness of the scoring is matched by the Mozartian lightness of the music itself: the melodic writing is distinctively triadic, although the tonality seems to wander agreeably with no goal in particular. The form is tightly compressed and mercurial; ideas are stated, developed, and abandoned with a rapidity that would make the music difficult to follow were it not for the conventional formal design. The piece opens with a long orchestral ritornello that clearly announces the double exposition of classical concerto form. Of the many felicities in the scoring, perhaps none is so enchanting as the first entrance of the soloist, preceded by an amusing duet for muted and unmuted trumpet. As the music enters the development section, it breaks off to accommodate an interpolated slow movement laid out as an aria for solo flute. In fact, this movement is a literal arrangement of an earlier Elegy for clarinet and piano (September 1919 – January 1920) that Busoni had just written for the Tonhalle Orchestra’s principal clarinetist and the dedicatee of the Clarinet Concertino, Edmonda Allegra. The recapitulation begins with a straightforward eight-bar repeat of the exposition only to veer off in entirely different directions, adopting a tarantella rhythm that places it in the near proximity of a scherzo. The lighthearted piece comes to an end with much delicate passage-work from the soloist and peals of subdued laughter from the orchestra.
In its subsequent history the Divertimento has not fared as well as its companion, the Concertino. Nonetheless, it is available in a stolid recording by Jean-Claude Gérard (flute) and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gerd Albrecht. The piano arrangement by Kurt Weill has, however, met with greater success: the score was reissued in 1950, and it was taken up in the 1960s by the superb contemporary flutist Severino Gazzelloni (1919-1992), since which time it has entered the chamber music repertoire as a concert piece in its own right. The several outstanding recordings of the piano version bode well for the future of Busoni’s original, which appears here for the first time in miniature score.
Bradford Robinson, 2010
For performance material please contact the publisher Breitkopf und Härtel, Wiesbaden.
Vorwort Deutsch > HERE