Busoni, Ferruccio


Busoni, Ferruccio

Indianische Fantasie (Indian Fantasy) for piano and orchestra Op. 44 (Piano Reduction for 2 pianos, 2 copies)

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Busoni, Ferruccio

Indianische Fantasie (Indian Fantasy) for piano and orchestra Op. 44 (Piano Reduction for 2 pianos, 2 copies)

Preface to the full score
Ferruccio Busoni – pianiste extraordinaire, composer, teacher, and philosopher-sage of modern music – had very close ties with the United States, where he often made extended concert tours (most notably in 1904, 1910 and 1911) and twice considered setting up residence. On the first of these occasions he lived in Boston, where he taught at the New England Conservatory, but one year later he resigned this position and moved to New York. There, in 1893, he was approached by an eighteen-year old New York girl who sought lessons from him in piano and harmony. It was an acquaintance that would later, in unexpected ways, alter his artistic evolution.

The young lady was Natalie Curtis (1875-1921), who was at that time intent on a career as a concert pianist. After further studies in France she pursued her concert ambitions until 1904, when she first came into contact with the music of North American Indians at the St. Louis World Exposition. She immediately abandoned her pianistic aspirations and traveled to Arizona, where she lived for years with the Hopi (among other tribes) and devoted herself to the cultivation and preservation of indigenous Amerindian music. Three years later her first book appeared: The Indians’ Book, a 572-page tome with a letter from Theodore Roosevelt as preface and, more importantly, two-hundred highly accurate transcriptions of Indian songs, with words given in the original language and in her own translations. This book, lavishly illustrated with Indian drawings and photographs, marks a watershed in the history of American ethnomusicology and, amazingly, has never gone out of print.

In 1910 Busoni was again in New York, where he heard Mahler conduct the New York Philharmonic in a performance of his Turandot Suite. Seated in the audience was Natalie Curtis, who took the occasion to make her former teacher a present of her new book. Busoni was immediately captivated by its contents, and an interesting correspondence ensued between the teacher and his former pupil on the nature of Native American music. Unlike many other European composers, who were attracted mainly by the exotic flavor or nationalist ethos of non-European music, Busoni was interested primarily in the holistic world-view of the American Indians, of which music was just one form of expression. That same month (on 22 March 1910) he wrote to his wife Gerda: “The Indians are the only cultured people who will have nothing to do with money and who dress the most everyday things in beautiful words. How different is a businessman from Chicago by comparison. He knows Roosevelt as ‘Teddy,’ the Indians know him as ‘our great white father.’“
The American Indians, Busoni believed, celebrated a oneness between art, nature, and civilization – a oneness that he found an inspiring alternative to the dismembered society that he had seen emerging in the capitals of Europe and that had reached such oppressive dimensions in New York. There exists, he felt, only One Music that slowly evolves over time, and the composer’s task is to contribute to its stately progress through constant innovation without ever hoping to reach a point of culmination or conclusion. In the Indian melodies of Curtis’s volume he sensed the presence of ancient universal truths which were capable of pointing the way to a less fractious future.

In 1913 Busoni, having returned to Europe, set about transforming some of Curtis’s Indian melodies into his own compositions. At first he considered composing a theater work in which entire Indian ceremonies would be acted out authentically on stage – a commitment to his holistic view of Indian culture which, if carried out, might have marked a milestone in theatrical history. In the end, however, he discarded this idea and turned to the more conventional form of a three-movement rhapsody for piano and orchestra to which he even gave the working title “Concerto secondo.” This composition, which was to become his Indian Fantasy op. 44, was begun on 2 April 1913. Finding the melodies in Curtis’s collection peculiarly unrewarding, perhaps because of their metrical regularity and unrelenting pentatonicism, he turned to his former student and asked her, in a surprising gesture of trust, to suggest a few that might be capable of expansion. This selection he further reduced to a still smaller number of themes, each of which stood out for some distinctive rhythmic or intervallic irregularity. Even so Busoni soon found himself grappling with the simplicity of the material; as he wrote to his wife Gerda on 18 July, “the Indian melodies are not very forthcoming, nor are they fruitful; I will have to stuff a lot of myself into them.”

It was precisely his efforts to come to grips compositionally with this unprepossessing material that led Busoni to ponder the nature of melody altogether. The result, among other things, was his famous definition of melody in a letter of 22 July 1913 to Gerda – a definition which later found its way into his collected writings: “Absolute melody: a series of repeated (1), rising and falling (2) intervals which, rhythmically articulated and set in motion (3), contains within itself a latent harmony (4) and renders a state of mind (5); which can exist independent of a text as expression (6), and independent of an accompaniment as form (7), and whose execution effects no change in its nature through choice of key (8) or timbre.”
This thought-provoking definition is followed by a capsule history of melody in the course of human evolution: “Melody, at first independent, was combined over the years with an harmonic accompaniment and later blended with this harmony into an indissoluble unity from which the constantly evolving poly-harmony has recently sought to free itself. In contradiction to well-established points of view, it must be insisted here that melody has continued to evolve, has grown in line and expressive potential, and must eventually attain universal dominance in composition. Its quality was lowest, and the importance accorded to it most negligible, during the age of ‘melodious’ operas and salon compositions, for melody was then fashioned to be as readily intelligible as possible and had to be separated from the other components in the musical work of art – a corrupt folk song.”
This remarkable manifesto for the pre-eminence of absolute melody was followed by a no less revealing passage that Busoni later deleted: “It is characteristic of melody’s period of decline that it always appeared isolated and confined to the leading voice, usually the upper voice. The attempts to contrast it with one or more other melodic voices were at first extremely feeble, for the latter were invariably made subordinate to it and remained secondary.”
In short, absolute melody was to be understood in the context of absolute polyphony – an axiom that sheds light not only on Busoni’s “Indian” compositions of this period but on his late music as a whole.

If the first movement of the Indian Fantasy was swiftly completed by 19 August 1913, the slow middle movement caused the composer no end of trouble, so that, as he wrote jokingly to his student Egon Petri, “I had to scalp it four times.” Having finished this recalcitrant section in January 1914, Busoni whisked off the third movement in the course of a month, and on 22 February 1914 he could finally proclaim that the score was complete. A couple of weeks later, on 12 March, Busoni himself gave the work its première with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Alexis Birnbaum. The first edition, published by Breitkopf & Härtel of Leipzig, followed in 1915, along with a two-piano arrangement by Egon Petri.

Though not overwhelmingly successful at its première, where it was overshadowed by Busoni’s remarkably unconventional Nocturne symphonique, the Indian Fantasy found its way into the repertoire and was frequently performed during his lifetime. One of the more notable performances was the American première, which took place in the Philadelphia Academy of Music on 19 February 1915 with Busoni at the piano and Leopold Stokowski conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. Seated in the audience was Natalie Curtis herself, who left an evocative account of the event: “With the first bars of the orchestral introduction

[…] the walls melted away, and I was in the West, filled again with the awing sense of vastness, of solitude, of immensity.” The Indian Fantasy, she exclaimed, was “by far the most important effort ever yet made in any use of our native musical material. […] Indian music compels its own treatment, remaining unalterably Indian, standing out with its own sharp rhythmic and melodic outline on the background of the composer’s thought like sculptured bas-relief.”
Busoni himself played the work again in Zurich on 17 January 1916, and a London performance of 1920 was so successful that the work had to be encored.

Later, perhaps in view of his own more adventurous forays into Indian music in Book I of the Indian Diary (1915) and especially in Song of the Spirit Dance, op. 47 (1915), Busoni tended to distance himself from the Fantasy. At a 1921 performance in Berlin he referred to it as an “experimental attempt” to strike a balance between simple melodies and “weird, exotic harmonies.” Yet by mid-century the Fantasy was still thought significant enough to figure on the program of the Busoni Commemorative Concert mounted by Busoni’s staunch friends Dimitri Mitropolous, Egon Petri, and Josef Szigeti with the New York Philharmonic on 28 December 1941. Remarkably, this memorable concert, during which the Indian Fantasy was performed by Mitropolous and Petri, was recorded at the time and is available today on CD. Of more modern recordings perhaps the most noteworthy is a reading by Neeme Järvi and the BBC Philharmonic, with the solo part taken by Nelson Goerner.

The present study score is a faithful reprint of Breitkopf & Härtel’s first edition of 1915.

Bradford Robinson, 2009

For performance material please contact the publisher Breitkopf und Härtel, Wiesbaden.


>>> Deutsches Vorwort zur Partitur lesen > HERE

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