Busoni, Ferruccio / orch. Levin, Ira

Fantasia contrappuntistica for orchestra (first print)

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Ferruccio Dante Michelangelo Benvenuto Busoni – Fantasia contrappuntistica per grande orchestra (1910/22/arr. 2010)

(b. Empoli, 1 April 1866 – d. Berlin, 27 July 1924)

orchestrated by Ira Levin
(b. Chicago, 19 August 1958)

Introduzione. Maestoso deciso (p. 1) – Misterioso (p. 3) – Più mosso (p. 9) – Più mosso (p. 10) – Allegro –
Andantino (p. 13) – Poco più mosso (p. 15) – Più lento – Poco con moto, ma intimamente (p. 19) –
Tranquillo assai (p. 20) – Fuga I. Tanquillo (p. 21) – Fuga II. Poco più mosso (p. 24) – Fuga III. Sostenuto (p. 29) –
Più mosso (p. 31) – Mosso (p. 37) – Più calmo (p. 38) – Più energico (p. 39) – Sempre incalzando (p. 40) –
ntermezzo occulto, più tranquillo (p. 43) – Visionario (p. 44) – Variation I. Molto tranquillo (p. 45) –
Variation II. Più mosso (p. 46) – Con fuoco (p. 51) – Meno mosso (p. 54) – Fuga IV. Misuratamente vivace (p. 57) – Sempre incalzando (p. 58) – Mosso (p. 60) – Stretta (p. 66) – Sostenutissimo (p. 74)

The ’Fantasia contrappuntistica’ is Ferruccio Busoni’s instrumental magnum opus. It emerged from the idea to complete the unfinished final triple fugue from Johann Sebastian Bach’s ’The Art of the Fugue’ as it has also been done by others (f. ex. Donald Francis Tovey). But this attempt resulted in an enormous work of absolutely unique shape and psychology. In Chicago in the beginning of 1910, Busoni became familiar with the organist and composer Wilhelm Middelschulte (1863-1943) and the musicologist Bernhard Ziehn (1845-1912). He praised these two men emphatically as the ”Gothics of Chicago, III”. Middelschulte has become better known in our time as a ’counterpoint mystic of the organ’, and he as well as Ziehn had investigated a lot of work into the unfinished Bach fugue. At the beginning Busoni wanted to write a work with the clear sequence of fantasia and fugue. But during the creative process itself it became obvious that ”everything fantasy-like happened in the fugue” (Busoni). This resulted in a completely new form as a whole and later exerted a strong and irresistible influence on younger composers such as Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji or Ronald Stevenson. For Busoni it seemed to lead to an innovative fusion of César Franck and Beethoven’s ’Hammerklavier’ Sonata. He finished the ’Große Fuge. Kontrapunktische Fantasie über Joh. Seb. Bach’s letztes unvollendetes Werk’ (Grand Fugue. Contrapuntal Fantasy on Joh. Seb. Bach’s final unfinished work) on 1 March 1910 and dedicated it to Wilhelm Middelschulte. Now he wanted to orchestrate the new work but soon came to a standstill with the project and, instead, revised and extended the piano version and finished this ’Edizione definitiva’ in June 1910. In 1912, this was followed up by the ’Choralvorspiel nebst Fuge über ein Bach’sches Fragment. Der Fantasia contrappuntistica kleine Ausgabe’ (Choral Prelude with Fugue on a Fragment by Bach. The Fantasia contrappuntistica’s little version). The final version for two pianos, extensively revised and expanded, was written in 1921-22. The German première was played by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra under Levin in the Berlin Philharmonie on 10 November 2013.

Ira Levin put his version together from the versions written in 1910 and in 1922 (see his introductory remarks). He orchestrated the work in 2010. The present study score of this orchestration was premièred in Turku by the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Ira Levin on 16 February 2012.

C.S., February 2018

Ira Levin is an internationally renowned and successful conductor, pianist, and arranger. He conducted more than 75 operas in more than 1.000 performances. His orchestral concert repertoire is very broad and multi-faceted, including many lesser-known composers and works. He studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia with Max Rudolf (1902-95; conducting) and Jorge Bolet (1914-90; piano) and became Bolet’s assistant.
Ira Levin was Principal Guest Conductor at Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires from 2011 to 2015 and led there the South American premières of George Enescu’s ’Œdipe’, Sergey Prokofiev’s ’The Fiery Angel’, and Detlev Glanert’s ’Caligula’. He had begun his career as Michael Gielen’s assistant at the Frankfurt Opera. Then he worked as Principal Conductor at the Theater Bremen (1988-96) and at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein Düsseldorf-Duisburg (1996-2002), at the same time being Principal Guest Conductor at the Staatstheater Kassel (1994-98). From 2002 to 2005, he was artistic and musical director of the Theatro Municipal and the Municipal Orchestra in São Paulo where he led the Brazilian premières of Leos Janácek’s ’Jenufa’ (the first Janácek opera performance at all in Brazil) and ’Glagolitian Mass’, Shostakovich’s Fourth and Mahler’s Tenth Symphonies, Sibelius’ ’Kullervo’ etc. From 2007 to 2010, until the beginning of his work in Buenos Aires, he was artistic and musical director of the National Theater of Brazil in Brazilia. Levin conducted many orchestras all over the world, among them the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipsic and the Saxonian State Chapel in Dresden. In April 2017, he gave his triumphant New York debut with Ottorino Respighi’s ’La campana sommersa’ at the New York City Opera. He regularly appears as piano soloist in recitals and with orchestra, sometimes conducting from the piano.
As an arranger, Levin has written more than 30 piano transcriptions, among them the meanwhile legendary arrangement of Richard Strauss’ ’Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils’. Apart from the present work, his orchestrations include Franz Liszt’s ’Fantasy and Fugue after Bach’, César Franck’s Piano Quintet as a ’Symphony in F minor’ (without piano), five Rachmaninov works compiled under the title ’Five Pieces for Orchestra’, Max Reger’s ’Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Joh. Seb. Bach’, and the Third Piano Sonata Op. 5 by Johannes Brahms, re-imagined as a ’Symphony in F minor’.

About the Orchestration of Busoni’s Fantasia contrappuntistica
It has been my intention for many years to realize a new orchestration for large orchestra of Busoni’s monumental Fantasia contrappuntistica, surely one of the masterpieces of early 20th century music, but sadly one that is discussed more often than it is actually heard. The main reason for this neglect lies in the fact that the piano versions, even that for two pianos, remain limited by the sound of the instrument, especially if played by pianists lacking the extreme sense of color and drama that Busoni himself by all accounts had, and such a titanic pianist has hardly existed since his death! Even though he played the solo version often enough, and later that for two pianos, he intended to orchestrate the work himself, a task he never got around to completing while desperately working to finish his magnum opus, the opera Doktor Faust. Sadly, his tragically premature death in 1924 prevented either project from being realized…


Read full preface  > HERE

Score No.



Repertoire Explorer




210 x 297 mm


First print




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