Ferruccio Busoni as a great piano transcriber of Bach's keyboard music
Ferruccio Busoni by Paul Klemann
Ferruccio Busoni was an Italian pianist, composer and theoretical writer whose creative period fell on the transitional period from Romanticism to the new musical forms that determined the art of the 20th century.
Against the background of the general impressionist and avant-garde trends of the time, Busoni stood out for his desire to combine tradition with innovation supported by his ingenious piano technique which allowed him to make great interpretations of the works written by other composers.
A special role in Busoni's entire body of work is given to his adaptations for the piano of Bach's keyboard music which Busoni issued in two collections over the span of nearly 30 years.
In the Romantic era, the piano became a common fixture in every home, making music a familiar part of many people's leisure. This new instrument almost completely replaced the harpsichord and clavichord for which a huge amount of music was written during the Baroque era.
Although there are differences between the piano and the harpsichord in the ways the vibrations of the strings are excited, these instruments produce a sound of the same nature with a loud beginning and gradual fading. This quality has an effect on the manner of composition meant for these instruments, which simplifies the adaptation of music between them.
It is much more difficult to take the music originally written for an organ, an instrument that belongs to both the keyboard and wind classes, and adapt it for piano. The notes played on the organ possess the same intensity, creating a continuous quality of sound and making it hard to write an adequate transcription of organ music for piano. The task is further complicated by compositional methods such as the organ point—the notes that sound continuously for several measures, usually played on the organ’s foot keyboard and therefore also called the pedal point.
Watch Busoni's piano transcription of Buch's Toccata and Fugue in D minor performed by Claudius Tanski:
Most musicologists are inclined to believe that it was Ferruccio Busoni who produced the most successful transcriptions of Bach's organ works by developing the methodology outlined in his essay On the Transcription of Bach's Organ Works for the Pianoforte published in 1894.
All Busoni's works on the keyboard music of Bach include performance suggestions, practice exercises, musical analysis, and other related material published in two collections: the 25-volume Busoni Ausgabe and the 7-volume Bach-Busoni Collected Edition.