Ferruccio Busoni

Prophet of Electronic Music

"Suddenly, one day, it seemed clear to me that full flowering of music is frustrated by our instruments ...In their range, their tone, what they can render, our instruments are chained fast and their hundred chains must also bind the composer" (1)

"Music is born free; and to win freedom is its destiny."

Ferruccio Busoni
1866 – 1924
Born in Empoli Italy – (Lived in Berlin 1894-1924)

Busoni was a child prodigy. He was considered to be a piano virtuoso, a successor to Liszt and the superior of Rachmaninoff and Paderewski. He was known also as a composer, teacher, arranger, and philosopher. He was also a conductor who introduced the music of Debussy, Gabriel Faure, Sibelius, and Bartok to Berlin. He taught in Europe and America. At his death he was a Professor of Composition at the Academy of Arts in Berlin. His opera Dr. Faust, is considered to be a masterwork of our century. He also wrote essays about music, the most prophetic of which is “Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music” (1907).

Busoni was a champion for anything new in art. He opened his house in Berlin to young artists and composers from many countries. He presided nightly over furious discussions about music and art.

In his music, Busoni constructed new scales because he refused to accept the limitations of major and minor modes. He experimented with quarter tones. He was anti-Romantic, and detested Wagner. He was a neoclassic preferring small ensembles and an avoidance of emotionalism.

Busoni felt that music had stalled. That the rules of tonality and the available instruments were blocking the freedom of music. He could see into the new era of music and constantly looked for and encouraged anything new.

“Exhaustion surely waits at the end of a course the longest lap of which has already been covered. Whither then shall we turn our eyes? In what direction does the next step lead? …I believe that all efforts must be directed towards the virgin birth of a new beginning.”  (2)

One of the new instruments of his day was the “Dynamophone” also known as “Telharmonium”. The Dynamophone was a primitive ancestor to today's synthesizer. Invented by Thaddeus Cahill, Busoni had read about it in an article named “New Music for an Old World” published in McClur's Magazine in 1906. Busoni saw in the Dynamophone a new source of sound materials as well as a source of just intonation. His enthusiasm was also shared by others such as Stokowski and Varése ( a pupil).

Busoni’s enthusiasm for the new Dynamophone led him to prophesy “ …I almost think that in the new great music, machines will also be necessary and will be assigned a share in it.” (3)

We find that Busoni was a very balanced musician. His favorite composer was Mozart. In a short memoir about his teacher, Varése writes, “He deplored that his own keyboard instrument had conditioned our ears to accept only an infinitesimal part of the infinite graduations of sounds of nature. However, when I said that I was through with tonality, his quick response was: You are denying yourself a very beautiful thing”(4)

Busoni could see through the door of the 20th century. His acceptance of the Dynamophone, his visions of the future, were the groundwork for electronic music. In 1906, here a renowned pianist and composer, greeted the electronic age with high hopes, and legitimized the new winds blowing.

His influence on Varése set Varése on a course that he wouldn’t see come true till late in his life. Yet, the prophecies of Busoni became Varése’s calling. The gospel of Busoni boiled down to one statement, “Music is born free; and to win freedom is its destiny.”  (5)


Russcol, Herbert, The Liberation of Sound : An Introduction to Electronic Music , Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1972
1) p.32 2) p.32 3) p.38 4) pp.37-38

Ferruccio Busoni, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, New York, Dover Publications, 1962
5) p.77

Appleton, Jon H. and Ronald C. Perera, The development and Practice of Electronic Music , Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1975

Simms, Bryan R., Music of the Twentieth Century-Style and Sructure, NY, Schirmer Books, 1996

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