Ferruccio Busoni Biography

(Italian Composer, Pianist and Conductor Known for His Works ‘Arlecchino’ and ‘Doktor Faust’)

Birthday: April 1, 1866 (Aries)

Born In: Empoli, Italy

Ferruccio Busoni was a highly acclaimed Italian-German composer, pianist and pedagogue. Born into a musical family, he was a child progeny, who gave his first public recital at the age of seven and started composing soon after. It is believed that out of his 303 original compositions, over 200 were produced before he was twenty. Initially trained by his father, he later studied with Wilhelm Mayer in Graz, completing his formal training by fifteen. In the same year, he was accepted as a member of the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna, thus becoming the youngest person to receive the honor since Mozart.  At the age of twenty, he went to Leipzig, where he undertook a profound study of Bach’s music, shortly beginning his career as a music teacher in Helsinki, later teaching at Moscow, Boston, Weimar, Vienna, Basel, and Bologna, eventually settling down in Berlin. A philosopher of music, his mission was to formulate a universe of related arts and to express classical ideals in modern forms.

Quick Facts

Italian Celebrities Born In April

Also Known As: Ferruccio Dante Michelangiolo Benvenuto

Died At Age: 58


Spouse/Ex-: Gerda Busoni (Sjöstrand)

father: Ferdinando Busoni

mother: Anna Busoni

children: Benvenuto Busoni, Raffaello Busoni

Born Country: Italy

Child Prodigies Pianists

Died on: July 27, 1924

place of death: Berlin, Germany

Cause of Death: Heart Failure

Notable Alumni: University Of Music And Theatre Leipzig

More Facts

education: University Of Music And Theatre Leipzig

awards: Anton Rubinstein Competition

Childhood & Early Life

Ferruccio Busoni was born on 1 April 1866 in Empoli, located nineteen miles southwest of Florence, Italy. While his father, Ferdinando Busoni, was a self-taught, but skilled clarinetist of Italian descent, his mother, Anna née Weiss, was a pianist of German-Italian ancestry.

As both his parents were traveling virtuoso, baby Ferruccio was sent to Trieste soon after his birth to be raised by his maternal grandfather while his parents left for Paris. It was here that the young Ferruccio spent most of his early years.

In 1870, as the Franco-German War erupted, his parents returned home. But due to financial crisis his mother moved in with his grandfather while his father lived elsewhere. But by 1871, Ferdinando Busoni became stable enough to rent an accommodation for the family and soon they started living together.

Once they started living together, Ferdinando quickly recognized his son’s potential and took charge of his education, sitting by him for hours each day at the pianoforte with an eye on every note and finger.  Mistakes were not tolerated, but reproaches were always followed by paternal love and devotion.

From his father, Ferruccio learnt the music of well-known composers like Mozart, Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Schumann etc. Concurrently, he also began composing music, writing Canzone [Song] (in C major) Op. 1, for piano, and Berceuse (in C major) Op. 2, for piano, in June 1873. 

On 24 November, 1873, when he was seven years old, he made his first public debut on the piano, playing the easier pieces of Mozart, Schuman and Muzio Clementi. Very soon, he started giving regular concerts, playing harder and harder pieces, being deprived in the process of a normal childhood.

In May 1875, he made his concerto début with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24. Later in the same year, his father took him to Vienna, where he continued to give recitals, some of which were his own composition. Hearing him play, Anton Rubinstein, urged his father to concentrate more on his education.

While in Vienna, he also attracted the attention of two sisters of the well-known Gomperz family; Frau von Josephine Wertheimstein and Baroness Sophie Freifrau von Todesco. They simply fell in love with the child and offered financial help, enabling him to study at the Vienna Conservatory for two years.

In 1877, Ferruccio Busoni became sick, forcing the family to relocate to Graz.  Here he continued to give recitals, eventually attracting the attention of Austrian composer, Wilhelm Kienzl sometime in 1879. Impressed by his talent, Kienzl convinced his father to allow the boy to study with his own teacher, Wilhelm Mayer.

Ferruccio Busoni studied with Wilhelm Mayer from November 1879 to April 1881, completing his formal studies with honors by the age of fifteen. It was one of the happiest periods of his life, not only studying with an ideal teacher like Mayer, but also receiving lots of affection from his wife and daughter.

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It is possible that Ferruccio Busoni lived in Graz until 1886, prolifically writing music, conducting his own works like Stabat Mater Op. 55. Thereafter, he moved with his father to Vienna, living there for a short time before moving on his own to Leipzig, for the first time free of parental control.

In Leipzig, he began to study with Carl Reinecke, meeting many talented musicians of his day. To earn money, both for himself and his parents, he started giving recitals, concurrently continuing to compose. He also contacted publishers, having many of his works published.

In September 1888, he was offered the post of the advanced piano instructor at the Institute of Music at Helsingfors (now Helsinki, Finland), on the recommendation of musicologist Hugo Riemann. Although he accepted the offer, he found the town artistically lacking and often returned to Leipzig.

Concurrently with teaching at the Helsingfors Institute of Music, Ferruccio Busoni also continued to write and give private tuitions. He also gave regular concerts, giving around thirty piano recitals and chamber concerts in Helsingfors itself from 1889 to 1890.

Sometime in 1889–1890, he transcribed Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor at the request of one of his students. It opened a new vista for him and very soon he began to develop his unique style of pianoforte touch and technique.

In 1890, Ferruccio Busoni participated in the Rubinstein Competition in St. Petersburg, winning first prize, which led to his appointment as a professor of piano at the Moscow Conservatory.  But there he found the atmosphere hostile, unaccepted by his nationalistically inclined Russian colleagues.

In 1891, he moved to the USA, joining the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, as a professor, remaining with it till 1894.  Concurrently he continued to write and give recitals, touring the country as a virtuoso pianist, remitting substantial portion of his income to his parents, who continued to depend on him.

In 1894, he returned to Europe and settled down in Berlin. Making the city his base, he now started making concert tours, devoted mainly to Bach, Beethoven, and Liszt. He visited London for the first time in 1897. Concurrently, he also taught in master classes at Weimar, Vienna, and Basel.

Ferruccio Busoni also wrote a number of essays on music, publishing Entwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst (Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music) in 1907. In this work, he set out the principles underlying his performance.

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In 1913, Ferruccio Busoni joined the Liceo Musicale in Bologna as its director. A great proponent of contemporary music, he left the institute within a year, unable to change its ultraconservative policies. Indian Fantasy Op. 44, which was first performed in Berlin in March 1914, is an important work of this period.

Torn between his loyalty to Italy and Germany, he moved to Switzerland as the First World War erupted in 1914 and settled down in Zurich. Here he continued to work, writing many new pieces, completing or revising many of his earlier works such as Arlecchino, oder Die Fenster (The Window) and Turandot.

In 1920, he returned to Berlin, where he became the professor of composition at the Academy of Arts, a position he held until his death in 1924. Concurrently, he continued to work on his piano tutorial, Klavierübung, hoping to pass on his accumulated knowledge of keyboard technique to the next generation.

During his last years, he also composed several pieces. Some of his important works of this period are Toccata (1920); Concertino for piano and orchestra (1921), Perpetuum mobile (1922), 5 kurze Stiicke zur Pflege des polyphonischen Spiels (1923), Prélude et étude en arpèges (1923), Klavierübung in zehn Büchern (1923–24).

Major Works

Ferruccio Busoni is perhaps best remembered for his Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 39 (BV 247). Composed between 1901 and 1904, the work lasts around 70 minutes, making it one of the largest works of this genre. Scored for a large orchestra, the work was first performed in Berlin on 10 November, 1904.

Fantasia contrappuntistica (BV 256) is another of his important works. It is a solo piano piece, first composed in 1910. Later, he created a number of versions of the same work, including several for solo piano and one for two pianos. 

Although he left it unfinished at death, his last work, Doktor Faust, Is equally significant. It is an opera based on the myth of Faust and he had worked on it from 1916 till 1924, intending it to be his masterpiece. It was later finished by his student Philipp Jarnach and premiered in 1925.

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1889, Ferruccio Busoni married Gerda Sjostrand, the daughter of the celebrated Swedish sculptor Carl Eneas Sjöstrand. They had two sons, Benvenuto Carlo Busoni (Benni, born in 1892) and Raffaello (4) Busoni (Lello, born in 1900). Lello later became a well-known illustrator.

Ferruccio Busoni died of heart failure on 27 July 1924, in Berlin. However, inflamed kidneys and overwork also contributed to his death. His mortal remains lie buried in Friedhof Stubenrauchstraße, Berlin.

A commemorative plaque installed at site of his apartment in Schöneberg, Berlin, carry his legacy to this day. So does Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition, which was initiated in 1949 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death.

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