Kleine Suite for Cello & Piano, Op.23, BV 215
Busoni's Kleine Suite dates from 1885. Though he was still relatively young when this work was written, he already had a violin sonata and a string quartet, as well as many piano works to his credit. The name Kleine Suite (Little Suite in English) is really misleading. This is a five movement work of standard sonata length. There is no question but that Busoni had Bach's works for Gamba and Klavier in mind when composing this suite. But Busoni almost always had Bach on his mind and was nicknamed "Bach-Busoni" as so many of his works were by Bach of whom Busoni said, "From him I learned to recognize the truth, that music which is good, grand and universal."
The first movement, Moderato ma energico, leaves no doubt as to whom its ancestor (Bach) was. A deliberate and very Bachian essay. In the second movement, Andantino con grazia, the simple, naive theme has a rococo grace and elegance. The third movement, Moderato ma brioso, is subtitled by Alte Tanzliedchen (Old Dance Tune). It sounds like he had an old fashioned Deutsche or Tedesco in mind. A slow movement, Sostenuto ed espressivo, is a relative of the Bachian arioso. In the finale, Moderato ma con brio, Busoni takes leave of his idol and writes in a more romantic vein.
Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) is remembered as a great pianist and was among the first rank of virtuosi during his lifetime, but what generally is no longer remembered is that he was an important composer. Cecil Gray, writing in Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music notes:
“The popular notion that his creative efforts were simply the outcome of a virtuoso’s ultimate ambition, when no further laurels remained to be conquered in his own sphere, is wholly erroneous. There can be little doubt that if he had been a less brilliant player, his music would have received greater attention. This is the great tragedy of Busoni’s career...Busoni’s significance as a composer has often been grievously under-estimated. In natural talents he was richly endowed, and in technical command and versatility of achievement possessed phenomenal powers.”
Born in Tuscany, Busoni’s parents were both musicians. Busoni’s musical talent showed itself early and by the age of 8 he was performing before the public. Eventually he studied composition Leipzig Conservatory Carl Reinecke. Besides an important career as a soloist he also taught at the Helsinki Conservatory as well as the New England Conservatory in Boston and the Berlin Academy of the Arts.
Unlike Reger's solo suites based on Bach, this work does not require a virtuoso technique, but tasteful musicality to make it come alive. A wonderful addition to the cellist's repertoire and a fine recital selection.